Pilot Programs—The Next Best Thing to a Crystal Ball

It’s impossible to foresee all the consequences of one’s actions, but it is possible—and can be beneficial—to prepare for what may come. That’s the purpose of RFID pilot programs that can later function as the foun-dations for full-scale implementation of RFID throughout a company’s manufacturing process and on through the supply chain.

Checkpoint Systems Inc. (Thorofare, NJ), an RFID solution provider with RFID pilot experience, emphasizes the need for high levels of intracompany integration and cooperation. Each department of a company, from IT to manufacturing to warehouse operations, can be affected by large-scale RFID system integration. If each department understands the goals of the pilot program, then they are afforded the opportunity to contribute their respective resources to support, analyze, and perhaps even revise portions of it to customize the program to be most effective for their purposes.

Checkpoint specifies six characteristics that make a pilot program successful. These characteristics include that it be highly focused in nature and supported across the organization; that it be designed to achieve specific, measurable, and verifiable goals; that it be carefully engineered to replicate all likely real-world conditions; that it be structured to validate specific business premises; that it be designed to allow live deployment in a way that mitigates impact on the live environment; and that it be designed from the start to clearly predict how a small effort will scale.

Pilot programs also ready companies to integrate electronic product code (EPC) technologies into their everyday business practices. Checkpoint prepares its customers by informing them that most pilots will involve variations of applications using EPC equipment. EPC tag and printer applications may require both human-readable and RF-scan-enabled printing. In most cases, some kind of automated process will be required. All components of the EPC network—including readers, printers, and all supporting appliances—must also be tested at various points of importance along the supply chain to ensure consistent, reliable data capture. Companies also will need to prepare for managing the data captured so that the data can be analyzed and used to the companies’ advantage. And finally, to complete the program, companies must determine how EPC data will be integrated into existing corporate information systems.

Checkpoint stresses that a fundamentally strong and sound software platform is essential. The software must offer multiple capabilities, including middleware to ensure effective data transfer into key enterprise resource planning (ERP) and warehouse management systems (WMS) applications. It must also be capable of managing the many hardware elements that constitute the pilot’s network and include an application development engine to create and manage discrete applications, which can produce business value when the program is deployed.

Because a pilot program incorporates many diverse elements, careful step-by-step planning is important to the ultimate success of the project. These projects require significant amounts of effort, cooperation, and time—but they can be worth it. Checkpoint says its engineers emulate customers’ real-world environments to identify and address interoperability and integration issues before the customer spends any time or money on a live EPC/RFID operation. A pilot program is the closest a company can get to peering into a crystal ball when it comes to realizing the impact of implementing RFID throughout a facility.


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