All posts by Justin Patton

CHIP Project (Chain Integration Pilot)

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The Auburn University RFID Lab has publicly announced the CHIP Project, a blockchain proof-of-concept for serialized data exchange in the Retail and Apparel supply chain. CHIP, an acronym for CHain Integration Pilot, will be the first of its kind in the industry, with the goal of integrating item-level data streams from various stakeholders into a blockchain solution, creating a common record of information jointly shared by trade partners that will enable end-to-end visibility and data-driven decision making throughout the value chain.

Since the inception of the project in June 2018, CHIP has onboarded 21 partners that will participate directly in the proof-of-concept and support the project as a collective working group. There are currently 5 brand owners including PVH Corp., Herman Kay, Under Armour, and Spanx as well as four national retailers and one global logistics provider contributing to project efforts. Over half a dozen technology solution providers are engaged on the project as well, including Avery DennisonCheckpointIBMMojixSmartracSML and Zebra Technologies. These solution providers will be supporting data capture systems and other IoT infrastructure as well as helping develop the blockchain solution. Strategic partnerships with GS1 US, Collaboration LLC, Elverston, LLCMindy Rector Consulting, and Tuskegee University will also propel the project forward and ensure compliance with global standards and experienced project leadership.

PROJECT PARTNERS that have elected to identify:

Another key step for the RFID Lab is joining Hyperledger, a global collaboration hosted by the Linux Foundation that aims to advance cross-industry blockchain technologies. Hyperledger is a multi-venture, multi-stakeholder effort that includes various enterprise blockchain and distributed ledger technologies. By becoming a new Hyperledger member, the Auburn University RFID Lab joins industry leaders in finance, banking, Internet of Things, supply chain, manufacturing and technology, and will be positioned to inform and influence the direction and application of blockchain technologies across the globe.

Due to the sophistication of current supply chains, data exchange between partners can be challenging and cumbersome, as proven by Project Zipper, a national data exchange study conducted by the RFID Lab since 2017. As a result, supply chain touch points and the data they generate are often isolated from one another – a problem that the CHIP project aims to address by connecting the digital dots on a global scale. By capturing and contributing item-level data streams such as EPC, QR Code, SSCC, and other SGTIN-based methods into a blockchain solution, an item-level record of product information will be created for goods flowing from one supply chain stakeholder to the next. RFID, serialized case code, and other capture systems will tie into the blockchain solution, which will serve as a medium for data exchange and a platform for leveraging the supply-chain-wide data. The blockchain solution will be powered by Hyperledger Fabric, one of the open source frameworks made available by Hyperledger.

Supply chain is widely touted as a premiere landscape for blockchain-based solutions, and while many theories and consortiums exist in the space, fewer real-world implementations have been deployed or tested. By conducting the CHIP project and incorporating industry stakeholders around the globe, the Auburn University RFID Lab aims to encourage adoption of serialized data and blockchain technologies and usher in the next generation of supply chain innovation. The completion date for the first phase of the project is set to be November 2019 and a white paper detailing its findings will be published immediately thereafter.

Download the full research paper

RFID Lab Joins Hyperledger Collaboration hosted by the Linux Foundation

The Auburn University RFID Lab is excited to announce its new membership with Hyperledger, a global collaboration hosted by the Linux Foundation that focuses on the advancement of blockchain and DLT technologies. Hyperledger functions as a greenhouse for a series of open source blockchain frameworks with cross-industry applications, ranging from finance and banking to supply chain and logistics. As one of the largest working consortiums of its kind, Hyperledger is comprised of hundreds of contributing organizations such as Accenture, Deloitte, IBM, Intel, Oracle, JP Morgan, and many more.

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As an Associate Academic Member, the RFID Lab will contribute to business case development and implementation efforts, specifically geared towards the supply chain space. Because of the RFID Lab’s ongoing work with supply chain serialization and digitization, it is well positioned to collaborate with Hyperledger in designing and deploying blockchain solutions for its corporate partners. Several active projects at the RFID Lab are currently implementing Hyperledger frameworks and generating industry learnings and data-driven insights, creating significant value for its stakeholders and the industry as a whole.

The RFID Lab joining Hyperledger is a major step for the university as a whole, as it positions Auburn to help lead the charge into an emerging technology field and usher in the next generation of application infrastructure. As one of the few universities and research institutions granted membership to Hyperledger, the Auburn University RFID Lab will be able to inform and influence the direction and application of blockchain technologies across the globe.

Who Pays for Retail RFID Tagging?

Whether the brand buys the tags or the retailer subsidizes tagging, the cost will be absorbed into the cost of the item in the long run. We still have a few apparel retailers ask us about cost of goods increases for RFID tagged items. What many of them don’t realize is that the per-item cost of apparel RFID is quickly becoming independent of whether or not the retailer actually has an RFID program. Unless it’s an exclusive or private label item, retail RFID tagging is fast becoming a standard feature rather than a retailer requested option.

Now that the majority of the top 100 apparel retailers in the US have active RFID deployment programs, brands that are selling to multiple retail customers are eventually going to have to decide whether to try to segregate RFID tagged inventory in their supply chain for a particular retailer, or just go ahead and tag everything with RFID tags whether their other retail customers requested the tags or not. 

Surprisingly, the number at which most brands shift over to the “just tag everything strategy” is much lower than one might think. Typically once 35-40% of items are being shipped to an RFID enabled retailer, the brands will go ahead and tag the other 60-65%, even though those retailer customers may not even be requesting the tags yet. Its just cheaper and easier than sorting RFID tagged from non-RFID tagged inventory. 

RFID Lab

We actually went to one retailer to help them with their RFID tagging program for denim, and in the store we immediately began scanning thousands of RFID tags on non-denim items. We found that their entire store inventory of men’s dress slacks was already tagged! They were at full brand compliance, even though they hadn’t scheduled that category for rollout until months in the future. RFID had already tipped for their brands, all they had to do was collect the data and reap the benefits.

In the olden days of item-level retail between 2010-2013, single retailers were still driving their supplier base to RFID. Those days are long gone. Even though some retailers still believe they have the mandate to request or reject apparel RFID tags and their incremental cost, they are simply too late to the game to understand that the market has already passed them by.

Now that most brands and contract manufacturers have experience with RFID, the barriers to adoption are smaller.  As the market tops 5 billion tagged items this year, and apparel RFID has crested the adoption curve to common practice, new non-apparel items with high demand for “click and collect” or Buy Online Pick Up In Store (BOPUS) are fast becoming the next generation of RFID tagging demand. 

Electronics and Sporting Goods are the first targets, as they are categories that savvy customers tend to heavily research online before making purchases to stores. Retailers are learning the hard way that they simply cannot prevent disappointing their customers unless they can get their inventory accuracy up towards 95% plus, and the only proven technique in retail today to attain reliable inventory accuracy levels beyond 80% is with RFID.

Why is it that brands are more willing to invest in RFID on their items now than in the past?  What has changed about data management, serialization, and the cost of tagging that reduces the financial burden?  Why are some brands now asking their retail partners to hurry up and adopt RFID in their stores? 

These are all pressing questions we plan to answer on our blog early in 2017. Please check back often as we get to the bottom of these FAQs. Looking for more information in the meantime? Click below to view the research paper section on our website to see all of our research over time.