Auto ID and the open global supply chain

Auto ID (auto identity) is the unique identity expressed in an automatically recognisable format. Examples of auto id technologies include the bar code and the radio frequency identification (RFID) tag.

Auto ID forms the basis for encoding products as they flow through the supply (and demand) chain. Auto ID is a key feature in electronic business by helping to link the product with the flow of associated information in electronic format, for example shipping documents and invoices held on a database.

The most common method for using auto ID technologies is scanning GSI (Global Standards Initiative) numbers. The barcode is read by laser beams at the point of sale or use. Information captured is then cross-referred to the item descriptions and price files (i.e. master data).

Take, for example the sophisticated open global retail supply chain. The shopper in the supermarket purchases a tin of peas at the checkout. The checkout operative scans the barcode on the tin to register the sale. Once scanned, the information system will report back through the supply chain in order to purchase more stock.

Use of RFID tags are becoming popular, particularly at palette (logistics) level. RFID tags can be read without a line of sight. Managers can also write to and read from the tag as the item moves through the supply chain. RFID tags are able to carry more data than just an identity number, such as the new Electronic Product Coding (EPC global) system, developed at MIT and now operated by GSI.

The ability to carry more data with an item needs to be balanced against the total cost and complexity of doing so. For example, the maintenance history of an engine could be contained in a tag attached to it. This enables engineers to repaired the engine safely at any appropriate location, especially when access to the Master Data or Dynamic Data is not practicable, e.g. in a war zone.

Cross-referencing and auto ID

auto, auto-id

What's in a barcode?

Supply chain managers require the ability to cross-refer from the item ID to the master data file and the corresponding dynamic databases. This flexibility removes the need to carry masses of data with the item, most of which are unlikely to be needed en route. The more sophisticated the auto ID system, the greater the potential for item tracking across the supply value chain. operators can also update dynamic data in real-time. Where it is important to know exactly where an item is, or precisely which item is being used, or the status of an item (e.g. whether it is available for use or not), then the additional capital and running costs of RFID systems can be justified.

Auto ID of items allows managers to record them them quickly and accurately as they move along the supply chain. This supports the prompt and accurate linking of physical and data flows, the control of items to avoid loss, and the use of the correct item for each particular circumstance (i.e. not only speed, certainty and low total cost, but also safety and security).

Barcodes and rf tags are read by barcode readers and rf scanners respectively. Auto ID significantly reduces errors from human intervention.

Other auto id technologies include photo id, used for personnel security.