AIDC can reduce theft, contamination, counterfeiting and piracy, offering high levels of security and accountability ©Getty Images
AIDC can reduce theft, contamination, counterfeiting and piracy, offering high levels of security and accountability ©Getty Images

Tech briefing: Auto ID

If you’re in the dark when it comes to the inner workings of your supply chain, SM’s rundown of auto ID tech should shed some light…

Automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) – also known as auto ID – is a term used to group together several connected technologies, which identify products, collect data and enter it into a computer system. These technologies include sensors, barcodes, QR codes, radio frequency identification (RFID), real-time locating systems (RTLS), voice recognition, magnetic stripes, optical character recognition (OCR) and beacons.

Auto ID has been dubbed one of the eight emerging technologies that will transform supply chain models in the next decade, and is already used in a multitude of platforms. VDC Research says the sector is growing – partly as a result of companies embracing mobile technology in their warehousing and distribution – and estimates shipments of AIDC hardware will reach $7.5bn globally by 2021.

The technology has been used in supply chains for at least 20 years, removing tracking and tracing limitations and giving IT systems the precise identity and location of each physical item in a supply chain. 

A 2003 study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Cambridge University’s Auto ID Centre found early adopters included UK brewers Scottish & Newcastle and retailer M&S. 

But the area is constantly evolving, and is closely linked with advances in sensors, smartphones, wireless and camera-based technologies and the internet of things.

How does it work?

AIDC technologies consist of three principle components: data encoding – where alphanumeric characters are translated into a form that can be read by machine; machine scanning – a scanner reads the encoded data and converts the data into electric signals; and data decoding – electrical signals are transformed into digital data and later converted into alphanumeric characters.

What are the benefits?

RFID is already a commonly used auto ID technology because of its flexibility and affordability. It is less limiting than barcodes because tags can be scanned from a greater distance. RFID can track the exact location of an object in a large warehouse via reader proximity detection, automating processes that were previously done manually, and resulting in more concise workflows and consistent business processes. 

AIDC can reduce theft, contamination, counterfeiting and piracy, offering high levels of security and accountability.

And, combined with GPS and other sensors and data loggers, auto ID is being used increasingly to track products and monitor weather conditions. 

One area to benefit is in product recall, where auto ID enables manufacturers to know where items are in the supply chain. It also encourages standardisation as supply chain partners can share product data information in real time via databases. This gives improved accuracy in shipping, receiving, orders and inventory.

It could also be said to have a hand in retailers being able to downsize bricks-and-mortar stores: continuous shelf inventory and frequent replenishments mean shelf space can be substantially cut.

How else are organisations using it?

The UK National Health Service (NHS) uses auto ID to improve patient safety, ensure greater clinical effectiveness and drive operational efficiencies. Its ‘scan4safety’ system tracks patients, devices and staff. Barcodes can be used to track which staff member administered a treatment or used a device. The code can also carry safety information about a medicine, such as the use-by-date, reducing human inventory errors and improving stock management.

If a device, such as a screw in a hip replacement, becomes faulty, auto ID means the barcode can trace its history and measure which devices are more effective.

An ongoing process

Through information preservation and continuing the Auto ID infrastructure throughout the lifecycle, this technology can also help automate the sorting process in recycling centres. Being able to detect which parts in a discarded appliance are faulty, for example, can help decide where and how to recycle or reuse it. RFID can determine the broken parts to be discarded and identify any parts that could have a future use in a remanufactured item. 

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