The UK industry will be ready to start using radio frequency smart tags across the supply chain by the end of 2003, says global research institute the Auto-ID centre.
Sponsors, including Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly-Clark, Pepsi, Gillette, Philip Morris and Unilever are already taking part in trials of versions of the technology as Auto-ID creates an industry standard.
Auto-ID associate director Europe Helen Duce said: "At the moment the front end at the point of sale is advanced, for example you can buy over the internet, but at the back end your order will be picked by kids on rollerskates. RFID tags will change that."
The radio frequency tags will allow picking centres to be fully automated, and mean that products can be passed through the supply chain without having to be unloaded for checking. At point of sale, the tags would mean better availability and tills could be phased out.
Unilever home and personal care logistics and supply chain process director Gary Calveley said: "Tagging is only at case level at the moment, but moving towards single units at a price of five euro cents per tag. Personally I believe the price of tags will drop so low that they will be used on cheap everyday items."
Unilever is trialling RFID technology with Safeway and Tibbett & Britten, tracking products from factory to shelf.
Calveley said: "Our interest is not so much in the security benefits the tags offer in cutting theft, but in the way they speed up the supply chain and help in planning and distribution. They are an excellent way of improving customer service."
Wal Mart has invited Auto-ID to experiment with the technology at one of its distribution centres.

{{NEWS }}