Purdue student plays key role in “RFID for Dummies”: Book helps businesses implement logistics technology

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Patrick Sweeney was the book’s author. Most other books on RFID consider only the highly technical aspects of the technology, Sweeney said. “RFID for Dummies” is aimed at businesspeople charged with actually implementing the technology, or for those who determine its ROI.

“This is really the first book of its kind that walks people through the logical process to deploy an RIFD system,” Sweeney said.

The cost of implementing RFID is based

For an up-and-coming new technology like radio frequency identification, details can be hard to come by. Unless you ask an up-and-coming Purdue graduate student in the field like Chris Bratten.

Bratten, 24, recently served as technology editor for Hoboken, N.J.-based Wiley Publishing’s book “RFID for Dummies.” Aimed as an introduction for business managers, the book shows how the technology can increase logistics efficiency in a warehouse or distribution center. It also explains the cost of RFID implementation, and how to calculate a company’s likely return on investment in the area.

RFID is the term for technologies that use radio waves to automatically identify objects. It is usually applied through microchips attached to individual products or components, then tracked via computer.

“It’s a really good go-to book for anyone whose boss has just said, ‘We really need to do RFID. Go learn what you can,'” Bratten said.

Born in Minneapolis, Bratten came to Indiana for an undergraduate degree at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. He’s nearly finished with his master’s in mechanical engineering. His adviser is Purdue University professor and RFID expert Sangtae Kim, who is currently wrapping up a two-year appointment as director of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Shared Cyberinfrastructure.

Wiley originally approached Kim to review the technical accuracy of “RFID for Dummies.” Too busy, Kim immediately recommended Bratten.

“Because of my NSF activities, I couldn’t do it justice,” Kim said. “I certainly felt confident he had the background. Anything he didn’t already know, he certainly could do the due diligence and verify, which certainly turned out to be the case.”

Kim and Bratten see RFID as the wave of the future in supply-chain management. Companies like Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target are starting to demand it from suppliers. So is the U.S. Department of Defense. Its implications for savings in inventory management are intriguing most every industry, Kim said, particularly highly regulated ones like pharmaceuticals.

As cutting-edge as RFID might appear, its roots go back decades. Bratten pointed out that variations on the technology were used by the British in World War II so friendly pilots could be differentiated from hostile German planes.

The difference is that now, RFID has shrunk to the point it can be applied to everyday manufacturing and logistics. And at a price that still allows companies to profit.

“The principle isn’t new,” Bratten said. “But the technology has finally caught up to the point where we can make it small and make so much use out of it.”

on the extent of its scope and functionality. A small-scale single portal can be established for $2,500. Setting up a distribution center might start at $2.5 million.

On average, Sweeney said, the technology can pay for itself in two to three years. The key is for businesses to use it to solve their own business problems. Companies that simply install RFID to meet a customer’s or supplier’s mandate won’t always see the payback they expect.

“That’s an area where people tend to make mistakes,” Sweeney said.

Bratten’s role in the book was to verify Sweeney’s facts. For example, Sweeney originally wrote that RFID chips emit signals in a 500-foot radius, which is certainly possible. But Bratten pointed out that a 100-foot radius is the limit that current RFID technology can deliver with reliability.

Bratten is already looking beyond graduation. He hasn’t ruled out a corporate job. But he’s also trying to organize an RFID consulting firm. Its aim would be to help institutions like hospitals and libraries adopt the technology.

“I’m just keeping my options open right now,” he said. “Anytime you can help people use something that’s new and unique is where my passion [lies].”

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