Operations Professor Bradley says RFID Not Ready for Prime Time… Yet

JBradleyWILLIAMSBURG, VA -- A workshop on Trends and Advances in Wireless Technologies was held on March 12, 2008 at the Norfolk State University.  The workshop was jointly hosted by The National Center for Applied Sensor Science and Technology (NCASST), the Center for Gaming and Simulation (CGS), the Hampton Roads Research Partnership (HRRP), and the Technology and Business Center at the College of William and Mary. (The NCASST and the CGS are both affiliated with Norfolk State University.)  The workshop brought together academics, leading companies in wireless communications and computing technologies, and entrepreneurs to promote knowledge transfer and economic development in wireless technologies in the Hampton Roads area, and throughout Virginia. 

The Mason School's James R. Bradley, an Associate Professor in Operations Management and Information Technology, spoke at the workshop about the diffusion of Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID) in commercial supply chains.  RFID technology replaces the ubiquitous bar codes on the products that we buy, and potentially offers several advantages to that older technology.  Chief among those advantages is the capability to store more information, including a serial number for every item that flows through supply chains, even small items like tubes of toothpaste.  That serial number can be critical in some situations where tracking products throughout the supply chain is very important, for example, to assure the safety and authenticity of the pharmaceuticals that we buy.  Also, bar codes can be read only when they are placed on the outside of containers, whereas RFID tags can be read while hidden in larger cases and pallets of goods. 

Bradley noted that although RFID has been hyped with great fanfare over the past seven years, and powerful companies such as Wal-Mart have been strongly advocating RFID, the adoption of RFID has been slower than Wal-Mart and other proponents would have liked.  He noted many barriers to RFID adoption that fall into three general categories: technical difficulties, lack of collaboration in supply chains, and the cost of RFID.  In particular,

  • Technical difficulties that prevent RFID tags from being read with the nearly 100% reliability that is required have yet to be surmounted;
  • Supply chain partners have difficulty with collaboration, agreeing on how to share the costs and benefits of RFID, and agreeing on hardware, software, and data sharing standards and rules; and
  • RFID remains too costly for total adoption throughout all supply chains and for all products. 

Professor Bradley foresees a day when the use of the much ballyhooed RFID technology will be widespread throughout supply chains, but that day, much to the chagrin of many, has not yet arrived.