What do World War II fighter planes have in common with Disneyland, penguins and Walmart?
Radio Frequency Identification.
Invented in the 1940s to detect friendly and enemy fighter planes during World War II , Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) didn’t gain popularity until the 1970s when its use diversified into other industries.
Today, there is evidence of RFID everywhere. It keeps track of more than two million ancient manuscripts and books in the Vatican Library, follows and documents endangered animals, gives keyless entry into hotel rooms and access to music festivals, and even prevents shoplifting in major retail stores.
In 2003, Walmart became the first in the retail industry to adopt the technology, adding RFID tags to their products to monitor stock and discourage shoplifters.
RMIT Vietnam Senior Lecturer Dr Rajkishore Nayak describes RFID as “the future of technology in retail”.
“If you talk about the recent trends in fashion retailing or business, many companies are switching to the new technologies. RFID tags are replacing barcodes,” he said.
According to Dr Nayak, the main reasons for the rise in popularity are based around efficiency and security.
“There are many advantages for retail. RFID tags are not easy to manipulate or remove, so shoplifting is difficult. They also precisely track the volume and location of merchandise – even when it’s on the move - so stores know exactly what product is on their shelves and where that product is at any given time,” said Dr Nayak. “This makes the stockkeeping process much faster.”
Due to the effectiveness of the RFID tags, Dr Nayak predicts that 50 per cent of retail brands will be using the technology by 2025, and the technology will be adopted more and more into the manufacturing and farming industries as well, to monitor production lines and farm stock.
“Silk farms are already using RFID tags on individual silk worms, to monitor their growth and the amount of silk they produce. The tags are also used to keep track of woollen fibre too. Farmers can tell from the RFID tags if the sheep is healthy or losing weight. Even with 50,000 sheep on the farm, they can keep individual records quite easily with this technology,” Dr Nayak said.
“It’s also much better for the animals.”
Dr Nayak identifies cost as the biggest challenge for retail stores, which will increase dramatically from 1c per barcode tag, to 50c per RFID tag.
“A reluctance to adopt RFID definitely exists, and it’s based around the expenses. The tags are more expensive, plus there’s all the technology that goes along with them – multiple computers, scanners and readers,” Dr Nayak said.
“There has also been some criticism around the potential for systems to get hacked. The main threat there is that similar product chips can be reproduced to trick the consumer into thinking they’re getting a genuine product. But the industry is working on that.”
Dr Nayak is a Senior Lecturer at RMIT University, Vietnam. He completed his PhD from the School of Fashion and Textiles, RMIT University Australia. He has been teaching and researching fashion and textiles for the last 15 years. In that time, he has published over 90 peer-reviewed papers in national and international journals and written six books.
Dr Nayak’s latest book, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID): Technology and Application in Fashion and Textile Supply Chain is available in paperback, hardback and digital versions. The inspiration for the book came when he discovered there was not a lot of information available for textile manufacturing and fashion students to investigate and research, when it came to advanced technologies in retail.
Story: Lisa Humphries