Kimberly-Clark On RFID Trial: So Far, So Good

The company says its test shipments of pallets of RFID-equipped products to Wal-Mart have been a success in its early stages.



It's been just a few weeks since Wal-Mart Stores Inc. hit the switch on a live test of radio-frequency identification technology. So far, so good, according to Kimberly-Clark Corp. The consumer-packaged goods manufacturer is tagging and shipping cases and pallets of two of its products, a private-label facial tissue for Wal-Mart and Scott paper towels, to Wal-Mart's Sanger, Texas, distribution facility.

The trial, which officially kicked off the last week of April, involves Gillette, Hewlett-Packard, Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly-Clark, Kraft Foods, Nestlé Purina PetCare, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever and includes just 21 of the more than 100,000 products carried in a typical Wal-Mart Supercenter. Tagged pallets are being delivered to the Sanger distribution center and to seven Wal-Mart stores in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in the trial, with RFID readers at dock doors to scan shipments.

Kimberly-Clark had the trial's first successful reading--a case of Scott paper towels was the first product shipment to pass under a Wal-Mart RFID scanner. Minutes after the event, Wal-Mart employees put in a call to Mike O'Shea, director of corporate AutoID/RFID strategies and technology at Kimberly-Clark, who was vacationing in Orlando, Fla., with his wife. "When my mobile phone rang, I saw who it was and thought 'I'd better take this call,'" O'Shea says, recalling the 7 p.m. phone call. Luckily, there were no fires, only good news. "We toasted to the success with a mango daiquiri."

Kimberly-Clark has been preparing for RFID longer than most, joining the Auto-ID Center--which at the time was overseeing much of RFID standards--in 2001. It now participates in EPC Global Inc., a joint venture between EAN International and the Uniform Code Council that's working to define RFID standards--last year, the Auto-ID Center handed over RFID standards development to EPC Global.

O'Shea says RFID has the potential to deliver on real-time supply chains, because RFID reads can occur more frequently and can kick off information-sharing immediately between retailers and suppliers. "That's going to make us a better supplier," O'Shea says. "Today, with batched data, there are times when nothing happens with the information collected via bar codes about products moving through the supply chain. A product can be scanned, but the information might sit in buckets for 24 or 48 hours before any action occurs."

O'Shea says the Wal-Mart trial is designed to test the basic infrastructure and will help ensure that RFID is ready for the January deadline. "So far," he says, "there are no surprises."

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