Unilever tests new RFID software standard

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Supply chain Electronic product code

Unilever is testing a newly developed software standard designed to
help retailers and manufacturers share data throughout the supply
chain using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology.

IBM and T3Ci last week announced they had successfully completed testing the new RFID software standard to insure it can be used with products from other manufacturers.

While retailers today can provide manufacturers with large amounts of data about RFID-tagged products, until now there has been no standardised way for manufacturers to sort through the volumes of raw data, IBM stated in a press release.

The new software standard will allow companies to query RFID data providing them with near real-time data from their trading partners. This will give manufacturers access to the precise information they need for the first time, IBM stated.

Unilever North America is currently testing the standard to query RFID data provided by retailers.

Unilever will also conduct a trial of the standard to collect and access information from within the company's manufacturing units and from trading partners.

"The standard is designed to help better enable retailers, manufacturers and organisations throughout the supply chain to overcome information overload and share information to improve business processes,"​ IBM stated in a press release.

The standard is the first step toward delivering interoperability among various software produced by a variety of suppliers. The standard is based on the Electronic Product Code (EPC) information services.

IBM and T3CI are the co-chairs of the EPCglobal working group on EPC information services.

EPCglobal is working to create common interfaces among RFID software and hardware, allowing organizations to exchange and leverage RFID data independent of the applications in which data is created or stored.

"For organizations throughout the supply chain, this will deliver greater value by allowing them to inexpensively capture large volumes of detailed data at each stage of the supply chain and share that data among trading partners,"​ IBM stated.

James Jackson, Unilever's vice president for information technology, said that the software standard will help the company gain insight into its supply chain, predit needs and problems and improve operations.

"By replacing manually intensive data exchange tasks with automated processes, more time is available for analysis and value creation," he said.

EPCglobal's EPC Information Services standard is currently in the last stage of development. The association expects to ratify the standard by in the fourth quarter 2006.

EPCglobal is an international trade association designed to drive RFID use forward by creating common standards across industries, products and supply chain providers.

The royalty-free standards are expected to be the foundations in the continuing construction of a global supply chain information network that combines RFID technology, existing communications infrastructure and a system called Electronic Product Code (EPC), a number for uniquely identifying an item.

A unified data system would allow changes in information about product sizes, weight, name, price, classification, transport requirements and volumes to be immediately transmitted along the supply chain.

For example it would allow shippers to immediately know if the amount of product stacked on a pallet had changed, or give a retailer time to adjust display space.

The system is being built to help companies save money throughout the supply chain by using the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN).

Nestle, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Hormel Foods, Kraft, Unilever, Wegmans Food Markets and Sara Lee are among the food companies that have signed up to implement the system.

EPCglobal is a subsidiary of GS1, a not-for-profit standards organisation entrusted with driving the global adoption of the technology and related network.

RFID uses a wireless system that helps enterprises track products, parts, expensive items and temperature-and time-sensitive goods.

Transponders, or RFID tags, are attached to objects. The tag will identify itself when it detects a signal from a reader that emits a radio frequency transmission.

Each RFID tag carries information on it such as a serial number, model number, colour, place of assembly or other types of data.

When these tags pass through a field generated by a compatible reader, they transmit this information back to the reader, thereby identifying the object.

RFID is being seen as a step up on bar codes by giving those in the supply chain the ability to track individual products and obtain more data.

RFID has long been touted as the future of logistics for all companies by allowing retailers and suppliers to track goods throughout the supply chain.

However high prices for tags and systems has held enthusiasm at bay. Privacy concerns have also limited its use at the consumer level. However mandates from such giant retailers as Wal-Mart and Metro are slowly forcing processors to make investments in the system

Related topics Processing & packaging

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