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Frequently asked questions

EPC Standard Identification questions (Electronic Product Code)

What is an Electronic Product Code (EPC)?

Standard Identification questions

An Electronic Product Code or EPC is a single identifier, generally considered to be the new generation of the bar code standard. As with the bar code, an EPC is a numerical system for identifying products, but it has greater capabilities. An EPC contains the number that can be associated to specific information, such as manufacture date, origin and destination.

How does EPC work?

The EPC is stored in a radio frequency tag (RFID), which transmits the information when consulted by a reader. EPC and RFID are not interchangeable. The EPC is a value chain application, which maximizes RFID technology to promote a level of visibility which was formerly unattainable.

What does it offer consumers?

The EPC has the potential to help us all. It could help companies improve efficiency and the visibility of the value chain, which would benefit consumers through product availability, speed of service and ensuring quality.

It could help avoid false goods from reaching consumers, by monitoring your products from their point of origin. The EPC has the potential to enable commercial chains to achieve greater inventory traceability, more efficient restocking and having the product in the aisles when the customer so requires.

What does it offer businesses?

The EPC may help companies transform their processes with the aim of improving their own efficiency, while providing additional benefits to the consumer.

Value chain visibility problems generate over $81 million annually in losses to US businesses, due to loss, theft and stock out in the shelves. The technology behind EPC can help companies improve inventory monitoring more effectively, as well as manage new product requests more efficiently and reducing the number of times a product is “not available”.

Furthermore, the EPC can help companies monitor their shipments, in order to avoid manipulation and discourage falsified or illegal goods from entering the market.

How were RFID and EPC developed?

RFID has been around for a long time and is used every day by consumers for EZ Pass systems, which speeds travellers through toll stations and for electronic payments in Speedpass, as well as for payment at Exxon and Mobil service stations.

In order to fight against the Mad Cow Disease in European countries and Canada, RFID is being used to trace cattle. In fact, it was first developed by the Allies in the Second World War to identify friendly planes in battle.

EPC was developed much more recently, by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Auto-ID Technology Center, in order to try and help companies identify supply chain elements automatically and in real time.

Who creates the norms and manages EPC implementation?

EPCglobal Inc. was created jointly by GS1 (formerly EAN International) and GS1 USA. (formerly the Uniform Code Council, Inc.) – the same organizations in charge of spearheading the adoption of the bar code – in order to develop standards and create a global vision in the value chain..

EPCglobal is a neutral , non-profit organization, which works towards the development of norms for the use by manufacturers, technology suppliers and retailers. Many industries participate in the development of the standards of the EPCglobal process.

What about consumer privacy?

EPC tags are created to manage company products, not people. An EPC tag contains no personal identification information. EPCglobal and its community of subscribers recognize that for EPC to achieve acceptance by the public in general, consumers must have confidence in its value, in its benefits and in the integrity of its use. Participants in the creation of standards have been committed to achieve and retain this trust among people.

Privacy has been a focus of EPC developers and subscribers, from the very first stage of efforts to commercialize RFID. Subscribers to EPCglobal have developed auto-regulation guidelines that may evolve in keeping with the development of technology. EPC license agreements specifically prohibit its use for the monitoring and identification of people, except in specific cases.

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Can products with EPC tags be identified once they reach your home?

EPC tags only transmit product data when prompted by a signal issued by a special reader with access to a secure database. Legibility is often not very reliable beyond 10 feet in an optimal warehouse setting and, for some tags, the proximity of readers is measured in inches. Without access to the secure database, any code recovered makes no sense. Consumers will be informed of options to discard or destroy, or, in the future, disable, EPC tags of purchased products. Consumers may some times wish to keep the tags to make product returns easier, as well as recovery of stolen goods.

When can we hope to see the tag at item level?

Nowadays, attention centers on the platform and monitoring at cash desk level. Tagging at item level will be developed no only by the adoption of technology and its advances, but also by demand and need. For example, monitoring at item level may arise with the desire to protect the supply of foodstuffs and medicines, as well as reducing the falsification of medicines.

Are the tags safe for people and for the environment?

There are national and international norms for the functioning of RFID equipment within secure levels. There is no medical evidence to suggest that the technology represents a concern for human health, according to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC). With the evolution of EPC there will be further opportunities to promote sustainability and allow for a greater and more efficient, more careful, handling of recyclable items.