General Motors once used the tag line, “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile.” Today, it’s no longer your father’s retail world.
Welcome to radio frequency identification or RFID, a new tracking technology using a wireless system to transmit data from tags on products to a receiver as a way to follow the product through the supply chain. Benefits include increased inventory accuracy and speed, more efficient warehouse and distribution processes and loss prevention.
Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business is at the forefront of this emerging technology with the recent opening of its RFID Lab, a research center helping businesses implement RFID in retail, supply chain and manufacturing. The 13, 000-square-foot lab replicates a factory, distribution center, warehouse, and various retail operations such as grocery stores, mall apparel and specialty boutiques.
Several major companies are partnering with the lab. At the grand opening, Amazon announced a joint project with Auburn University to study implementing RFID in the Amazon supply chain.
RFID Lab Director Justin Patton says the lab serves as a resource for businesses to access the latest industry issues in RFID and learn more about the technology and how it can fit into their organizations. It also serves as a resource for students in a variety of disciplines.
Although much of the research conducted at the lab is international, particularly the global supply chain, Patton has communicated with Alabama businesses in manufacturing and aerospace. He says these sectors will be a welcome addition beyond the primary focus on retail.
“We’ve made some visits to the Birmingham area and are reaching out to Huntsville. We’re especially interested in entrepreneurship, and RFID is perfect for tech start-ups. We hope to engage directly with the incubator program in Birmingham.”
Because of the broad potential of RFID technology, the lab is open to other applications. Before the lab opened, for example, an Auburn University professor worked with municipal governments in Alabama coastal communities to study how RFID could be used to recover critical infrastructure after hurricanes and other natural disasters — learning that RFID technology could locate water mains, gas lines and other infrastructure better than GPS.
Auburn’s RFID Lab was founded by Bill Hardgrave, dean of the Harbert College of Business and a leading authority in RFID. The lab is one of eight members of the global RF Lab Alliance, which includes research facilities at the University of Florida and Georgia Tech, along with universities in Hong Kong, South Korea, Germany and Italy.
Text by Jessica Armstrong