To better understand the scope of RFID (radio frequency identification) technology, let's take a look at The Gillette Company, based in
Following a pilot program, Gillette announced its intention to buy 500,000,000 (that's not a typo — not half a million but half a billion) RFID tags, at 10 cents a piece and to tag every pallet and every carton coming out of its distribution centers. By the way, the company selling the tags to Gillette is Alien Technology, in
Imagine the benefits of tracking those pallets, and the cases on the pallets, from manufacturing to the point of sale. Gillette will be able to reduce losses from out-of-stock, stolen or lost products, and as the company understands the power of this tracking capability, it will increase revenues by leveraging inventory information into smarter marketing to the retailers. More about that later.
There are rumors of an even bigger deal in the works, so big that the price of the tags will be cut in half. If anyone out there knows who might be cutting this deal, send me an e-mail.
Each pallet will have two tags and will be wheeled past locations in the distribution center with antennas. The antennas send the information to the shipping dock where the pallet is checked and read again at the back door. There, the pallet is put on the trailer, bound for its final destination.
It doesn't stop there. At the retailers, the Gillette products will be placed on "smart shelves" which are also tagged. The shelves relay to the stores inventory system what and how many products are sitting there; that data is viewable on any device, including the handheld the manager is carrying.
The system also thanks the customer via electronic signage at the shelf and alerts the manager if inventory is getting low. Somehow, it also knows the difference between shoplifting and purchasing, but I wasn't able to get that detail.
RFID tags will allow a computer to identify any object, anywhere, automatically and — here's the scary part — will allow a product, in essence, to sense the real world on its own. At least that is the dream of Kevin Ashton, executive director of the
On a clip on the Center's Web site, Richard Cantwell, vice president of Gillette and a board member at the Center, said to a manufacturer that knowing where products are is "as valuable as knowing your bank balance."