RFID Technology - A Techncial Blunder?

Nothing like a potentially good controversy to keep one's interest during the dog days of summer. The Dublin-based company, Heavey RF Ltd., which builds rugged mobile solutions using Radio Frequency (RF) technology, posted a small report on its website that questioned the overall business value of RFID. The report concludes,

Given that bar-coding still hasnâ''t been fully deployed after 40 years in the supply chain, I find it hard to accept that this much more expensive, infinitely more complicated and not yet mature technology is going to be any different. Given the last 15 years of what is effectively an RFID failure in the supply chain, insist in seeing a proven working solution before taking what is ultimately a big leap of faith. History is littered with large technical blunders â'' RFID in the supply chain could be one of the biggestâ'¿

The Heavey report starts off as follows:

Before I start, I would like to categorically state that I am a very big fan of RFID. Since 1995, I have been exposed to various methods of solving unique problems using RFID and I have been directly involved in RFID projects. My company, Heavey RF, has a large range of RFID products to offer and has deployed RFID solutions to a number of companies in Ireland. Unlike most RFID providers, we have actually made money doing it.

So whatâ''s the problem?

The problem is this â'' RFID simply cannot do what people expect it to do from the hype that has been generated over the last decade. It is not a magic wand that will tell you where all your products are in real time. It is not as reliable as bar-coding, and can never be as cost effective. While mankind frequently bends the laws of physics, we have never actually broken them which is what would have to be done if the technology were to be able to live up to the hype.

Heavey posted the report because,

RFID technology in 95% of cases presented to me would be technology for technologyâ''s sake. I have had customers question why I have not brought this ground breaking technology instead of bar-coding to them to reduce costs and improve accuracy only to scratch the surface and be thanked by them afterwards for saving them from a big mistake.

One could view the report as a good marketing ploy (especially if one wants to keep selling bar-coding), but I thought the report was not only interesting but well--balanced. It was aimed at separating RFID-hype from reality. I am admittedly sympathetic to that idea, because my field of risk management too is surrounded by excessive hype and a dearth of reality.

Anyway, I found it refreshing, and I sincerely hope it creates a stir. Then maybe the real benefits, costs and risks of using RFID will be better understood by all.


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Robert Charette
Spotsylvania, Va.
Willie D. Jones
New York City