The Generation 2 standards for RFID may have only been ratified in December, but eager users aren't wasting any time checking them out. Though the majority of companies have yet to give serious thought to even the most basic RFID applications, pioneers like Germany's Metro Group are already barreling ahead with tests of the second-generation technology.
In April, Metro—one of the world's largest retailers— completed the industry's first demonstration of an EPC Gen 2 RFID system at its RFID Innovation Center in Neuss, Germany. The retailer, which worked with Royal Philips Electronics and Intermec Technologies, reports that Intermec Intellitag Gen 2 smart labels containing Philips Generation 2 RFID chips were read by an RFID-enabled Intermec IF5 reader. By proving that its existing RFID systems will seamlessly migrate to the ISO-based Gen 2 solution, Metro can move forward with Gen 2 installations at its distribution centers and stores.
The next step for Metro will be to equip its RFID Innovation Center with Gen 2 technology to test system performance. Then it will proceed to update its supply chain with Gen 2 capabilities to test the technology under real-life conditions. By the end of 2005, more than 100 Metro Group suppliers are expected to migrate to Gen 2 RFID technology, which promises improved asset tracking and inventory control.
"This real-world demonstration of a Generation 2 RFID system confirms that companies can now realize ROI benefits from RFID," says Intermec president Tom Miller. "Customers can now move forward with technology that fully addresses their application requirements without having to manage costly and complicated mixed-protocol environments."
Metro's announcement comes amid a wave of Gen 2 releases by the likes of Sun, SAMSys, Impinj and Texas Instruments. And it's easy to understand why customers and vendors alike are eager to move forward with the development process. The Gen 2 scanners can read tags up to five times faster than the current technology. In addition, Gen 2 tags can be rewritten multiple times and can avert interference caused by multiple readers. That's a big plus given that it's likely to be quite some time before industry settles on a single standard. Impinj, for example, is shipping new multi-protocol readers that can scan tags based on Gen 2 and the Class-0 and Class-1 protocols.
How soon can we expect to see the Gen 2 technology in use in North America? Looks like it won't be long now. Wal-Mart is currently running trials on the second-generation RFID tags.
Maybe you're already a CSCM (Certified Supply Chain Manager) or a CSCA (Certified Supply Chain Analyst). Soon you'll have the chance to add RFIDSCM to the credentials on your resume. That's short for RFID Supply Chain Manager—a credential that can be earned through participation in a program offered by the International Supply Chain Education Alliance (ISCEA) and American RFID Solutions. The two organizations have put together a five-day training program to address the industry-wide shortage of people with experience implementing RFID technology in the supply chain.
ISCEA and American RFID aren't the only ones looking to provide RFID training. The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) is also developing a vendor-neutral RFID certification program that it expects to have in place by the end of the year. A dozen member companies met last month to get the process under way.
"Customer adoption of RFID solutions has been relatively modest to date, but quite a few companies are starting down the path," says David Sommer, CompTIA's vice president, electronic commerce. "Because of the mandates from customers and trading partners, companies are beginning to see the need for RFID talent. A vendor-neutral, foundation-level certification will be a valuable tool to help develop the RFID workforce."