To RFID Or Not; PRWs Are Undecided

The PRW industry proves to be a mixed bag when it comes to RFID adoption.


This past fall, C.H. Robinson added another supplier to its RFID roster, this time a citrus company that packs produce for many of C.H. Robinson's retail customers. C.H. Robinson tags the cases and pallets of citrus as they head out of the company's distribution centers for the retail giant.

The C.H. Robinson testing facility is fully functioning and available to produce growers that need to comply with partner mandates. "We've been able to learn how to position the tags, how the hardware and software works, and how to set up RFID processes," says Ralston. "These are all grassroots activities on our end."

Ralston says that C.H. Robinson was proactive in testing RFID because it could "see the benefits of knowing where products are and smoothing out the flow of data and goods." RFID, he says, "gives you more data about movement."

Also jumping on the RFID bandwagon is Lakeland, FL-based Saddle Creek Corp., which has been involved with the technology for the past two to three years. "We currently have several accounts that supply Wal-Mart, so we have partnered with them to come up with compliance labeling," says Randy Burdick, Saddle Creek's manager of special projects. "We have created a system where we can pull out a product, tag it and create the appropriate paperwork."

Burdick says that Saddle Creek's customers have driven the RFID process. "They have selected the RFID vendors and we have provided the operational experience to them," he says. "In each case, we have created labs to test the tags and system and then began with a small start-up."

Currently, Burdick says that a very small percentage of Saddle Creek's customers—just 2.5 percent—are involved with RFID. But those customers have benefited by maintaining their relationships with Wal-Mart, as well as making other gains. "We've seen productivity gains and picking accuracy has improved also," he explains. "It's tough to measure, however, because we still have such a small sampling to work with."

The Future

All of the companies that have begun RFID programs expect to expand them in the future. "We will expand our RFID solution centers nationwide based on customer demand," says Scherer of USCS. "We also intend to use RFID technology within our facilities to improve our operational efficiencies."

Ralston says that C.H. Robinson will continue to advance its RFID services as the technology improves. "The new technology is getting better and better all the time," he says. "We will continue to audit and interview hardware and software providers as we progress."

C.H. Robinson is expanding its testing across categories to address a variety of process issues as well. The company is very supportive of the technology as a way to improve business processes. "The more knowledgeable you are about the supply chain and where your goods are, the better," he says. "It's a smarter way to do business."

Saddle Creek also has plans for the future with RFID. "We are looking at developing RFID solutions that go beyond client-specific applications that we can share with different clients," says Burdick. "We've had the benefit of seeing what different equipment can do so we plan to pick the best of the solutions and integrate them into one package we can offer to all our clients."

The company continues to hear from clients interested in RFID, and it stands ready to move forward with those who request it. "Right now it works well for electronic proof of delivery," says Burdick, "but we will continue to look for other areas where we can apply it."

Clearly, the amount of RFID use in the PRW industry remains all over the board. For those still standing on the sidelines, though, a time to get into the game can't be far off.

Whatever the future holds for RFID in the food supply chain, the PRW industry will be prepared, according to IARW's Milk. "PRW companies are well aware of RFID developments, benefits, shortcomings and challenges," he says. "They are watching RFID trends and applications and they stand ready to do whatever is needed to meet the RFID needs of their customers."

 

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