Amazon, Target, VF, Saks join with Auburn to open RFID Lab

Auburn University opened its new RFID Lab last week, with Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) announcing a joint project and Target, VF and Saks Fifth Avenue as partners.

The Amazon project will explore the business case for implementing radio frequency identification within Amazon's supply chain, according to an Auburn press release.

"RFID is a fascinating technology," said Dave Clark, Amazon's senior VP of worldwide operations. "As part of this joint project, we are excited to invent new processes and technology using RFID to enhance the experience for customers through better inventory predictability, faster delivery and, ultimately, lower cost. The collaboration presents a unique opportunity for students, faculty and industry to come together in a hands-on and fast-moving real world environment."

Amazon has used RFID technology in its fulfillment centers to help facilitate the movement of customer orders that are picked, moved on conveyors and loaded on trucks for shipping and delivery. The online retailer has over 100 fulfillment centers worldwide.

Speaking at the new lab's ribbon cutting, Clark said, "It really is a place designed for tinkering, experimenting and inventing. It's a lot like what I work with every day at Amazon. We're excited about working with the program at Auburn…We fully expect to invent new processes, new technology and new uses in RFID," reported the Auburn Villager.

The grand opening comes on the heels of Target's announcement that it would roll out item level RFID technology later this year for pricing and inventory control. The retailer will insert "smart labels" on price tags for better inventory accuracy, and to improve Target's in-stock position this year and then expand the program chain-wide next year, said Keri Jones, executive VP, global supply chain and operations. "This unobtrusive but significant technology will increase efficiencies by providing greater visibility into our inventory," she said.

Besides Target and Saks, other sponsors of the RFID Lab are: Avery Dennison, Checkpoint Systems, GS1US, NXP Semiconductors, Saks Fifth Avenue, Smartrac N.V., Tyco International, VF Corp., View Technologies and Zebra Technologies.

The Auburn RFID Lab works with retail, supply chain, manufacturing and technology companies. "As the RFID industry expands, it's important to have as many users engaged in the lab as possible as lessons from one industry often hold true for others," Lab director Justin Patton said. "Having unique retail partners like Amazon engaged in the lab allows us to focus on the research questions that are most crucial to many different users, and add the academic validation that helps bring maturity to the evolving market."

The 13,000 sq. ft. RFID Lab is located in a former supermarket, and offers simulated retail, grocery and convenience store space, as well as warehouse and distribution center environments. The lab established the first RFID "tagged item certification program" for retail product manufacturers. RFID technology uses tiny computer chips for the wireless tracking of items.

The RFID Lab has already "brought a lot of great companies to Auburn that had never been to Auburn before," said Bill Hardgrave, dean of the Harbert College of Business. "They're working with our lab. They're working with our faculty. They're hiring our students. Since its inception, the lab really has been focused on providing thought leadership in RFID implementation and use. The lab has really remained true to that mission."

The RFID Lab specializes in the business case and technical implementation of radio frequency identification technology in retail, supply chain and manufacturing settings, Auburn University said in its press statement. The lab draws on the expertise of faculty in Auburn University's Raymond J. Harbert College of Business, Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, College of Human Sciences and College of Agriculture. With its move to Auburn last year, the lab was reunited with its founder, Hardgrave, who helped launch the lab at the University of Arkansas in 2005.

For more:
-See this Auburn University press release
-See this Auburn Villager article
-See the Auburn RFID Lab website

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