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National RFID project set to go

A trial to test radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in distribution networks will kickoff next month. Backed by the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), the project aims to demonstrate the business benefits of uniquely identifying each item in a supply chain using an electronic product code.

A trial to test radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in distribution networks will kickoff next month.

Backed by the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), the project aims to demonstrate the business benefits of uniquely identifying each item in a supply chain using an electronic product code.

The Council comprises around 150 members such as MasterFoods and Nestle, which supply products to major retailers such as Coles and Woolworths -- where RFID technology could one day be applied.

The $200,000 government-funded National Demonstrator Project will see a number of cross-industry organisations transport and monitor RFID-tagged goods over eight months. The initiative will be led by the CSIRO (Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) and RFID administrator GS1 Australia.

During the trial, manufacturers Gillette and Proctor and Gamble will use RFID tags in the distribution of their products between Sydney and Melbourne. Gillette's products include razor blades and batteries, while Proctor and Gamble makes personal grooming goods such as shampoo.

Meanwhile, Chep will provide special pallets for the project. In Gillette's supply chain, these pallets will be sent to packaging manufacturer Visy, which will provide RFID-tagged cartons to hold the products.

Each carton will be uniquely identifiable but not individual products.

Pallets will be scanned for identification details by RFID readers at Visy before moving on.

On arrival at the warehouse of their respective manufacturer, the pallets will again be scanned by RFID readers.

Linfox trucks, sans RFID readers, will then transport the pallets to grocery distributor Metcash in Melbourne.

At Metcash, the number of cartons will be recorded again, taking into account those that may be dispatched to meet orders. This will give Metcash a real-time inventory system.

All product code tags have been registered with VeriSign, which runs the EPCglobal Network -- a Web-based database used to house electronic product code and RFID information. Each number has three components of identification: company, object and serial. The standard format will allow the data to be shared between all participants.

Via a VeriSign portal, each project participant will be able to view the approximate location of a carton, according to where and when it was last scanned, and track a product's lifecycle throughout the supply chain. The portal will simulate the integration of enterprise resource planning systems, which would normally be required for companies to share supply chain data.

Dr John Mo, the CSIRO manager leading the project, said his team would look for data conflicts that could arise via the number of participants involved.

"At the Metcash end, if they say 'I haven't seen that [product] number, but you said you sent it', obviously there's a problem," Mo said. "People will also want to know the key performance indicators from a project such as this."

Last year, the AFGC asked members if they were ready for RFID and electronic product code adoption. The survey, 'From Barcode to Electronic Code', that found respondents were actively preparing to embrace the technologies, and were past the 'wait and see' approach.

Once the Demonstrator Project concludes, the Council will report its findings and conclusions to members. If successful, this could convince more in the industry to adopt RFID solutions.