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Following the Thread: Traceability, RFID, and Big Data

by APICS CEO Abe Eshkenazi CSCP, CPA, CAE | N/A 2012 | 0 | 0

Abe Eshkenazi Photo

Abe Eshkenazi


While professionals in supply chain and operations management have been talking about traceability for some time, it seems the general public now is also paying attention. Last Friday, Slate published “Where Does it Come From?” The article set out to tell the typical Slate reader “why traceability is the next great challenge in manufacturing.” There’s no doubt this is a challenge with which you are familiar.

The article describes a recent recall of 600,000 Mr. Coffee single-cup brewing machines. Unfortunately, the water reservoir on certain models can open unexpectedly, potentially spraying the user with very hot water and coffee grounds. This leaves Mr. Coffee’s leaders looking for answers to some important questions, such as: “Is the flaw with the design or the implementation? Where and when were the faulty machines produced? Was it a mistake, or did a supply chain partner skip necessary steps? What’s the fastest way to pull these faulty machines out of inventories?”

“But in 2012, finding out exactly how, where, and when something was made is more complicated than it has ever been because the production line is increasingly international and decentralized,” Ben Johnson writes. “Most of the things we make and use come cheaper, faster, and farther than ever.”

Johnson defines traceability as accurate accounting in manufacturing. The APICS Dictionary, 13th edition, goes further: “1) The attribute allowing the ongoing location of a shipment to be determined. 2) The registering and tracking of parts, processes, and materials used in production, by lot or serial number.”

The article connects traceability and radio frequency identification (RFID). “RFID technology could be like putting the bar code on informational steroids. It would give us an almost limitless ability to connect data to a given item we can scan with ease,” Johnson writes. “And most importantly, the technology allows that data can be added to or accessed at any time.”

Identifying the next revolution

Sanjay Sarma, co-founder of MIT’s Auto-ID Labs, is quoted in the article. Sarma thinks that a third industrial revolution will include multinational companies with complicated supply chains, all using a universal standard and technology for logging large amounts of information in enterprise systems and the products themselves. It’s no secret that Sarma believes this standard should be RFID.

And, now we see how a simple Slate article moves from traceability and RFID to the concept of big data. While RFID and traceability have been on your radars for years, big data might not have made it there, yet.

At APICS, we’re examining what big data means to supply chain and operations management professionals.  For survey purposes, big data is unofficially defined as follows: “a collection of data and technology that accesses, integrates, and reports all available data by filtering, correlating, and reporting insights not attainable with past data technologies.”

The results of the survey, APICS 2012 Big Data Insights and Innovations, will be available next week exclusively to APICS members. You can visit apics.org to get your free report. In addition, APICS is hosting a panel discussion on the topic at the 2012 APICS International Conference & Expo later this month in Denver, Colorado. Attendees will hear insights from leaders in the industry from Oracle and IFS, and Jonathan Thatcher, APICS director of research, will talk more about the APICS survey on the topic.

If you aren’t up to speed on big data, it’s time to start paying attention to this critical area of your business. APICS can help you follow the threads and make essential connections to enhance your industry knowledge.

Continue the discussion on the APICS Supply Chain Channel.

In other news

Related APICS education

  • The Origins of Complexity
    by J. Brian Atwater, CPIM, and Paul Pittman, PhD, CFPIM, CSCP, Jonah
    September/October 2012, APICS magazine

  • On the Map
    by Darren Pitts, CPIM, CSCP
    March/April 2012, APICS magazine

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