RFID – The Next Wave

Nowadays, there are three different types of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags in common use. ‘Active’ tags have their own battery, making long-distance reading possible. ‘Semi-Passive’ tags have a power source, but mainly act as a transponder that can reflect information to the reader. The most widely-used commercially are ‘passive’ tags. They use no battery, but are activated by the energy from the tag reader. RFID readers have the potential to wirelessly track the movement of every item of inventory. The smallest RFID tags in existence measure only fractions of millimetres and are nearly invisible to the naked eye. Leading suppliers of RFID tags include Intermec Technologies, UBM Raflatac  and Symbol Technologies, which is a part of Motorola.

Marks & Spencer is replacing bar codes with an RFID system which includes tags for millions of food containers being shipped from suppliers to its stores. This RFID system improves efficiency and is a guaranteed time-saver, with only a five-second waiting period to receive data from fifty containers, a vast improvement of 85% over the previous system. Other obvious advantages include less spoilt food, fewer lost shipments, and faster returns on investment, with M&S expecting to regain the US$3 million cost of the RFID system in only three years.

Another industry giant, WalMart, requires its major suppliers to have RFID tags on every pallet and case arriving at its distribution centres and stores. The company expects to save US$407 million yearly through visibility improvements alone.

Industry experts also agree on another big advantage of the RFID system, which is the reduction of out-of-stock situations in stores. Procter & Gamble, along with other mass merchandisers, estimate an increase in annual sales of US$1.2 billion through the use of RFID.

And what is coming next? Metro, a German retailer, invests in different breakthrough technologies. It runs an entire store equipped with RFID technology. Every item is equipped with a tag and a tag reader is installed on each shelf. Using keywords, customers can search for their products through a touch-screen computer with an integrated reader. It is also possible to ring up each item as it is placed in the cart.

Metro’s recently-launched Mobile Shopping Assistant mobile phone application also allows customers to use their phones to check product prices. It even helps them to prepare shopping lists through their phones. With all these improvements and innovations, the future of RFID seems bright. The possibilities are endless, and companies are doing well to advance their own RFID systems.