Rolls-Royce's defence aerospace business is beginning a radio frequency identification (RFID) trial to help it comply with the decision by the US Department of Defense to use the radio tagging technology throughout its supply chain.
The company started planning for RFID in 2004 when the Department of Defense told its suppliers they would have to tag cases, pallets and all other packaging by 2007.
Shipping containers sent to any Department of Defense location worldwide have been tagged since 2005.
Rolls-Royce will begin by tagging some types of goods moving through its Bristol warehouse this month, after completing a static trial in Derby, which evaluated different combinations of tags and readers.
Once RFID has been made to work at Bristol, Rolls-Royce will replicate the trial at its Ansty facility near Coventry and then the RAF's Marham airbase in Norfolk. The company anticipates a wider RFID deployment in 2007.
The Bristol project will start by using RFID solely to automate the business processes within Rolls-Royce's own warehouses. Products are subjected to different checks as they move through the warehouse, making the task of introducing RFID more complex.
Rolls-Royce's head of supply chain services, Lee Doherty, said, "Barcoding is a fantastic technology, but only for a business model that has now changed."
The company has identified a number of benefits from RFID.
Doherty said, "We can drive down payment times by linking RFID to invoicing. Our operational command centres will get visibility of things that are not moving on time or in the way that they should.
"I also want the items to tell me when they are in the wrong place because manual intervention absolutely kills us."