I asked Greg Walker, a Supply Chain Specialist on our US Manufacturing team to guest blog with me on this topic.  RFID Momentum is building and we wanted to jump in and share some perspectives from Microsoft.

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In this very exciting time to be involved with the RFID community, I have noticed a shift in attitude over the past year.  Yes, hardware and device technologies continue to develop, and there are some exciting new advances (we saw some of this first-hand in Las Vegas at the
RFID Journal Live show in April).  And yes, there will continue to be areas where RFID is viewed as more of a cost than a benefit, like the mandates for consumer goods manufacturers. 

But the RFID conversations I have on a daily basis with our Manufacturing customers are not about mandates or the latest active tag capabilities.  They are about business value and how RFID can be leveraged in their supply chains and manufacturing facilities to drive a level of visibility and execution that was not possible before RFID.

 

I have started to see some patterns around the RFID scenarios that our customers are adopting to drive business value now.  One example is asset tracking.  Assets that can make sense to “track” include those that support the manufacturing process (generators, tools, maintenance equipment) and those that don’t (laptops, disk drives with confidential information).  Other “assets” that make sense to track are re-usable transport items.  These are bins, totes, pallets, racks, etc. that stay in a closed-loop and can be managed to both increase utilization and provide visibility of the items they are “transporting”. 

 

Re-usable transport items are used extensively in Manufacturing supply chains, from consumer goods (plastic pallets are used to move goods from manufacturing facilities through DC’s to retailers) to automotive (racks are used to move parts from suppliers to automotive assembly plants, as well as control the overall flow of inventory in the process).  A live example of this scenario is iGPS, which is using the Microsoft RFID platform to manage the second largest RFID implementation in North America (one million assets, two million transactions per month and growing).   An additional benefit of iGPS plastic pallets is sustainability & support for manufacturer’s “green” supply chain initiatives vs. wooden pallets.

 

Other areas where I have seen adoption include work-in-process management, automated goods receipt, and promotions execution (validating that promotional displays and product are on the retail floor to coincide with promotional activity).

 

 Microsoft’s goal has been to lower the hurdle rate for these scenarios, drive RFID into the mainstream, and support widespread adoption by providing a platform that is affordable, scalable, performant, and open to the .NET development community.  Additionally, the Microsoft RFID platform provides “plug-n-play” connectivity to RFID devices, much the same as a Windows desktop supports printers and external hard drives. 

 

Our customers now not only have the option of leveraging the global Microsoft partner community to build RFID applications, but can also “build-their-own” on a platform that is supported as part of their existing Windows infrastructure.  In my view, the RFID vendors and providers that will be successful in this  are those that provide exciting new RFID applications “Off-the-Shelf” to address business problems.  Xterprise, who has built out standard applications for high value solution areas, is a great example of this.

 

I look forward to hearing more from our customer base on their experiences with RFID, as well as the exciting and innovative use cases they are deploying.
(Greg Walker)