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Senior Editor

The RFID story

Jun 18, 20032 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsRFID

* Radio frequency identification makes supply chains more efficient

One of the hottest trends in the retail industry is the use of radio frequency identification chips in product tags, labels and other items that make up most inventories.

RFID is already used in highway toll collection systems, and can tag everything from luggage to livestock. It’s being tested by a growing number of the biggest retailers, including Wal-Mart which announced a big effort behind RFID last week.

According to our Technology Update author ( using radio waves to track objects and provide near-real-time views of product status and location, RFID makes supply chains more efficient. RFID can help customers rapidly ascertain which products have been sold, and how much remains on shelves, in warehouses and distribution centers. This information aids inventory control and distribution channel management, and reduces costs.

A tag consists of an RFID chip and antenna. There are three types of tags – active, semipassive and passive. Current development is focused primarily on passive RFID tags because these devices are far less expensive to manufacture and deploy. Passive tags use radio waves for operation and communication. Signals are available only within the field of a reader, which is usually about 10 feet. This type of tag is useful for items that can be read from short ranges, such as cases filled with disposable razors or packs of replacement blades.

At the Retail Systems 2003 last week, the nonprofit Uniform Code Council unveiled steps to transform RFID into a retail industry standard. The industry group perhaps is best known for creating the Uniform Product Code (UPC) that now appears as a barcode sequence on almost every item sold anywhere. Adopting a similar approach for RFID, the council has proposed creating a new “Electronic Product Code,” which will become the retail industry’s standard implementation of RFID.

There’s much more on RFID. See