The Promise of RFID

Auto-ID technologies in the logistics field comprise barcode, passive and active RFID data capture technology. The advantage of RFID data capture over barcode is contactless without line of sight reading. Passive RFID data capture is enabled through magnetic induction from a reader, whereby information (such as an Unique identifier in form of an Electronic Product Code for example) encoded on the tag’s memory is passed back to a reader from where it can then be processed further in subsequent connected system, that means from the reader to a device controller to the SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure to an Enterprise Backend system. A passive RFID tag most commonly only features a unique ID that is read for which related data discovery is performed in a connected backend system.
Active battery powered RFID tags or transponders have considerably longer read ranges compared to passive RFID tags, may hold more data and can collect diagnostic or environmental data and initiate themselves communication to a receiving device.

Unique identification

Globally unique identification such as enabled by the Electronic Product Code (EPC) provides the capability to globally uniquely identify and track an object, such as a product or asset, together with its current and historic process as well as unique product attribute information throughout its supply chain or its entire product lifecycle. Unique identification can serve as a key to current and historic product process context as well as unique product attribute information discovery that can be made available to technical and business services.
Globally unique identifiers may identify products at item or sales/shipping unit level (EPC encoded S-GTIN), one way or reusable logistics units (EPC encoded SSCC and GRAI) and assets at item level (UID1, UID 2, ESN, GIAI and so on encodings). These unchanging unique identifiers may be used within a supply chain lifecycle or extend to a lifetime of many years, for instance when identifying an asset over its entire asset lifecycle from procurement to decommissioning, thus enabling globally uniquely identified asset related data discovery to procurement, accounting, audit, PLM, maintenance, repair and overhaul and Logistics processes and their attendant systems. Within this context the US Department of Defense appropriately subtitles their UID initiative “Capturing Business Intelligence through Technology”.
The emerging EPCIS Data Exchange standard, presently work in progress at EPCglobal, is very likely to enable a new quality of collaboration and data synchronization between business partners at the EPC unique identification level. A standardized EPCIS Data Exchange, subject to appropriate system integration, is likely to considerably improve processes such as deduction management, recall, product tracking and authentication, and multi-tiered responsive replenishment.

Intelligence to business processes

There is a clear opportunity that data associated with uniquely identified objects (products, assets, people, property) provide intelligence to business processes.

  • An asset or product at the end of its lifecycle may trigger a scrapping, shelf recall or decommissioning process based on some associated attributes (expiry data) and lifetime logic.
  • Based on the last location ID where an object has been sensed – the next business process step may be inferred and checked/ authenticated against
  • Permissible configuration may be authorized or denied
  • An associated manufacturing recipe or quality grading associated with the uniquely identified product or asset may determine the subsequent manufacturing steps
  • Channel rules associated with a uniquely identified object may detect unauthorized diversions or permit only certain workflows and not others
  • Authorization rules associated with a uniquely identified asset may allow only certain entities to manage and deploy an asset
  • Aggregated views on uniquely identified strategic assets support visibility to high value logistics deployment progress and provide intelligence to redeployment options

The impact of technology convergence

Uniquely identified products and assets can be hierarchically or contextually associated using different type of Auto-ID technologies. For instance an individual product or asset may carry a UID marking in form of a 2-D data matrix that can be read with a barcode, this individual product in turn may then be packed in a shipping case that carries a passive RFID tag, which in turn may be associated with a sea freight container that may have an active RFID transponder.
Given such prevailing associations are managed by an enterprise system, data discovery at all hierarchy levels are possible. Active RFID transponders that can collect and communicate environmental, diagnostics as well as security information may then be combined with GPS/RTLS positioning and locating technologies, and GSM or satellite communication technology. This multiple technology data stream integration linked to multi-level unique ID (from logistics unit down to the item level) data discovery can provide for a new quality of real-time logistics intelligence, tracking any type of product or asset through remote communication to a receiving backend ERP system from any location in the world.
RFID, Auto-ID and sensor networks, with local as well as remote data stream integration and unique identification are clearly converging to a single paradigm. The SAP RFID Program is one element within this new technology paradigm. SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure and SAP Event Management represent initial building blocks to enable the above identified capabilities unique to Auto-ID and the related unique identification paradigm.

Christian Roediger