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1/17/2006
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Wal-Mart Tests RFID Data-Sharing Project

Using EDI, the company will be able to know when products are on their way from suppliers.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is testing a way to share data from radio frequency identification (RFID) tags through automated electronic data interchange transmissions (EDI).

The trial is being conducted with a handful of suppliers and EPCglobal Inc., the standards group spearheading RFID adoption. "We're just about to enter the next phase where those suppliers will push their information to us as they ship the products," Simon Langford, RFID global manager at Wal-Mart, said. "With this process, we will have the capability to see product on the way to us."

There are several changes in the works. The plan is for RFID tags to eventually trigger advanced ship notices (ASNs) through the EPC Information Service (EPCIS) network each time a supplier ships product out the receiving doc door. But that process is about a year away, Langford said. Suppliers can access the information now by logging onto Retail Link, Wal-Mart's Web-based software that lets buyers check inventory. The information is available within 30 minutes after a RFID tag has passed by a reader.

In 2005, Wal-Mart read more than 80 million electronic product codes (EPC), a number designed to uniquely identify a specific item in the supply chain, as it continues to expand RFID efforts from Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas into other states. The data is collected from RFID tags to automate the reorder process as products on shelves and storerooms are sold.

Expansion is always on Wal-Mart's agenda. This year, Wal-Mart will begin to use handheld RFID scanners in back rooms to identify product it needs to restock shelves. Earlier this year, a study by the University of Arkansas found the retailer reduced out-of-stocks by 16 percent through the use of RFID tags on cases and pallets of goods from suppliers.

Employees will soon have automated notifications alerting them when promotional items and cardboard displays filled with Gillette razor blades or Johnson & Johnson baby powder need to move onto the store floor from the stockroom, for example. Langford said tagging displays is a way for suppliers to step into RFID. "If the displays don't make it onto the floor in time, Wal-Mart has not maximized sales and is carrying too much stock at the end of the promotion," Langford said.

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