Air Transport World

RFID: ready for industry doubters?(IT-SUPPLY CHAIN)

WHEN IT SURFACED YEARS AGO, radio frequency identification technology was heralded as a breakthrough tool in supply chain management. But while manufacturers and users continue to refine and test it through pilot programs, RFID still is not considered ready for prime time, interviews with the technology's experts indicate. Cost of implementation, resistance to switching from existing technology and competing budgetary demands have slowed its adoption by OEMs, airlines and maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities.

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RFID's slow pace toward entering the supply chain is not surprising. Barcoding was invented in the 1970s but it took 20 years for it to gain widespread adoption. Retail was an early user of barcoding and a driving force for RFID as well, although its needs differ significantly from those of the aviation industry.

Dave Loda, Pratt & Whitney's manager, network-centric architecture-advanced program division, may have put it best. "RFID as an architecture is still developing," he says. "Aerospace does not adopt new ways of doing things without extensive testing and risk reduction, which is understandable given the critical nature of our products ... The amount of investment required is significant and no one company wants to pay for a global RFID infrastructure that may become obsolete in five years."

Others agree. "It's taking a little bit longer to see the high level of adoption of RFID in the supply chain," says Jerry McNerney, senior director-transportation, distribution and logistics for Motorola's Enterprise Mobility Business. That said, he is seeing elements of the airline industry move from the "wait-and-see" approach to "maybe I can get competitive advantage from this technology. …

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