Driving the evolution of track and trace services

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 February, 2007, 12:00am

State-of-the-art facility showcases how technology provides shared information and visibility at every stage of the supply chain

As a regional logistics and information hub, Hong Kong provides crucial transport and other supply chain services to the Pearl River Delta's dynamic manufacturing base.

The territory is also a major investor in the delta, with Hong Kong enterprises operating more than 80,000 manufacturing plants there.

Close collaboration between Hong Kong and the delta region ensures that fresh manufacturing opportunities are seized and new challenges met.

The biggest challenge comes from an acceleration of globalisation, which affects international markets and those operating in them.

Because globalisation makes market information more accessible, consumers are becoming more demanding, and this puts increasing pressure on retailers and their partners to invest and innovate to meet consumers' needs.

Today's retailers and their partners are striving to improve operations across shop floors, ensuring efficient delivery and reliable products with a greater visibility, end to end, across the supply chain.

Big retailers such as Wal-Mart and Metro are taking the lead by using global tagging standards to provide a common tracking platform that integrates their supply chains.

This means that manufacturers around the world, such as those in the Pearl River Delta region, and supply chain service providers, such as Hong Kong, must be in step with the standards and technologies used by their customers, especially the world's top retailers and buyers.

In Hong Kong, those driving the supply chain evolution are GS1 Hong Kong and Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks.

The two have collaborated on creating a Supply Chain Innovation Centre (SCIC) that serves to showcase how electronic product code (EPC and radio frequency identification (RFID) can be applied to business operations and supply chain integration.

EPC/RFID is the most important tracking model adopted by the big retailers in the United States and Europe.

With its internet backbone, the model provides a common platform for all parties along a supply chain to keep real-time track of a product's movements. All those along the supply chain can share this information in real time.

RFID, the leading emerging technology for automatic data capture, provides detailed information on the nature of the product, where it is going and how it should be handled at each stage in the supply chain - all this for simultaneous sharing by all parties concerned, regardless of their geographic distribution.

The Supply Chain Innovation Centre occupies over 3,000 square feet of the Hong Kong Science Park, in Sha Tin. Supply chain stakeholders, from manufacturers and logistics providers to retailers, are showcased in three themed areas: a manufacturing zone, a logistics zone and a retail zone.

Each zone features contributions from different founding members and sponsors, including leading local and overseas players, in the application and development of EPC/RFID solutions and technologies.

Anna Lin Kit-yee is chief executive of GS1 Hong Kong, formerly known as the Hong Kong Article Numbering Association. Ms Lin said the aim of the SCIC was to help raise general awareness and understanding of EPC/RFID.

'Our ultimate goal is to help the industry take up this new supply chain model to drive the adoption of EPC/RFID in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta region, and facilitate the necessary technology transfer through training and exchange among all stakeholders using this facility. The establishment of SCIC cannot be made without the commitment of our founding members through their invaluable contribution of know-how, facilities, exhibits and experience,' Ms Lin said. 'Most of the world's leading retailers have adopted EPC/RFID. If we fail to harness this as well, we will lose our value to these major buyers. This will undermine our competitive edge as the region's logistics hub, and that of the Pearl River Delta region as a global manufacturing base.'

Ms Lin said the centre was both a showcase to be enjoyed by interested parties and the public, and a platform for EPC/RFID training.

'Seeing is believing,' she said. 'The beauty of the SCIC lies in its real-life and compact one-stop

setting, which is enhanced by our founding members and sponsors.

This makes the centre very convincing, practical and user-friendly, even for the uninitiated. This will help us use it for educating the industry players.'

Ms Lin said the SCIC was believed to be the most comprehensive and versatile facility of its kind in the region.

'Another role the SCIC will play is a test centre. We are now exploring the possibility of a test laboratory for phase two, as a nurturing ground for EPC/RFID compliance solution and


Ken Hui Kin-nam is vice-president of the marketing and admission division of Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation. He said the Supply Chain Innovation Centre would complement the Science Park's logistics exploration resources in advancing the use and application of RFID.

The centre would be complementing China's effort towards achieving product standardisation. 'HKSTP can act as an anchor supporting this,' he said.

Mr Hui said the Science Park would oversee the SCIC's day-to-day operations, while training student curators to introduce the SCIC to visitors at weekends.

He said that public education was an important aspect of the SCIC because, in time, RFID applications would become a part of daily life.

The Science Park would be promoting the SCIC in Hong Kong and overseas, Mr Hui said, and that room for expanding the centre would be available in phase two of Hong Kong Science Park.