Op-Ed: Transparency in RFID Tagging May be the Next Big Thing in Supply Chain Management

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RFID
Photo credit: FineLine Technologies

Apparel vendors have traditionally had few resources with which to confirm RFID ticketing compliance, but that will soon change.

While nominated service bureaus can supply tags that operate with nearly 100 percent reliability, there has been no overarching system to ensure they will remain that way throughout the supply chain. Things can happen to damage the tags during handling and shipment and during the application process. Tags can also be attached to the wrong items. And these are just a few examples of RFID ticketing failure.

A misstep anywhere along the way can results in penalties from retailers for noncompliance.

“To successfully use RFID for inventory accuracy, you must first ensure that each product has a properly encoded RFID tag attached to it,” according to retail and RFID specialist John-Pierre Kamel of RFIDsherpas, a consulting practice focused exclusively on the retail sector. “This is critical. And there can be financial consequences beyond your own internal supply chain if you get this wrong. For example, in a growing number of product categories, one large retailer has begun levying a ’60 cents per unit’ chargeback for items that do not have a properly encoded RFID tag.”

Further complicating vendor compliance has been the industry’s prolific capacity for producing new RFID hardware and inlays that increase efficiencies, but which also call for greater care in tag selection and meeting upgraded encoding requirements.

“Retailers and brand owners are well advised to take advantage of the quality, reliability, specification and customization that today’s inlays and tags offer,” said Christian Uhl, CEO at SMARTRAC, a leading provider of RFID products and solutions. “The importance of RFID-enabled products in retail is growing. And as it does, more customer solutions will be offered to the market. At SMARTRAC, we fully support every effort to provide and verify RFID compliance, which adds value to all parties in the apparel supply chain.”

Adding to that is the increasing number of apparel retailers adopting RFID. According to market research firm IDTechEx: “In retail, RFID continues to be adopted for apparel tagging above all other applications by volume—that application alone will demand 8.7 billion RFID labels in 2017—which still has some way to go with RFID penetrating less than 20 percent of the total addressable market for apparel in 2017.”

Based on current trends, most new RFID adoptees are certain to assign the responsibility for procuring and applying compliant tags to their vendors.

There’s an app for that

Fortunately, technology has emerged that enables manufacturers and their retail partners to monitor the compliance of RFID tags affixed to a garment throughout its journey from factory to selling floor.

The newly patented system is called the QCTrak RFID quality control program, and major retailers are currently using it to evaluate and approve new vendor RFID tag submissions.

It provides a retailer’s vendor community, and the retailer’s own supply chain management, with a means to measure, track and report on the quality of RFID vendor tagging programs. QCTrak consists of: an iPhone application (Android in development) using a small UHF reader plugin that allows for convenient portability; real time connection to FineLine’s web platform, which allows it to be used anywhere in the world; and built-in audit features that allow it to read and decode compliant RFID tags from any service bureau or converter.

QCTrak can detect virtually any problem situation in real time, a capability that makes it the next big thing in apparel retail RFID ticketing accuracy. It records all scan history and provides critical information regarding where and when the problem occurred. It can be used as a turnkey RFID compliance program by any retailer wanting to improve readability of RFID-tagged merchandise arriving at the store.

Users can configure the system according to user responsibilities. For example, at the apparel manufacturing plant this ready-made compliance tool enables users to identify the correct EPC encoding and tag for each retailer’s program and note errors with on-screen alerts so they can remedy issues before shipment.

At distribution centers, retailers can confirm RFID tagging compliance. At the compliance office, vendor-submitted RFID tags can be quality checked for approval. And because the tag data from scans is stored, results can be compared across vendor, distribution center, store and headquarter scans.

One retailer executive recently commented to FineLine management that the QCTrack quality control system is easy to use and has greatly accelerated their processes for evaluating and qualifying new vendor RFID tag submittals. The executive went on to say that vendors will find it easy to use and very helpful in determining if their tags comply with their RFID tag specifications.

Bottom line: A means for monitoring and ensuring RFID tag functionality throughout the supply chain has entered the RFID implementation and operations equation.

 

By George Hoffman, chairman and CEO of FineLine Technologies. He can be reached at ghoffman@finelinetech.com | 336-391-7935.

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