Industrial Engineer Engineering and Management Solutions at Work

December 2016    |    Volume: 48    |    Number: 12

The member magazine of the Institute of Industrial and Engineers

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Editor's Desk

By Michael Hughes

Tracking good things

The newspaper world trained me to look for the evil in everything.

Sure, we had our share of nice features, community profiles and touchy-feely pieces we labeled “popcorn stories.” But you win your spurs by unearthing grand jury testimony the district attorney wants hidden, peeling apart investigations into legislators accused of sexually harassing pages and uncovering private eyes paid by governments to track disgruntled civil employees.

Much of the muckraking work done by journalists uncovers things the public needs to know. But at times, the scandal of the day is more hype than ripe.

Thus has been my experience with RFID.

Privacy advocates evoke George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, with government and big businesses using the “spy chips” to track you from the cradle to the grave, developing databases of everywhere you’ve been and everything you’ve bought. They raise some valid points. But I call such massive suspicion of technology “the demonization of thingies.” Inherently, nouns aren’t good or evil. It’s how people use them that counts. After all, the chip you don’t want used to shadow you can help locate Uncle Jack, an Alzheimer’s patient who wandered off to the forest in 25-degree weather.

Mohsen Attaran’s cover story, “The Supply and Demand for RFID,” details the revolutionary power of these radiofrequency identification chips. They can reduce inventory levels, lead-times and stock-outs, all while increasing throughput, accuracy, quality and collaboration. If, at the touch of a button, you know what’s where when, you can figure out where it needs to go next.

Integrating RFID with video technology can let shoppers in dressing rooms mix and match colors and styles. Manufacturers can track parts through assembly. The tags can alert hospital officials if someone tries to take an infant away, gather data for your ERP system and help food companies locate and recall just the bad stuff.

So open up to Page 26 and take a look. You might be surprised at what good things RFID technology can offer your customers, your workforce and your bottom line.

Michael Hughes is managing editor of IIE. Reach him at or (770) 349-1110.