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NYT: Wal-Mart Slows RFID Plans, Suppliers Resist 188

Posted by Hemos
from the still-coming-tho' dept.
securitas writes "The New York Times' Barnaby Feder reports that Wal-Mart has scaled back its plans to deploy RFID tags because the majority of its top 100 suppliers will not be able to meet the Jan. 1, 2005 deadline that the retailer demanded. Suppliers are resisting Wal-Mart's RFID demand for a variety of reasons according to AMR Research. Only 40 suppliers will meet the deadline, with two suppliers 'so tied up in a complete overhaul of their entire information technology infrastructure that they have put off attempting to introduce radio tagging.' A more pragmatic reason for the delay is that 'no one who uses the technology has systems that can reliably read the information 100 percent of the time in factories, warehouses and stores; Wal-Mart said the rate was around 60 percent in its stores.' It's hard to make the case that RFID will help track inventory when you can't reliably find 40% of it."
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NYT: Wal-Mart Slows RFID Plans, Suppliers Resist

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  • Bad title (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tim C (15259) on Monday December 27, 2004 @08:59AM (#11190542)
    The title makes it sound as though Wal-Mart's suppliers are resisting the slowing of the introduction of RFID, while the truth is quite the reverse - that the slow-down is happening because of supplier resistence, not despite it.
    • Re:Bad title (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Stevyn (691306)
      should have read "Wal-Marts' RFID Plans Slowed"
    • Re:Bad title (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MrRTFM (740877) * on Monday December 27, 2004 @09:05AM (#11190560) Journal
      It isn't even supplier resistance - they simply cannot get it implemented in time.

      Walmarts great 'do as we say - sell for the price we say - dont be late - fuck you in general' policy may just be a little too oppresive after all.

      It would be good if the suppliers could get a little more power back because of this.
      • Re:Bad title (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 27, 2004 @10:32AM (#11190994)
        Walmarts are a scourge on society.

        Yes, I used to shop there. No, I don't any more.

        I am willing to pay a little more for things that I need if my money is going to "stay local". For this reason, I don't shop at Walmart and, instead, give business to the local "mom and pop" concern.

        They are suffering from what I term the "3G Effect". Any time you have a family business that grows into a large powerhouse, the 3rd generation of the family is the one that is spoiled / fucks up the company.

        The 1st generation (the owner) cares about the business - its ideals, its goals, its employees. He / she treats it like another child, caring for it and nurturing it. Generally, it is not an evil company.

        As the company grows and the children of the owner come into the business (2nd generation), things generally stay the same. The 2Gers respect the company and their parent. They saw the hard work and dedication that went into the company and want it to continue along the original path.

        When the grand-children come on board (3G), they've only ever seen the company at the top - they've never seen the hard work that went into it. When it's their turn at the controls, usually just after the owner kicks, they morph the company into a "how can we make the most money possible?" organization - forgetting the community and employees that the 1G and 2G dedicated themselves to. Sometimes, the 3Gers don't get involved in the company and just live as spoiled, ignorant brats (Paris, although you are a 4Ger, this means you!).

        Now, I call it the "3G Effect" when, in fact, the schedule could be moved up or back. In the case of Walmart, as soon as Sam kicked, the kids really started decimating the company by going offshore for more goods and putting the screws to the manufacturers.

        Enough of my tirade....

        • Re:Bad title (Score:3, Interesting)

          by winwar (114053)
          "Walmarts are a scourge on society."

          Well, that may be. But if they are, it's because they are popular.

          You might as well say people are a scourge on society because they enabled Walmart to get where it is today.

          Of course, there may be some truth to that :)
        • I am willing to pay a little more for things that I need if my money is going to "stay local". For this reason, I don't shop at Walmart and, instead, give business to the local "mom and pop" concern.

          Local "mom and pop" concern? How many of those do you really see? Albertsons and IGA (on the grocery side), Hastings (on the book side) and Best Buy and Circuit City (on the DVD/electronics side) are hardly more local than Wal-Mart is. I've never seen half-decent selections of those things at a local store.
      • Serious question:

        Why exactly is it good if the suppliers get power back? How does it help me, the consumer, for the suppliers to gain power against Walmart?
      • Agreed.

        Is Wal-Mart Good For America:
        http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/ shows/walm art/
  • so who benefits more (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    as a % out of this situation in profit and capital

    Customer
    Wallmart
    Distributer
    Manufacturer

    then perhaps you can understand the remaining parties reluctance to make the expenditure

  • Roles reversed (Score:5, Informative)

    by asliarun (636603) on Monday December 27, 2004 @09:03AM (#11190556)
    Given that Wal-Mart has been bullying its suppliers since donkey's years, it's high time they got a taste of their own medicine. However, rumour has it that the Pedigree has pawed the line in this initiative. Only, they're calling it Arf-ID.

    cough, sorry
  • by rokzy (687636) on Monday December 27, 2004 @09:04AM (#11190558)
    I have an RFID card I leave in my wallet that allows me access to parts of my work building. much better than swipe cards.

    I'd love them to be used in shops too. if you could just walk round a shop putting things in a bag, put the bag on a pay station, insert your credit card, type your PIN, and leave... I think that would be great, and a real case of technology actually making life better.

    and the only people (*cough* luddites *cough*) I want to hear privacy complaints from are the people who are posting from an internet cafe, wearing a disguise, putting a tinfoil blanket over themselves and the computer, and then paying with cash they've cleaned any DNA from. and you guys probably don't even go to shops ever since they introduced the eeeeeevvvviiiilll of barcodes anyway.
    • by neverutterwhen (813161) on Monday December 27, 2004 @09:08AM (#11190568)
      I don't have DNA anymore. It cost a lot but my right to privacy remains intact.
    • by rokzy (687636) on Monday December 27, 2004 @09:13AM (#11190586)
      addition: the system I describe above is what happens at my uni library. there are self-service checkout (and checkin) stations. you scan barcodes but it also has a system to deactivate the alarm.

      it's great and means you only need to see the people if you have a problem - that's the main reason for long queues at shopping etc - the 1% of the people that take up 99% of the time and delay everyone else.

      (the books aren't actually RFID, but books are easy to stack and scan individually anyway, unlike a bag of mixed shapes and sized items.)
      • it's great and means you only need to see the people if you have a problem - that's the main reason for long queues at shopping etc - the 1% of the people that take up 99% of the time and delay everyone else.

        Oxdung. In my experience, 99.44% of the delays at checkount counters are either because the cashier is changing her cash drawer (with the attendant paperwork slowly done in the face of 10 customers without the slightest apology nor explanation) or because the store is too fucking stupid to program t

      • The Grocery store I go to has a self scan system. It has a camera watching you and after you scan something you put it in a bag ("It put's it in the bag or it will get the hose"). There is a cashier watching about 6 locations to make sure nothing goes through on the outside. Biggest annoyances:
        1. Slow people
        2. Size of stalls. 4 of the 6 are pretty small so if you are doing a major buy you are kind of limited to going to the other two.
        3. No mute for the reminder voice. If you spend too long looking for which
    • No, you aren't (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Perianwyr Stormcrow (157913) on Monday December 27, 2004 @09:17AM (#11190596) Homepage
      I like RFID in the same way I like barcodes. Both are amazing for certain applications (RFID kinda beats the pants off barcodes for most things, though it needs to be backed up by a barcode and a human readable identifier...)

      Their usefulness, however, in my mind, does not preclude discussion of their drawbacks. Sure, there are people who are screaming BAN RFID OMG WTF but they're already the fringe and are being officially and unofficially ignored. Just because some fringies are mewling does not make the entire line of inquiry invalid.

      I think it is a reasonable point to make in general with technology that once we feel that our assumptions in terms of civil life are being changed, we have to step up and say something.
    • by tftp (111690) on Monday December 27, 2004 @09:17AM (#11190597) Homepage
      A quick thought experiment: what would happen if "somehow" a pack of chewing gum would "accidentally" stick itself to the bottom of the pay station, still within reach of the RF ID?

      How many customers would just shrug the unintended penny purchase off? Enough maybe for someone to haul a few large boxes of the chewing gum out of the back door after the day is over?

      I don't know about you, but I always watch what the clerks scan and where they put it. Not because they are always evil - they simply don't care. And I would rather bring home everything that I bought. And I would hate to pay for something I didn't intend to purchase. With RFID such visual checks are hardly possible, unless you are a genius who can scan 30 items on your receipt and instantly correlate them to what you wanted to buy.

      • by Perianwyr Stormcrow (157913) on Monday December 27, 2004 @09:19AM (#11190608) Homepage
        You're thinking of this stuff as being way more powerful than it is.

        Really, the best mass use of RFID is in a direct replacement of barcodes- RFID with a range of just a couple of feet extra beats the hell out of a barcode (think of trying to scan a barcode on a big case of soda... is it on this side? no! flip it over! oof. Is it on that side? no! Flip it sideways!)
        • by tftp (111690) on Monday December 27, 2004 @09:29AM (#11190639) Homepage
          Well, it is more powerful than the bar code, according to your definition. A couple of feet? This would force me to pay for things that two or three other customers piled onto the belt. How do I sort them out? Ask them to pick it up and walk three feet away? And then scan again?

          My point was that with bar codes the scanning speed matches human perception speed, and you can visually check how the barcode is used, and even how much you are being charged for each item (if you lift your eyes to the large display at the checkout position.)

          I see no such verification possible if you just park your shopping cart at the pay station and the printer rattles out a list of 50 items that you may or may not have picked. You have to pay and move on, because this is supposed to be the "quick" line and the peer pressure won't allow you to linger and check everything in your cart against the receipt.

          And if anyone suggests that there will be more such checkout positions - there will be less human clerks, that's the only sure thing in all this mess. That is bad in many aspects, primarily that there will be less jobs.

          • Job loss due to efficiancy is a good thing. It hurts in the short term, but in the long term it frees up people for other jobs; the store has more money, and the labour force has one more able body. It is win-win. Especially since cashier is a low paying job, it is not like a high paying job leaving the country and people getting underemployed after the fact.
            • You must be trolling. The labor force does not need "one more able body", it already has more than it can absorb. Imagine that all retail businesses decide to replace all the employees with vending machines. What will happen to millions of people who -only- are qualified to move boxes and count bills?

              This is not beneficial even to businesses because if nobody earns money nobody can buy anything. Profit is not made on hoarding all the money and sitting on that pile. Profit is made on moving the money; a

              • What will happen to millions of people who -only- are qualified to move boxes and count bills?

                You're describing a very serious and mostly ignored problem. And, I'm not entirely convinced that the invisible hand works in a marketing-based economy.

                But, it's a problem that can't be solved by forcing companies to employ people they don't have a use for. You're going to have to find other solutions than ludditism.
              • You must be trolling. The labor force does not need "one more able body", it already has more than it can absorb.

                Sorry, he's right. You've fallen for the lump of labor [pkarchive.org] fallacy.

                What will happen to millions of people who -only- are qualified to move boxes and count bills?

                They should gain other skills. What happened to secretaries who were only qualified to use typewriters? Give them welfare if they need it, but don't hold back technology to keep them in make-work jobs.
              • > Imagine that all retail businesses decide to replace all the employees with vending machines.

                Yeah! Imagine all the vending machine repairmen, stockers, cleaners that would have to be hired!

                Your example assumes EVERY CLERK is replaced all at once. In reality, only high-scale stores could use this starting out, then gradually down. Heck, some stores wouldn't use the vending machines for decades. It's a very gradual thing. How many farmers have been displaced by machines? Statistically, ALL OF THE
          • Well, a couple of feet might be nice. Small passive (no battery) RFID devices need to be close to an antenna to provide reliable information.

            Consider that you could put your groceries in bags as you shop. Then, when you get to the checkout, the cart would be pushed through a reader and automatically record the total of the items you have, give a printout of the items, the date they were manufactured, the expiration date, and other information. This information could even be added to an RFID card you

            • In another comment above I tried to show that there is no convenient way to match 50 purchases in the cart to 50 purchases printed on the receipt.

              Now, if your computer hard drive dies like mine did last week, all that information becomes useless anyway.

              It is useless already. Why would I want all that garbage data anyway? If I want to know when the milk expires I drink some of it, and if I feel that it's about to go sour then I finish it all :-)

              You went to great length trying to find some use for the R

    • Bar codes don't track the movements of the product for months after you bought it, so there's no comparison.

      You totally miss the point of RFID though, which is that it's a landmark advance in surveillance technology. It can be easily abused.

      The government would be very tempted to implant such tags in prisoners and homeless people. (Perhaps the argument could be made that it would reduce crime.) Employers may require implantation of such devices as a condition of employment. (The argument could be ma

      • No YOU miss the point. RDIF tags are easy to destroy. All you need is a not very powerful RF transmitter or magnetic field.

        I'll bet that the day RDIF becomes widespread, there will be little keychain 'RDIF Destroyers' and related products.

        Heck, i'm pretty sure already avalable degaussing wands will do the job nicely.

        • You can not destroy an RFID tag if it has even a most rudimentary protection against such an overload. Basically, a resistor and a Zener diode would do it. There would be no change in cost. But I am sure the tags already have this surge suppression built in, as part of their power conditioning circuit.

          And if the tag is mandatory for your employment - such as it is necessary to open doors and access materials - how much good such destruction would do to you even if you can pull it off? At best you will be

          • In certain cases RFID tags should not be destroyed (aforementioned work scenario.) But in such cases, is it not possible to "freeze" or temporarily disable RFID. I'm sure within a year of this becoming massively implemented there will be a device that works on the basis of "stick this to your arm and RFID cannot be read until it's removed or the battery dies", something like an RFID jammer. I'm sure as the tags gain popularity, so will "it", until companies can't give the damn things away (think cell phone
      • And if you were planning to track prisoners and homeless why would you use the RFID standard?
        Thier are better ways of doing it(read up of USSR spying and tracking methods) then using RFID.
      • by rokzy (687636) on Monday December 27, 2004 @09:38AM (#11190676)
        assuming the RFID was still enabled after purchase, and someone wanted to track the packaging of an item I bought, and was close enough to scan they could see and touch it anyway.... sorry but I just don't care.

        complain when it's abused, not because it CAN be abused. if you listened to complaints based on something COULD be a problem, we wouldn't have the internet or 99% of inventions.

        implantation? you must be taking the piss. how many of us have barcodes tattooed on our foreheads? that's what happens to prisoners in all the sci-fi movies but years later we still don't have it! WTF!?!!123
        • complain when it's abused, not because it CAN be abused.

          Great policy, that attitudes seems to really be the best idea.

          Nasa guy: shit , some foam hit the shuttle when it took off, this COULD be a problem
          Other Nasa Guy: well its not a problem yet, lets wait until it is.

          Scientist: oh man this global warming could be bad
          Politician: screw it, it aint a problem yet

          if you listened to complaints based on something COULD be a problem, we wouldn't have the internet or 99% of inventions.

          Listening to possible probl

    • The issue is that they think the government is actually organized enough to man a method of tracking every person in the US and still keep it under cover. Which it is not. When our leaders get caught in a conspiracy it is usually just taking some bribe from a single business to over look what they are doing or pardoning a prisoner who did some of their dirty work. The biggest conspiracy in government would be more to the level of Organized Crime, Aka Mob Control. But this Dr. Evil Spy on everyone and se
    • by plover (150551) * on Monday December 27, 2004 @09:27AM (#11190630) Homepage Journal
      There are a lot of reasons for consumers to not want RFID tags. The primary reason I can think of is personal security. Would you want to literally broadcast the fact that you had thirteen platinum Visa cards in your wallet? Walk into the wrong bar one night and count yourself lucky to wake up again.

      RFID reading is secret -- nobody needs to ask your permission to scan you. (Barcodes require you to expose them to the reader.)

      There are also other privacy related reasons you might not want RFID tags in your clothing. What if you walked into a fancy restaurant and they scanned you on the way in, realized you had on Walmart underwear, and refused to serve you? "Excuse me, sir, but we don't serve your kind here. You can play dress-up in an Armani suit, but we know who you really are." Or, would you want that restaurant to throw you out before they seated you because they saw your Visa cards were maxed out? "Hey, I was just here to meet a friend!" "Sorry, sir; may I suggest you meet him at McDonalds instead?"

      • There are a lot of reasons for consumers to not want RFID tags.

        There are a lots of reasons as a business would want to use the RFID tags without them ever leaving the store. 1. is that item isn't yours until you've paid for it. Just because you pick the item up and walk out of the store with it, doesn't mean you own the item.
      • This presumes we are unable to remove or nullify the RFID tags in our own items, and I would presume that these tags are included in the packaging, not the items itself. It would considerable headache to the manufacturing process in factories all over the world to include the tags in various bits of apparel.to

        IOTW, This is about pre-purchase tagging. And if they can make my goods cheaper by reducing theft/inefficiency, then I'm all for it. It's about time inventory management got out of the "hope and pr
        • See my previous post about embedded chips. Maximum benefit involves embedding the chip in the item (not the package) as early as possible in the manufacturing process so more links in the chain can benefit.

          I have no problem with retailers wanting to use RFID for the prepurchase handling of their merchandise. But I have a huge problem with the tags remaining live after purchase for privacy reasons. As a human being (without having yet evolved an RFID reader) I have no way to confirm if Walmart is actual

        • I can always get rid of it one way or another (a hammer might work)

          The problem is not what you will do. The problem is what everyone else will not do. At some point if you don't have the tag you automatically become suspect.

      • How about a tinfoil wallet? One pocket in the wallet is protected from reading RFID's, another is "public" - so you get to choose ona card by card basis which ones a random person can have.

        What if you walked into a fancy restaurant and they scanned you on the way in, realized you had on Walmart underwear, and refused to serve you? "Excuse me, sir, but we don't serve your kind here.

        That would be pretty absurd - who cares what underwear you're wearing? The credit card scenario is less absurd, but that's
      • Walk into the wrong bar one night and count yourself lucky to wake up again.

        No-one has ever been mugged for credit cards.

        You've been watching too many Steven Segal movies or something.
        • No-one has ever been mugged for credit cards.

          So are you claiming responsibility for every mugging that has ever occurred? I can't think of any other way you could make such a bold unverifiable assertion.

          Besides, that's not necessarily what the previous poster was implying. I wouldn't be suprised if there's a correlation between people with high-end credit cards and people with expensive watches and large sums of cash.
          • There's probably a negative correlation between people with high-end credit cards and large sums of cash, yes.

            You have no idea how much cash some people keep in their wallet, do you? And no, the $300 you take to the comic store every week isn't a "large" sum of cash.
      • by swillden (191260) * <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Monday December 27, 2004 @12:03PM (#11191715) Homepage Journal

        There are a lot of reasons for consumers to not want RFID tags.

        Perhaps, but you can't really think effectively about this with as much confusion about the technologies as you have.

        Would you want to literally broadcast the fact that you had thirteen platinum Visa cards in your wallet?

        1. The chips being put in credit cards are not RFIDs, they're contactless smart cards. There are many technological differences but the main practical difference is range. Contactless smart cards have a practical range of about four inches. Actually, I've rarely been able to read one at that range. Typically, to get a reliable read you need to get the card within about 1 cm of the reader. In practice, the most convenient thing to do is to lay the card on top of the reader.
        2. Contactless smart cards and readers can't operate with multiple cards in range of the reader. If you put a stack of them on a reader sometimes the reader will be able to talk to one of them but usually none of them will be readable.
        3. Contactless EMV cards don't provide any information about the type of card they are, so there's nothing to distinguish between a starter card with a $500 credit limit and a platinum card.
        4. If the banks are smart and go to contactless cards with a PIN, the card will refuse to divulge any significant information until the PIN has been transmitted to it. PIN transmission is only done in a secure channel (encrypted).

        So, your hypothetical barroom scanner must:

        1. Get his reader within a foot (let's be generous) of your wallet.
        2. Hope you only have one card in there, because otherwise odds are good he'll get nothing.
        3. Have the keys necessary to establish an encrypted session with your card.
        4. (Maybe, depending on configuration) Get you to tell him what your PIN is so he can send it to unlock the card.
        5. Grab your card number and then use his hacked access to that bank's computer to find out whether or not it has a high credit limit.

        I think he'd be better off looking at your clothes and car to see how much money you have.

        There are also other privacy related reasons you might not want RFID tags in your clothing. What if you walked into a fancy restaurant and they scanned you on the way in, realized you had on Walmart underwear, and refused to serve you?

        Well, retailers who plan to use RFID (and these are RFID tags, not smart cards) also plan to deactivate the chips at the checkout stand. Among other things, that will allow them to identify items that have been stolen, rather than purchased.

        Or, would you want that restaurant to throw you out before they seated you because they saw your Visa cards were maxed out?

        In this case the restaurant would have to do everything the barroom scanner would, plus perform a credit check. EMV cards don't provide (don't really even know) your credit balance. I suspect the restaurant's jet-setting clientele would get irritated at all of the extraneous credit queries. What would the restaurant do when someone walks in who has their credit records blocked?

        There may be privacy concerns with RFIDs and contactless smart cards, but your examples are both infeasible and, frankly, rather silly.

        • I stand corrected about the smart card RF reader. I've never seen or used one of those, my only experiences have been with "ordinary" RF door-access cards. They have no "smarts", and the readers seem to be able to discriminate between several in close proximity.

          However, RFID tags are a different animal completely. They are made to operate at a distance that allows door security readers to function.

          First, whatever makes you think retailers want to deactivate the chips at the point of sale? If the chi

          • First, whatever makes you think retailers want to deactivate the chips at the point of sale?

            Discussions with retailers who are considering deployment of RFID. Smart cards are my day job, but I do a little RFID consulting as well.

            Your examples this time are much better, although the first one -- traffic analysis -- is still a bit over the top. It seems far too unreliable to be useful as described. A more likely scenario is that you'll get an RFID tag embedded in a "discount card". Then they can reli

            • I work for a retailer who is looking seriously at RFID. We've been looking at all sorts of different RFID applications throughout our distribution chain from shipping through point of sale through returns and vendor dispositions of defective merchandise (RFID scanners mounted on trash compactors.)

              Most of the traffic analysis stuff mentioned above is already being done at the loyalty card level. Your purchase history is already tied to your merchandise, and those items are already being bundled together

      • Also, don't forget that RFID can be woven into clothing. Nothing like walking into a retailer and have them know everything you are wearing (socks and underwear too!) and where you bought it from. Or even knowing what is in your shopping bag so they can more effectively target you with their sales droids.
  • by ProppaT (557551) on Monday December 27, 2004 @09:10AM (#11190576) Homepage
    I can only find what I'm looking for in Wal Mart about 60% of the time anyway, so really it all balances out in the long run...
  • IT doesn't make sense that Wal Mart would continue to hold the Jan 1 deadline when they can't even get it working. If it isn't 100% reliable (or closer to it, anyway), both Wal Mart and all their suppliers would have to maintain two inventory tracking systems (old one + new rfid). With that much volume, that is no small thing.
    Granted, that is normally how the bugs are worked out - you put it in and force the technology providers to keep working on it until it hits the 98%+ accuracy range.

    Jerry
    http:/ [syslog.org]

  • by lewscroo (695355) on Monday December 27, 2004 @09:56AM (#11190774)
    I am currently working with one of the RFID companies that is "working" with walmart on the actual implementation of RFID. Let me tell you that there is no foreseable ROI in the near future. Currently at a cost of about 25 cents a tag, it is much too expensive to be worth it for anyone. The technology is in its infancy so there are so many problems we have encountered so far.

    One of the problems is the tags. Not only do they cost so damn much, but they are also not very high quality. There's a feature called "locking" which allows you to set a number on the tag and not allow it to change, but when using this we have too high a failure rate to be effective (10-30% depending on the tag type). So we had to turn off the locking, meaning its much easier to change the unique number associated with the tags (which will be a problem when tags hit the retail sector) and now we only get around a 1-2% failure rate. But when doing high volumes, even this small percent is expensive to deal with.

    Another is the hardware. Part of the tag writing problems we have seen may be due to the tags and/or the reader/writer units. But right now, some tags get created and written to with no problems, but when they go by a reader, the reader just does not see a number on that tag, meaning as i said before its either a bad tag or some sort of incompatibility/problem with the reader unit. Currently we are trying to get the tags applied cost effectively, but unfortunately its pretty much boiling down to using people to grab tags from a RFID printer and hand-apply everything.

    We have also been having trouble verifying all the product on a pallet, and certainly cannot expect to read 100% of product 100% of time. Some product is easy to see, but depending on the density/material in the materials on the pallet, it can be very difficult to read many of the tags.

    Software is another hinderance. While the company i have been working with has had its large share of problems in the last few months, they are getting better, but still are not perfect. And unless things work perfect, it can cause so many problems. One small chink in the software can make it inoperable (essentially crashing the software a-la Windows), but the software is slowly getting more and more stable.

    The fact that Walmart madated this is certainly causing issues, especially for smaller companies and products that companies make almost no money on anyway. For us, we have a very expensive product so tagging at the case level is not too big a deal (it still has/will cost us millions of dollars to do), but just remember theres lots of companies that make almost no profit on the case level and that 25 cents for a tag eats pretty much all of their profits. RFID isn't going away, theres just too much potential. RFID can certainly work as a technology, as seen in the success of toll-tags like EZ-Pass and Smart-Tag. And many of these problems would have arisen anyway in the future, its just that the Walmart mandate basically caused the problems to happen faster.
    • That's one thing that people often forget / ignore. Tags are often put in plastic sleeves and can be removed and reprogrammed and slapped on another box / pallet later.

      Like you said though, the technology is in its infancy. The problem isn't that there is no standard, the problem is that there are lots of standards, and lots of "additions" to those standards. It's almost like the early days of the web. The tags are the web pages, and the readers are the web browsers. Some "graphic designer" may use

      • "When all the kinks are worked out, not having to hand-scan every item entering or leaving a warehouse is bound to save lots of dollars."

        You mean IF all the kinks are worked out. Is it realistic to expect better than a 1 or 2% error rate (say no scan or incorrect scan)? I don't know, maybe it is. But if you have a pallet of 100 items and one or two don't scan, or show up, what do you do? Manually input them? Break the pallet down? Ignore them? I have seen all three occur with bar codes when every box wasn'
  • Slowly but surely (Score:4, Interesting)

    by davmoo (63521) on Monday December 27, 2004 @10:25AM (#11190953)
    Sooner or later, RFID is going to be a reality in Walmart, with other retailers to follow. Why? Because Walmart is the 800 pound gorilla of the retail world. And what the gorilla wants, the gorilla gets. Its only a matter of time. Resistance is futile.

    The lead-in for this story made it sound like suppliers are standing up to Walmart on philosophical grounds, when nothing could be further from the truth.
  • by KlomDark (6370) on Monday December 27, 2004 @10:30AM (#11190980) Homepage Journal
    I don't know who picked out the equipment for the self-checkouts at Walmart, but it's gotta be the worst available. Mis-scans constantly, thinks stuff is not in the bag when it is, made for midgets. (I'm 6'5" and it's a major pain after bending over the 50th time to put a single jar of babyfood in the bag that's only two feet off the floor.) And nothing like standing in line for 10 minutes just to watch the person in front of you have to get the attendant over three times in a row just to get one item scanned.

    Between either waiting in line for a "real" (attended) checkout lane (Which there are less and less of since cheap walmart is pushing everyone to the self-checkouts) and waiting in line for the crappy self-checkout to work, I am seriously attempting to avoid Walmart whenever I can lately. It's too big of a pain in the ass. It takes 2 minutes to get into the store, pick up the few items I need (I'm talking about man-type shopping, not female shopping where they stare at everything and take hours to pick up a few items), then stand 10 to 15 minutes just to pay for it.

    I think that if it takes longer to pay for it than to find the item and walk to the checkout, it should be free. I don't have time to stand around because Walmart is too damn cheap to make it convenient to do business with them.

    Compare to the elf-checkout (er, that should be Self-checkout :) ) at Krogers/Bakers grocery stores. The Kroger scanners ROCK! They work pretty much flawlessly. The bagger is at a more realistic height (rather than assuming that EVERYONE is in a wheelchair), and you don't stand in line for 10 minutes just to watch the person in front of you have to get the attendant over three times in a row just to get one item scanned.
    • The other issue is trust. When allowing a consumer to check themselves out, there has to be some level of trust, or, alternatively, a significant tolerance for shrinkage. Wal*Mart has niether.

      This completely eliminates the advantage for the consumer, which is fast checkout without the hassles of going through a poorly trained human. At Kroger's, for instance, it is perfectly possible to get out of the store without any significant interventions. The few times I have ben to Wal*mart, I have never been

      • "The other issue is trust. When allowing a consumer to check themselves out, there has to be some level of trust, or, alternatively, a significant tolerance for shrinkage."

        Well, I think Kmart (or is that SMart?) stopped using self scanners precisely because of skrinkage. And the demographics probably aren't much different...

        I guess I am rather amused. I wonder if they will really save any money (will the increased skrinkage rate be less than the assumed cost savings for RFID tags). Or do they trust their
    • Hmm, sounds like your wal-mart as the same self-checkout my local home-depot has, while my local wal-mart has the same ones your Krogers has. (We don't have Krogers in my area so I can't compare).

      All I know is with self checkout as Wal-mart I'm in and out, no waiting for the idiot in front of me. Now wondering if the checkout person can scan items with any speed. I only use a human line when the checkout girl is cute enough that it is worth the hassle of a line just to force her to speak to me. (If onl

  • My company designs and sell equipment to the producers of corrugated and solid fiber packaging. We don't deal with the IT aspects of RFID. However, there are a number of implementation issues which are affecting this part of the supply chain.

    Increasingly, recycled paper fibers are being used to make boxes in the U.S. Some of that is scraps or mistakes from the box plants, some is recovered material.

    This stuff is dumped into a chemical bath to seperate the paper fibers, adhesives, inks, etc. then run through various filterations to make sure only the paper fibers are recovered. That's one big part of the problem. RFID tags aren't necessarily removed. They must be large enough that they won't slip through with the paper fiber. If they do go through, the paper will be messed up which can damage the machinery which works with it and also the tags might still be active.

    Another issue is related to signal strength and resiliency. There's been work with conductive inks. The idea is to print an antenna pattern on the inside of a box to which the RFID tag is attached. This is supposed to help the tag have a greater detection range. However, regulations and technologies for using conductive ink are different than regular inks. Metallic inks are powdered metal suspended in a carrier. Those little pieces of metal aren't as easy to flush from printing machines as clay or organic-based colorants.

    There are also stringent regulations concerning the manufacture of paper products used for foods and medicines. They cannot exceed very minute limits of metallic content. Little specs of metal can come from the automatic sharpening of rotary knives which happens during conversion from paper rolls to corrugated or solid fiber board. Imagine the problems which would happen from conductive inks...
  • Hold on a second (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CaptainZapp (182233) * on Monday December 27, 2004 @11:30AM (#11191413) Homepage
    So according to the second link Walmart achieves 60% accuracy with the scanning of the tags?

    I know that they are considered to be top-of-the-pops in logistics, but when you achieve 40% failures in stock maintenance and merchandise flow I wouldn't call that state of the art, I'd call that outright shoddy (even considering that accuracy _might_ get to 95% one day)

    By calling up the psychic hotline (9$99 a minute) they probably achieve more accurate results..

    (But then again, maybe it's just an engenious way to piss of their suppliers).

  • by Dan East (318230) on Monday December 27, 2004 @01:01PM (#11192153) Homepage Journal
    So here we have an RFID implementation in a controlled environment - one in which everyone is babying the system along and trying to make things work.

    If the system is this unreliable in the warehouses then imagine it in the consumer world (ie checking out a whole buggy of products at a time), where the complexity, volume, and general misuse will be amplified. Throw into that mix people actively trying to circumvent or sabotage the system, and things look pretty dismal.

    Dan East
  • hmmm.... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Macrolord (691750)
    It's hard to make the case that RFID will help track inventory when you can't reliably find 40% of it."

    Sounds like Kmart to me.
  • http://cnn.netscape.cnn.com/ns/news/story.jsp?id=2 004122712430002794526&dt=20041227124300&w=RTR&covi ew=
  • by thisissilly (676875) on Monday December 27, 2004 @04:08PM (#11193653)
    When I was out Christmas shopping with my brother, he made sure his Canon EOS 1D was out of view before we locked his truck.

    Walking across the parking lot, it occurred to me that people who are Christmas shopping quite often have gifts they bought locked in their cars. So all a thief needs to speed his holiday "shopping" is a RFID reader with a directional range extender antenna. Sit it in back seat, perhaps with an accomplice/operator, and cruise up and down the crowded parking lot, pretending to look for a parking space, while actually scanning all the cars. The guy in the back can read off what each car has, and when you find one with lots of pricey gifts, they can stop and break in, or mark it down for later robbery.

    For that matter, if the thieves were of more the mugger variety, one guy could sit in a parked car near a mall entrance, and scan the people walking out, and contact the mugger via cell phone telling him who to target.

    And I am sure that is just scratching the surface.

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