BT launches RFID food network for tracking products

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Supply chain Radio-frequency identification

A new radio frequency identification (RFID) network launched for
the food industry aims to help retailers and manufacturers exchange
product data so as to speed up recalls and cut costs.

BT Auto-ID, part of the UK's British Telecommunications group, said yesterday that its BT Foodnet network could also help lower the cost of recalls, and help minimise the risk that consumers do not eat contaminated or defective products.

The online network provides retailers and their suppliers with round-the-clock access to real-time, synchronised data on the current and historical status of all stock items as they flow through the supply chain - from manufacturer to point of sale, BT Auto-ID stated.

An RFID network as set up by BT could put more retailer pressure on processors to invest in the technology.

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 is slowing forcing processors to make investments in the system.

BT Foodnet uses RFID to track products in real-time to speed-up and reduce the cost of recalling products. The network provides a full audit trail of ingredients along the supply chain. The network can then link the sources of ingredient batches with individual products at the retail level.

"This means that less material needs to be recalled - potentially saving millions of pounds in wastage,"​ the company stated. "This also means less manual resource is needed removing and replenishing stock on the shop floor.

With BT Foodnet a collaborative data-synchronised service is created, avoiding the billing discrepancies that arise from manual proof of delivery systems, the company claimed. It also offers a way for retailers and manufacturers to comply with traceability legislation.

BT Foodnet combines auto-ID technology, including RFID and bar-coding, with BT Auto-ID's secure data exchange platform on the Internet.

The process would require a supermarket to place its orders online via the Foodnet portal. The food manufacturer would then identify each product with an RFID tag.

The products are then packed in roll-cages - also tagged - and the data is read by RFID readers at point of dispatch. The RFID tag is read again at depot receipt, dispatched from depot to store, receipt into store and from in-store storage to front of shop, according to a brochure.

"In the event of a food scare, the accessible data trail enables accurate and rapid recall of corresponding products,"​ the company stated. "When the retailer places its order via BT Foodnet the food manufacturer enters the key product information onto an RFID tag and the margin for error is all but eradicated."

With product recalls potentially costing millions annually, as well as harming brands, the BT system promises to provide a fast, accurate method of tracking substandard products and ingredients.

"In today's ultra-competitive major multiple retail environment, supermarkets need a quick, accurate and cost effective way of managing stock levels, assessing product availability and identifying products for recall,"​ BT-Auto ID stated in a press release. "The fast turnaround needed for fresh food means supermarkets need to ensure that the best goods reach the shelves first time every time to maximise sales."

Automatic identification (auto-ID) is a general term for technology used to help machines identify physical items passing through various stages of an extended supply chain and provide information about them through automatic data capture. The data must be converted into digital form to be used by computer systems.

The aim of most auto-ID systems is to increase efficiency, reduce data entry errors and free up staff. Such technologies include barcodes, smart cards, voice recognition, some biometric technologies, optical character recognition and RFID.

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.

Related topics Processing & packaging

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