RFID: what, when, where and why of your supply chain
With its strength in identifying individual items or assets and their whereabouts, RFID offers a multitude of benefits across the entire supply chain.
Over the last few weeks we’ve walked you through the various benefits of using RFID in a retail store. RFID gives retailers the what, where and how much of their inventory on a real time basis. This information is invaluable for improving inventory accuracy, reducing out of stocks, aiding loss prevention and just locating stock in general – which is always useful in a store environment.
However, the use cases for this transformation technology aren’t limited to the shop floor. With its strength in identifying individual items or assets and their whereabouts, RFID offers a multitude of benefits across the entire supply chain.
Adding onto its ability to identify the what, where and how much of a product, RFID is a stepping stone towards determining the who, when and why of something. In retail logistics terms this means it can be used to share information around the key events in your supply chain. Events can include receiving, shipping and transferring goods or just general transactions. By accurately and automatically tracking these events you get total supply chain visibility making it easy to manage a complex retail or wholesale network. But considering the many levels of a fashion supply chain how does this event sharing actually work?
Fashion retail supply chains tend to involve a lot of trading partners, in various parts of the world, using potentially disparate systems. To successfully and efficiently share supply chain event information across multiple partners you need a common language and a standardised way of working.
For tracking RFID events the industry standard is EPCIS – Electronic Product Code Information Services. This is the GS1 standard, or global way of working, when sharing information about the physical movement and status of products as they travel throughout the supply chain from business to business. EPCIS builds on the global RFID standard EPC by using a serialised number to uniquely identify each instance or item in the supply chain. This enables the tracking of each individual product throughout its legitimate journey and can be shared with relevant partners. EPCIS can be used with RFID but interestingly, as an open standard, it will also work with the barcodes that many retailers use today. And for those not using serialisation, EPCIS can also manage lot and batch based information.
What makes EPCIS really stand out from other forms of track and trace is the ability to share your data. Many companies are able to get information about where things are however, until recently, they lacked a common language and a seamless, secure way for sharing this information with suppliers and partners. EPCIS data is shared very much on a “needs to know basis” – all trading partners control their own data and may share it with only those they choose by using established security mechanisms.
At its most basic level, there are three components to EPCIS;
- Tracking – what are my objects?
- Tracing – where were my objects at a given point?
- Chain of custody or ownership – who had my objects?
So why is this important and how do we apply it to retail? Well, any company that shares supply chain data with other partners will find this useful. Sharing data from point to point in a standard format, whether its receipt of goods or POS data, makes it easier to aggregate and utilise event information across the supply chain. But there are three areas unique to apparel retail where EPCIS can have a significant impact.
End to end supply chain visibility
EPCIS is the technology needed to enable source to store visibility. Giving you the ability to accurately record and share information on the key events as a product moves through the supply chain. EPCIS maps out the entire supply chain process in granular detail. Imagine knowing exactly what stock you were going to receive, how many days it was from store, where it had been in the meantime and being able to react to that. The impact of this on all aspects of retail from demand planning, store fulfilment to warehouse and even customs processes is limitless.
In addition to managing the process of items moving along the supply chain, EPCIS can detect the insertion and distribution of products that aren’t meant to be there. In this way it has huge potential for anti-counterfeit protection – particularly important if you’re a luxury goods brand. Retailers and brands can protect themselves against the introduction of counterfeit products and consumers can rest assured as there is data driven proof of their products authenticity.
Improved sustainability and traceability
As the importance of sustainable sourcing gains traction globally, retailers and brands are under more pressure to take responsibility for their supply chains. But managing a global supply base is no easy task. Particularly in apparel where garments are often constructed by a varied fruit salad of suppliers involving manufacturers, components suppliers, sub-contractors, dye and finishing houses and other textile businesses.
Having visibility of this complex matrix is the first step in being able to control it and that is where EPCIS can assist. The event data provided by EPCIS gives you traceability of products but also the data to evaluate sustainability. This could be as simple as verifying the source of manufacturing or recording and evaluating sourcing metrics. For example, in the USA, restaurant giant Chipotle uses EPCIS to track “food miles” or the distance from food source to store to ensure its meeting its sustainability KPI’s.