Bell Canada has announced a pilot program that will explore further applications of radio frequency identification (RFID) within the retail and supply chain industries.
The announcement follows the carrier’s recent acquisitions of the Createch Group, a supply chain optimization company based in Montreal, and Popware Inc., an asset management and tracking firm based in Hamilton, Ont.
Bell Canada was selected by the Supply Chain Network Project, a group of suppliers and retailers including Staples Business Depot and UPS Supply Chain Solutions, to deploy the electronic product code (EPC) RFID pilot.
Jeff Ashcroft, founder and developer of the Supply Chain Network Project, said Bell Canada and Houston, Tex.-based Shipcom Wireless Inc. were experienced partners in the deployment of RFID pilots.
“Both Shipcom and J.P. Kamel [RFID lead, enterprise wireless for Bell] have been involved in a number of RFID implementations in the U.S.,” said Ashcroft. “The Catamaran server software being used by Shipcom has been very effective in these implementations.”
Ashcroft believes RFID can reduce labour, distribution and shrinkage (loss of inventory) costs through process improvement, better inventory visibility and reductions in the duplication and handling of goods.
“With the RFID tracking of the product, we have much better visibility of what’s in the supply chain, so if there is a disappearance of product, it becomes readily apparent,” said Ashcroft, who is also vice-president of logistics and supply chain for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) in Toronto.
RFID provides a more direct connection between the products and the system, Ashcroft said. “If a barcode product comes in to a warehouse, for example, and the individual doesn’t scan it, say he’s in a hurry to go on his break and he doesn’t scan it, then it never happened.
“But with RFID, if it comes through a portal, it can’t come through without being verified, so RFID provides that direct connection that didn’t exist in the past.”
Mohammed Nakhooda, a spokesperson for Bell Canada, said Bell was also currently running its own internal RFID pilot with the company’s fleet management. The Supply Chain Network pilot, with Bell as systems integrator, would build on the carrier’s existing wireless data capabilities.
“Right now we know that RFID can reduce labour costs and shrinkage, but what we want to do here is find out how we can fully exploit the technology,” said Nakhooda.
“The pilot will be using the technology to look at the productivity gained through understanding what’s happening at every moment in the supply chain.”
“We’ll be evaluating the pilot, as well as RFID technology in our own supply chain infrastructure, as it moves forward to the second phase, providing asset tracking and inventory management. The next step would be to build out a hosted RFID-enabled product,” said Nakhooda.
The pilot will involve up to four suppliers, one warehouse and one Staples Business Depot location, and will encompass pallet, case and item tagging using the EPC Gen2 standard. Project management is being provided by PwC.