RFID Trials Showing Mixed—Although Generally Upbeat—Results

Written by Evan Schuman
November 15th, 2006

Recent RFID trials are showing mixed results for RFID, with UK retail leader Marks & Spencer declaring its 42-store test a success and preparing to add 80 more test stores next year while Cardinal Health said RFID has “real promise” but a “great deal of additional work needs to be undertaken” before it’s practical.

The Marks & Spencer trial is interesting because of the $14-billion M&S chain’s history as a longtime RFID proponent. The chain’s trial used “throwaway paper labels attached to, but not embedded in, a variety of men’s and women’s clothing items in stores,” according to a report in “M&S uses mobile scanners to scan garment tags on the shop floor, and portals at distribution centres and the loading bays of stores allow rails of hanging garments to be pushed through and read at speed.”

The story quoted an M&S representative as saying that the item-level RFID tagging will hit an additional 80 stories in the spring of 2007 and will be limited to apparel that has an especially wide variety of sizes, with the possibility of “extending RFID tagging to other clothing departments from the autumn of next year.”

The trial results for Cardinal Health were somewhat different. The $81-billion Dublin, Ohio-headquartered health-care company tested whether UHF RFID tags “could be applied, encoded and read at normal production speeds during packaging and distribution of pharmaceuticals,” according to a statement Cardinal issued Tuesday. On the plus side, the company said that the trial “under real-world conditions has demonstrated that the technology has real promise to provide an added layer of safety” but Renard Jackson?Cardinal’s VP/General Manager of global packaging services?was quick to add some serious concerns.

“While our pilot demonstrated that using UHF RFID technology at the unit, case and pallet level is feasible for track and trace purposes, a great deal of additional work needs to be undertaken by stakeholders across the industry to address significant challenges including global standards, privacy concerns and the safe handling of biologics,” Jackson said. “Until those challenges are addressed, direct distribution of medicine continues to be the best near-term approach to maintain the highest levels of security and efficiency in the pharmaceutical supply chain.”

Cardinal said the trial’s online encoding yields 95-97 percent but that the company hoped a process fine-tuning would “produce yields that approach 100 percent.”

“Highly reliable unit-level read rates in excess of 96 percent were found when reading individual cases one at a time and when reading units mixed with other products in tote containers prepared for delivery to a pharmacy. However, as expected, unit- level read rates were not found to be reliable when attempting to read units within a full pallet of product,” the company said. “While not 100 percent in all situations, case-level data were found to be more reliable during full pallet reads. The combination of business process changes, and further hardware tuning is expected to improve the reliability of case tag reads to 100 percent. But further tests are needed to prove this hypothesis.”

Cardinal’s read rates varied, but the specific process they used had a strong impact, the company said. “In preparation for delivery to the pharmacy, individual bottles are picked and placed in tote containers with other products that do not have RFID tags. The unit-level read rates from the tote containers being read during the quality control phase were acceptable for track and trace,” the statement said. “Additional unit-level read rates while the product was in the tote containers were not found to be reliable during subsequent reading stations at the shipping dock of the distribution center and the receiving doors at the pharmacy.”


One Comment | Read RFID Trials Showing Mixed—Although Generally Upbeat—Results

  1. Andy Brown Says:

    I read with interest the article covering the reliability of RFID in various trials.
    The answer to the two-fold:
    First and most importantly, is that the technology used in most of the high profile trials is based on the US developed EPC standard or current ISO
    18000-6 platforms. The technology used successfully in the M&S trails is based on iP-X a propriety technology that has been submitted royalty free to ISO as NP ISO 18000-8, but may now find a place a -6D.
    The second issue is selective use on RFID friendly products. (The right tool for the job) Until industry realise the limitation of the most publicised products such as EPC, RFID will not gain major acceptance. By looking at what is out there (beyond the US) industry will see that there are far better technologies out there that can do the required job.


StorefrontBacktalk delivers the latest retail technology news & analysis. Join more than 60,000 retail IT leaders who subscribe to our free weekly email. Sign up today!

Most Recent Comments

Why Did Gonzales Hackers Like European Cards So Much Better?

I am still unclear about the core point here-- why higher value of European cards. Supply and demand, yes, makes sense. But the fact that the cards were chip and pin (EMV) should make them less valuable because that demonstrably reduces the ability to use them fraudulently. Did the author mean that the chip and pin cards could be used in a country where EMV is not implemented--the US--and this mis-match make it easier to us them since the issuing banks may not have as robust anti-fraud controls as non-EMV banks because they assumed EMV would do the fraud prevention for them Read more...
Two possible reasons that I can think of and have seen in the past - 1) Cards issued by European banks when used online cross border don't usually support AVS checks. So, when a European card is used with a billing address that's in the US, an ecom merchant wouldn't necessarily know that the shipping zip code doesn't match the billing code. 2) Also, in offline chip countries the card determines whether or not a transaction is approved, not the issuer. In my experience, European issuers haven't developed the same checks on authorization requests as US issuers. So, these cards might be more valuable because they are more likely to get approved. Read more...
A smart card slot in terminals doesn't mean there is a reader or that the reader is activated. Then, activated reader or not, the U.S. processors don't have apps certified or ready to load into those terminals to accept and process smart card transactions just yet. Don't get your card(t) before the terminal (horse). Read more...
The marketplace does speak. More fraud capacity translates to higher value for the stolen data. Because nearly 100% of all US transactions are authorized online in real time, we have less fraud regardless of whether the card is Magstripe only or chip and PIn. Hence, $10 prices for US cards vs $25 for the European counterparts. Read more...
@David True. The European cards have both an EMV chip AND a mag stripe. Europeans may generally use the chip for their transactions, but the insecure stripe remains vulnerable to skimming, whether it be from a false front on an ATM or a dishonest waiter with a handheld skimmer. If their stripe is skimmed, the track data can still be cloned and used fraudulently in the United States. If European banks only detect fraud from 9-5 GMT, that might explain why American criminals prefer them over American bank issued cards, who have fraud detection in place 24x7. Read more...

Our apologies. Due to legal and security copyright issues, we can't facilitate the printing of Premium Content. If you absolutely need a hard copy, please contact customer service.