June 13, 2023
An interview with AIM Global: What does the future hold for AIDC technologies?
Senior PR & Communications Manager
In the vast and intricate world of supply chains, where products journey from manufacturers to consumers, there exists an unsung hero that ensures efficiency, accuracy, and seamless operations. Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) technologies, with their remarkable ability to collect, track, and manage data, have emerged as indispensable tools in this dynamic landscape.
From barcodes and RFID to sensors and IoT, AIDC technologies act as the eyes and ears of the supply chain, enabling businesses to gain unparalleled visibility and control over their operations. By uniquely identifying and tracing items, locations, and events, AIDC technologies provide the foundation for robust supply chain management, fostering resilience, optimizing processes, and ultimately driving customer satisfaction.
With this in mind, I spoke with Mary Lou Bosco, Chief Executive Officer of AIM Global, to explore the transformative power of AIDC technologies and delve into their pivotal role in shaping the future of supply chains.
Q. Loftware’s '2023 Top 5 Trends in Labeling and Packaging Artwork’ report highlights a shift in attitudes toward cloud technology, with 50% of respondents already deploying important business applications in the cloud – up from 40% a year ago. How do you see the cloud impacting mission-critical barcoding and labeling?
Mary Lou Bosco (MLB): Barcoding, RFID, and other AIDC technology systems won’t be left behind as enterprises move more software applications and physical infrastructure to the cloud. Barcoding and RFID can already support cloud applications and infrastructure with zero to minimal disruption. These technologies have always facilitated capturing information about items, locations, and events at the enterprise’s or supply chain’s edge and providing the data to enterprise systems. That doesn’t change now that more of an enterprise’s systems are in the cloud.
Today, most enterprises prefer to run with a mix of cloud and on-premise assets, and hybrid IT architectures will remain in place for the foreseeable future. Since barcode and other AIDC systems will increasingly connect to computing resources and applications in the cloud, they need to be cloud friendly. Therefore, we might see future devices built with higher-speed connectivity and support for more IoT protocols and for more AIDC software releases to be cloud native. Your Spectrum Cloud on AWS is a good example!
Q. In your opinion, what are some of the most promising technologies that will emerge as companies adopt a cloud-first approach to barcode labeling?
MLB: Our recent research provides some additional perspective to yours. Migrating their hardware and software to the cloud is a priority for 81% of the organizations we surveyed and was a higher-ranked investment priority than barcoding for 2023, according to the study we conducted for the ‘2022 Automatic Identification and Data Capture Industry Direction Report’. Incidentally, integration services were the top-ranked investment priority, while IoT was ranked second. Separately, we asked companies that were purchasing barcode technology in 2023 what else they would be buying, and sensors were the top-rated response. These spending plans suggest many new barcode investments are part of IoT implementations. IoT systems are often the gateway between AIDC systems at an enterprise’s edge and its software and infrastructure in the cloud, so the fact that barcoding, IoT, cloud, and integration are all highly rated priorities for enterprise spending is not surprising in the least.
Q. How will these technologies help companies to improve their sustainability credentials?
MLB: AIDC technologies excel at enabling traceability, which can provide the documentation needed in the circular economy. With AIDC, products and materials can be tracked anywhere in the supply chain and at any point in their lifecycle. AIDC has been used for years to support item-level identification and traceability in various waste management, hazmat tracking, recycling, and related use cases.
AIDC’s enabling role for cloud systems also contributes to sustainability. Almost every organization would reduce its carbon footprint by moving IT assets off its premises and to the cloud. That’s because the leading cloud infrastructure and colocation providers run their data centers at much higher energy, heating, and cooling efficiency than all, but the most advanced enterprises could attain this on their own. The leading cloud providers have made significant sustainability investments and carbon reduction commitments and are leaders in sourcing alternative energy sources.
Q. Another clear theme that came out of our ‘2023 Top 5 Trends’ report is the vital role of traceability in creating resilient supply chains. In your view, how does the implementation of AIDC technology, such as RFID and barcode labeling, help to provide this much-needed visibility and agility?
MLB: You can’t have traceability if you aren’t able to uniquely and accurately identify the item to be traced, and those are the fundamental functionalities that barcoding, RFID, and some other AIDC technologies provide. Blockchain was created to provide traceability and to automate it, and blockchain is covered under our technology umbrella too. Depending on the technology, materials, and encoding method used, you can accurately and permanently embed much more information within an item besides its identity.
AIM was founded 50 years ago to help answer the question of what role barcoding and other technologies could play. After 50 years, our members are still discovering many new ways in which these technologies can help provide traceability, visibility, and other capabilities that businesses need to innovate and be more efficient. I encourage anyone who would like to explore this question further to visit our website, as there are a lot of helpful resources there, and we have several groups actively working on traceability and related projects.
Q. A recent SupplyChainBrain article explored how artificial intelligence and machine learning are transforming the global supply chain. What’s your view on this? How do you expect AI to address current supply chain challenges and regulatory requirements?
MLB: AI and AIDC share letters but beyond that, their fundamentals and their roles in supply chains are quite different. AIDC provides a way to collect information and AI provides a way to analyze it. How AI will transform supply chains depends on how software vendors incorporate AI into their supply chain-related applications.
We can expect to see AI and AIDC used together at the enterprise edge. For example, imagine an IoT system where AIDC would capture an identity or an event, and sensors would provide complementary data about the conditions e.g., the temperature, speed, force of impact, amount of people present - there are many possibilities. The AIDC and sensor data could be fed to an edge device or to the cloud, where AI would analyze the inputs, separate the valid signals from the noise, and issue an alert or take other action based on the analysis.
Q. How do organizations like AIM help businesses advance the effective use of AIDC?
MLB: AIM is the global industry alliance for stakeholders of RFID, barcoding, smart devices, and other AIDC technologies, as well as supporting blockchain, IoT, and RTLS applications. We - both AIM and its members - represent all industries and organizations that use, implement, resell, or develop technology. We are essential to enabling adoption, growth, and interoperability for those that depend on accurate, available, and identifiable data.
AIM creates standards, promotes community, advocates, and educates. AIM champions concerns and solutions to industries and governments to break down market barriers and constraints. Importantly, AIM has the recognition to be taken seriously and to help businesses of all sizes succeed in the global marketplace.
Q. How does AIM partner with Loftware and its members? And what is the benefit of this type of partnership?
MLB: As the unbiased resource for networking, education, advocacy, and standards, AIM helps its members grow their businesses by fostering the effective use of AIDC solutions. Members like Loftware can influence the ever-evolving direction of our industry. Through membership, you receive early access to industry technical research and information. Most importantly, you can access a worldwide network of industry leaders and decision makers to promote and effectively use AIDC technologies.
Q. AIM is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Congratulations! What exciting activities do you have planned to mark the occasion?
MLB: Fifty years ago, the founding pioneers of the AIDC industry certainly did not envision that one day, every person would be walking around with a barcode scanner in their pocket. Nor did they know at that time that AIDC technologies would become robust data collection tools connecting the physical world to the computer world, enabling the rise of Wi-Fi, AI, the Internet of Things (IoT), Bluetooth, and robotics. AIM was built on innovation and the courage to try new things. Today, digital data capture technologies are helping reimagine processes to bring new efficiencies and enable supply chains around the world to be more equitable, sustainable, and resilient.
In commemorating this milestone anniversary, AIM will host a series of regional events to mark the occasion. In May, during the North American celebration at RFID Journal LIVE!, an industry partnership breakfast took place with more than 160 industry professionals and included presentations on topics including robotics and the evolution of RFID.
The Asia Pacific and European events will take place in October. As part of this, the AIM Asia chapters, the IoT Association of Hong Kong, and the China Airlines Association will come together in Singapore for three days filled with educational sessions, exposition, and networking events. A few days later, The AIM Summit will be held with Wireless IoT Tomorrow in Wiesbaden, Germany. A welcome reception, half-day education event, and networking dinner are planned, along with a celebration toast during the Wireless IoT Tomorrow reception. For more information about our 50th anniversary, please visit https://www.aimglobal.org/aim50.html.
- Supply Chain