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German retail giant opens test center to push RFID

The company spearheading use of radio tags in Europe unveils its official test bed.

Metro Group, the German retail chain pushing for adoption of radio frequency identification technology, opened its RFID test center on Wednesday.

The Dusseldorf-based company, which operates a range of retail outlets across Germany, said it began operating its RFID Innovation Center in the town of Neuss, where its sales divisions, technology partners and suppliers will test . Last year, the retail firm announced an RFID mandate requiring its top 100 suppliers to begin attaching the RFID tags to pallets of goods headed for the company's 10 central distribution warehouses and 50 of its stores by this November.

RFID systems combine chips that carry descriptive information with radio frequency technology to track inventory. With its high-profile mandate, Metro, along with U.S. retail juggernaut Wal-Mart Stores, has become a recognized leader in the push for development of RFID. Wal-Mart, which opened its own test center earlier this year, is asking its own top 100 suppliers to deliver pallets of products armed with RFID tags by 2005.

However, while Wal-Mart, rival retailer Target and even the U.S. Department of Defense have unveiled plans to gradually introduce RFID, Metro fancies itself as the only company currently planning to use the technology throughout its entire supply chain. By Jan. 1, 2006, Metro wants to have more than 250 of its stores on its RFID system, encompassing more than 300 of the retailer's partners. By 2007, the company aims to have the technology turned on in 800 stores across Germany.

Metro highlighted a number of technology vendors as partners in the RFID Innovation Center, including IBM, Intel, Philips, SAP and Intermec. Metro executives called the opening a "crucial step" in moving the company's plans forward.

"With the opening of this center we are fulfilling our promise to intensively support our partners in the realization of the rollout," Zygmunt Mierdorf, chief information officer at Metro, said in a statement.

Using the center, Metro believes, its partners will be able to gauge how the technology functions under real-life conditions. The company said the bulk of its testing will focus on RFID readers and tags used for different merchandise categories, packaging units and applications. Metro reported that a number of test areas are available in the facility, including reproductions of clothing stores and food outlets, in addition to a simulation of the firm's complete supply chain. One of the company's warehouses, located in Kaufhof, will also be used in the effort.