RFID technology Supporting Autonomous and Automated Grocery Stores.
By Jussi Nummela, CTO & Founder, Blockstore Group
RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is a technology that is used for detection, tracking and identification of products and things. The technology is based on storing data in a RFID tag, and wireless reading of these data with a RFID reader using radio waves.
The benefit of the RFID technology, vis-à-vis many other automatic identification methods, is readability of objects remotely, quickly, while maintaining data protection. Enclosed tags withstand rough handling and can preserve their usability for dozens of years. Moreover, tags can carry a large body of information.
In our solution RFID tags are attached to every single sellable item, such as milk cans, breads, candy bars, lemonade bottles, vegetable boxes etc. RFID readers are integrated into selling cabinets (which can be adjusted to different temperatures like in regular stores).
This makes it possible to identify all items reliably and automatically in real time, throughout the entire store, as well as effectively manage their best before dates and enable real autonomous operations.
RFID product tagging
A RFID tag can be integrated in a product at its manufacturing stage or, alternatively, be added to the designated object subsequently e.g., with adhesive tape. The core idea of the system is simple: a RFID tag is attached to the designated object, data is written to and read from the tag with a RFID reader and utilized using the back-end system.
At Blockstore we have researched a lot of different tagging methods, processes as well as locations in supply chain. With higher volumes and several stores, the most effective location today is at the delivery center, where larger batches can be tagged at the same time, with optimized process.
With food products the cold chain must not be interrupted, and this applies to tagging operations as well. This is becoming even more crucial in the near future when we start tagging frozen products as well, since they play a big part in consumer daily grocery purchases.
In a few years when the volumes of RFID tagged products increase, more and more effective solutions are needed. This leads us to integrate sophisticated multi-SKU tagging robots to highly automated warehousing and picking systems which have really started to take a footprint at delivery centers along with the rise of online shopping during last years.
Ease of use and business benefits of RFID technology
From a number of aspects, the RFID technology is comparable with a bar code. An object is supplied with a tag that tells something about the object. However, the difference between RFID and a bar code lies in the fact that identification can take place without direct visual contact, i.e., for instance through packages or crates.
Furthermore, it is possible to read dozens of RFID tags simultaneously, and their content can be altered in the course of the process. As opposed to this, bar codes can only be read one by one, and cannot be altered after they are printed out. Moreover, RFID tags can withstand dirty industrial conditions and moisture better than conventional bar codes.
RFID can be adapted to several different applications. They are used, inter alia, for monitoring of objects and processes, in logistics, movement and access control, retail sales and payment applications, as well as for identification and tracking of humans and animals. The potential range of applications is countless, and continued development of the technology only increases their number.
Due to the unique characteristics of RFID technology and its capabilities to optimize operations over entire end-to-end supply chain (not just cashier at the store), it has proved to be the best and most suitable for automating grocery stores and creating business benefits like no other technology on the market.
This is why we have chosen RFID to be one of the core technologies in Blockstore solution.