Tagging the Progress

Tagging the Progress

Copyright 2004, Traffic World, Inc.

Wal-Mart says its far-reaching project to have its major suppliers outfit all shipments with radio frequency identification tags is off to a good start even though many shippers say they are questioning whether they can implement the retail giant''s mandate by 2005.

"To date, no glitches - only positive glimpses of what''s to come," Linda Dillman, executive vice president and CIO for Wal-Mart Stores, said at the recent Retail Systems Show 2004. "During this test phase, we''re experimenting with various tag types and tag placements to see how they impact readability on various products in a non-laboratory environment."

Gus Whitcomb, spokesperson for Wal-Mart, said about 65 percent of the cases coming into the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas area would be tagged by Wal-Mart''s deadline of January 2005. The $267 billion company, the United States'' largest retailer, had mandated 100 percent compliance. "Our goal is still 100 percent," he said, adding that the company has not changed its plans or timeline.

Experts expect the initiative Wal-Mart announced last year to have a dramatic impact far beyond the company''s own extensive distribution centers and stores. Fellow retail behemoth Target already announced a similar mandate and proponents of RFID believe such efforts will give the technology new scale to extend its use beyond the basics of monitoring container-loads of goods in warehouses.

On June 14 Wal-Mart will meet with its top 100 suppliers and an additional 37 suppliers that voluntarily agreed to meet the same deadline to review its RFID initiative and on June 16 the company will meet with its second-tier suppliers - those between 101 and 300 on its list - to determine deadlines and procedures, Whitcomb said.

Wal-Mart launched its initial implementation on April 30 near Dallas. Cases and pallets of 21 products from eight suppliers are being shipped to Wal-Mart''s Sanger, Texas, distribution center and then onward to seven local Supercenters.

At the same time technology vendors are scrambling to provide RFID hardware, software and consulting services to help shippers meet Wal-Mart''s and the U.S. Department of Defense''s requirements. The DOD is also requiring top suppliers to use RFID tags by 2005.

At the Distribution/Computer Expo 2004, held in Chicago this month, several RFID vendors announced RFID products. Warehouse management software provider Robocomm Systems International announced its RIMS WMS will generate unique electronic product code identifiers for pallets, cases and individual units and will create RFID tags through a printer. EPC codes replace the Universal Product Code in RFID tags.

Supply chain execution software provider Provia''s event and alert management software, ViaView, is integrated to RFID technology and can track RFID tags, the company said.

Supply chain execution software provider RedPrairie released its DLx Mobile Resource Management software, a Web-based asset tracking software that supports tracking RFID tags and announced a partnership with mobile asset management and RFID technology provider RadioWave.

At Retail Systems, warehouse management and inventory control software company Redpoint Systems and RFID systems integrator Enterprise Information Systems jointly announced a WMS with RFID connectivity and modules for RFID/EPC compliance.

Label and packaging RFID products provider, The Kennedy Group, released an EPC-compliant printer application for printers using high-speed automated lines. The company also opened an extensive RFID testing facility in Willoughby, Ohio to test RFID tags, printers and printer applications.