RFID technology may be regarded as an ‘old’ (and not terribly accurate) toy by many practitioners in supply chain jobs today – but according to Supply Chain Management Review, it seems to be beginning a comeback as an integral part of an Internet of Things (IoT) supply chain strategy.

US supermarket giant Walmart and even the US Department of Defense were among the first big names to pioneer RFID technology about 15 years ago.

The strategy at that time was to attach RFID tags to each carton and/or pallet arriving at a distribution centre with the aim of gaining a newer, faster, more efficient level of visibility.

In place of the previous labour-intensive and time-consuming handheld barcode scans, RFID promised to sweep over large volumes of inventory at a stroke, tabulating each item.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to its promise: RFID tags were appreciably more expensive than the humble barcode, and barcode infrastructure was already established in most businesses needing to keep a handle on stock.

Few businesses are in favour of ‘rip and replace’ initiatives unless the benefits are very attractive.

Not only that, but RFID also proved notably less accurate than barcode scanning when reading carton tags as they passed through a portal.

Yet while the technology fell out of favour, it never entirely disappeared, and it has now resurfaced in other applications. 

Tech firm Impinj, which helped pioneer RFID technology in its earlier iteration, is now harnessing it for IoT tech, providing wireless connectivity to literally billions of items, from apparel to medical supplies, automobile parts, food and much else besides.

The company’s VP of global marketing and communications Gaylene Meyer said: “The technology hasn’t gone quiet. It’s been growing in adoption in specific use cases, primarily in retail.”

Fast fashion especially, is benefiting from this new application of the technology. 

This is a development that may reawaken the interest of supply chain professionals, including supply chain interims.

Sometimes, it seems, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

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