Results of a yearlong pilot project on radio frequency identification (RFID) usage involving the CSIRO and the Australian Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA) and the private sector were released Tuesday.
The National Demonstrator Project, funded by an Australian$200,000 (US$150,000) grant from the department’s Information Technology on Line division last year, involved using RFID tags and readers across an entire supply chain through partners Chep, Gillette, Linfox, Verisign, Sun Microsystems, Metcash and the CSIRO. Gillette, however, has since stopped using the RFID-enabled system.
Fiona Wilson, general manager of standards development at GS1 Australia (formerly EAN Australia), which oversaw the project, said although the trial was in the fast-moving consumer goods industry, the results are applicable to every single industry interested in an efficient supply chain through the use of RFID technology.
“The project implemented not just RFID tags and hardware, but filtering software, the database to capture events and item-specific information which allowed complete visibility for all participants across the supply chain,” Wilson said.
“In normal business practice you might not want partners to access all information, but for the purpose of the demonstration we wanted to prove we could share all information up and down the supply chain with more than just direct partners.
“We wanted all Australian industry to learn from this project as a lot of pilots have just focused on the RFID side and point-to-point communications between one organization and an immediate training partner. We wanted to implement the RFID tags and explain how the networked [operated].”
The project began at the Chep warehouse where pallets were dispatched with RFID tags destined for Visy Industries. Visy scanned the pallets upon arrival, placed untagged cartons on the pallets with an RFID-enabled shipment label and sent the pallet to Gillette, where it was scanned on arrival.
Gillette applied RFID labels to cartons of batteries and razor blades. Each carton was read by a purpose-built production line, and a database of product built up automatically. The shipment was then scanned as it left the Gillette packing center to the Linfox distribution center. When an order for a Gillette product was taken by partner Metcash, an entire pallet load was read via a conveyor system with RFID antennae and once again as the products arrived at the Metcash distribution center.
All Chep pallets dispatched to Gillette were tracked upon “leave and return,” and only first-generation readers were used during the project.
Murray Fane, Chep Asia Pacific information systems manager, said that while outside the scope of the pilot project they understood that by tracking a unique item, they would be able to identify where process breakdowns occur and where the knock-on effects happened as a result.
“After we read the first five pallets we knew we were in trouble, as we had 25 instances in the database and we had another 150 pallets to read. We found some ghost reads and some instances where standards were different in two systems,” Fane said.
“When ‘sent’ had five pallets out, only four were showing up where we sent them, but we knew exactly which was which, so the system showed potential.
“Our estimations found five to 10 times the increased benefit with end-to-end supply chain collaboration.”
Bruce Grant, Gillette RFID project manager, said the barriers to the project were the level of integration necessary with partners, building in-house competency and quality of the data.
“When we started, we learnt Linfox had a legacy RF [radio frequency] scanning in its network, and when the RFID readers were turned on, it interfered,” Grant said.
“We also got really involved with Occupational Health and Safety and the trade unions because they wanted to know the cumulative effect of RFID readers in the packing and distribution center.”
-Michael Crawford, Computerworld Australia
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