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RFID - HIT or MYTH? Scottish Region Conference, 15th September 2004

Glasgow Caledonian University was the venue for the Scottish Region's RFID Conference on Wednesday 15th September 2004, chaired for the day by Graham Miller of Trenstar. The title of the event, RFID - Hit or Myth, reflected the purpose of the conference; to explain what RFID is, what it can and can't do, and to identify the questions that organisations should be asking prior to embarking on an RFID project. There was technical and practical experience in abundance from the speakers and exhibitors.

The day began with an introduction to RFID, moved on to an explanation of the standards surrounding it and ending with an interactive session and demonstration. The afternoon featured case studies looking at different applications and finished with a look at the practical lessons from a successful RFID implementation.

Richard Rees, of the RFID Forum and President of Scanology BV, started the day with a comprehensive introduction to RFID, dispelling some of the myths that exist about the all-conquering capabilities of RFID. He ran through the basics of how tags and readers work and the various frequency characteristics. David Weatherby, manager of the EPCglobal European Adoption Programme at e.centre, picked up from where Richard left off and went into the detail of how EPCglobal and EAN International are working towards delivering the necessary standards and best practice to enable the mass roll-out of RFID within supply chains. EPC stands for Electronic Product Code which is the unique number that identifies an item in the supply chain.

Stephen Keith of Sun Microsystems and John Glen of Spartan Solutions then embarked on a joint practical demonstration of the use of tags and readers, and spent some time explaining how, at technical and process levels, raw RFID events can be managed to provide intelligent business information. The practical element included obtaining reads from a tag immersed in a glass of water! A further demonstration of RFID in practice, at Glasgow Caledonian's library, was given by Chris Dodd of BEC.

Delegates were treated to an excellent three course lunch sponsored by Skillweb, a business solution provider focused on consignment tracking in the supply chain.

After lunch, Kevin Boyd, Managing Director of Arnlea Systems, presented four mini case studies where RFID has improved productivity by turning traditional processes on their heads. Based on a meat processing project, a gas cylinder leasing operation, North Sea Oil equipment-rental control and the electronics industry, each illustrated how RFID technologies bring a different way of thinking in terms of asset and product tracking within manufacturing and distribution processes.

Chris Wright, Managing Director of Skillweb, spoke on a specific project involving the tracking of assets across a fleet of engineers' vans using RFID. The use of RFID will make each van into a stocked location and automate the stock control and equipment maintenance recording for each one. The project promises to deliver increased productivity, task management and van fleet reduction with a rapid return on investment. Chris was quick to highlight the need to ensure buy-in from the users, in this case the engineers.

This was a point reiterated by Graham Miller in his the final case study of the day. Graham focused on the implementation of RFID projects, something he has had a great deal of experience of. Graham, Vice President Global Accounts, Trenstar, gave some practical suggestions on how to make the business case for RFID, and on how to implement a successful RFID Project. He shared some of the insights into the factors that "make the difference" between success & failure in RFID based Supply Chain Projects.

Four principal recurring themes for the day were:

- that RFID technology is a data enabler not an end in itself.
- successful RFID solutions must focus on process as well as technology.
- RFID should not be a solution looking for a problem!
- Reliability! Reliability! Reliability! - tags, readers, middleware, standards, solutions.

Report by Archie Hipwelll.


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