Information Services Office   4.4.2012


RFID systems apply in cattle rearing
Hand-held RFID in stock checking
Newsletter No. 395 > In Plain View > RFID Systems: 'Résumés' for Products

RFID Systems: 'Résumés' for Products


Some day in the future, when we try to locate a book that’s been misplaced in the library, the librarian will only need to use a sensor or we, users, use an application downloadable onto mobile phones, to find out exactly where the book is. This is one of the possible applications of Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) technology.

Prof. Cheung Waiman, director of the Li & Fung Institute of Supply Chain Management & Logistics at CUHK, explained that the technology of RFID uses radio frequency to identify and obtain data. It’s nothing new—it was adopted by the military in WWII to distinguish between friendly and enemy troupes. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that it was developed for civilian use. With technological advances in recent years, the technology is now more mature and has wider application.

The basic theory of RFID works like this: a sensor transmits radio waves that trigger RFID tag chips within its radar to send out electromagnetic waves. RFID can contribute much to the improvement of industrial and agricultural production, logistics and transport, commerce and industry, as well as the services of public and private organizations. At present, every person in Hong Kong owns an average of three Octopus cards and thousands of drivers subscribe to the autotoll systems of various tunnels—which all use RFID technology.

‘Technologically, RFID tags and barcodes are very different,’ Professor Cheung explained, ‘A barcode has a scanner that projects light directly on it from a short distance away. In RFID, the tag just needs to fall within the radar of the sensor, which means a much longer distance—currently of up to 100 metres. It’s also faster. A scanner can read a barcode each time, whereas an RFID reader can handle over a hundred tags. Data in RFID tags can be added or deleted but not that in barcode. Besides, RFID tags can distinguish among the data of individual products as opposed to every category or every batch for barcode. The biggest problem with RFID is its start-up cost which is not affordable for ordinary products or service providers. But with the popularization of the technology, the cost is expected to drop.’

The Li & Fung Institute of Supply Chain Management & Logistics was established in 2006 with support from the Li & Fung Group. It brings together experts from the Faculty of Business Administration and the Faculty of Engineering. The institute received sponsorship from the Li & Fung Group and the Innovation and Technology Commission of Hong Kong to launch a research project on applying RFID technology to supply chain services in the garment industry. Professor Cheung explained that retailers in the US have largely adopted RFID for stock-taking, they have no means to keep track of the production process. ‘Our research aims at giving every step in the process its own tag, from raw materials to the finished products. The data in the entire chain must be crystal clear, from material suppliers, production facilities to wholesale and retail. It’s like a “résumé”. Besides enabling tracking and stock-taking, this “résumé” allows one to assess all supply chain services. One can see at a glance which part has a problem and what detail needs attention. This raises efficiency and reduces the rate of wear and tear.’

The study’s findings received two RFID Awards from GS1 Hong Kong, including the Gold Award for Most Innovative Use of EPC/RFID. They also drew much attention from US retailers when presented at the Retail Congress in the US last year. ‘We have completely mastered the technology, but before it can be fully applied, some crucial areas need to be polished,’ remarked Professor Cheung, ‘At present, we focus on studying how RFID technology plays a role in supply chain services in the garment industry, but our ultimate goal is to apply it to other industries. The earlier its application is perfected, popularized and its cost reduced, the more society will stand to benefit.’

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