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RFID Technology
Radio frequency identification (RFID) systems have primarily been used by the retail giants that can afford to employ them to track and manage inventory. Smaller companies generally dont want to make the rather significant investment necessary to implement RFID tracking, either in the warehouse or for inventory purposes. All that may be about to change. What began with just a few giant retailers has spread to other giant retailers and seems to be poised to catch on for a variety of uses. If that happens, theoretically the price will drop and RFID technology will become much more affordable and much more frequently used.

There are several advantages to RFID tracking of goods, particularly in a warehouse. First, these goods can be tracked in real time. Second, the readers dont require line of sight to function. A reader, or multiple readers can be installed almost anywhere in the warehouse, for example. The readers respond to a weak radio signal generated by a tag embedded in the packing material surrounding a product. The tag also bears information about whats contained in the packaging, how many items, and so on. The reader, coming into close proximity of the tags, reads them and sends the information to a handheld device or a central database, depending on how the particular system is configured. More and more entities are using this method to track their entire supply chains.

Some of the sensors embedded in packaging materials can provide much more information than just a merchandise count. In fact, the technology already exists to determine by reading the tag if an objet has been dropped somewhere along the line or even if it has been stored at the wrong temperature. RFID can be used for nearly as many applications as are imaginable, since the tags include a computer chip that can be configured to store and send whatever information is desired. Some of the uses that are being developed and/or contemplated include ticketing, personnel tracking and asset management, or even signaling an alert if something in a warehouse is moved without the proper authorization.

Cell phone makers are beginning to develop kits that can turn an ordinary cell phone into an RFID reader. Several companies have announced that they are working on use of RFID as a means of sharing data between consumer devices. Service representatives in the field will be able to scan the RFID tag on an item using only their cell phone, and download additional information about the item from the Internet. A customer standing in a store will be able to use his or her cell phone to gain a wide variety of information about an item, or even check a competitors price on the spot.

New efficiencies in manufacturing and supply chain management are just around the corner, thanks to RFID technology and the possibilities it presents, according to RFID aficionados. Not only will the technology ensure items integrity, but it will automate many tasks. Experts say it will benefit manufacturers, warehouses, retailers, and even customers in the long run.

So far, RFID has been used only by a small number of companies that could afford the advanced technology. However, it appears that as more companies adopt it, the technology will become significantly lower priced, thus making it more available for a much greater variety of uses.

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