RFID/NFC tags are attached to Coke cans and bottles during production. RFID/NFC readers on Coke coolers generate a time-varying magnetic field, which induces a voltage in the tags on the cans/bottles. The tags are then empowered to transmit data to the readers, and this data can include product type, temperature, and expiration date. The RFID/NFC readers then transmit this data via WiFi or telephone line to stockers' or distributors' smartphone apps or call centers. The user interface (UI) of the app provides a graphical representation of what products will need to be restocked, and over time, this data can be analyzed to make the product restock schedule more predictive, saving time, labor, and transportation costs to both Coca-Cola, its distributors, and its retailers. Most importantly, this process will reduce stockouts, leading to more revenue for Coca-Cola, and more satisfied customers finding and buying Coke products at points-of-sale.
What does it measure?
It measures the status of Coke products in coolers, based on data stored, and updated, on RFID/NFC tags on Coke products. This data includes the number of each kind of product in the cooler, as well as temperature and expiration data about each product. A user interface (UI) will easily show the retailer, stocker, or distributor how many and what kinds of products are present in the cooler, and the coding of the restocking app will determine and tell the user what needs to be restocked and how soon.
Does the retailer/bottler/distributor have to do anything different to make your solution work? (if yes, please explain)
If the retailer is responsible for restocking Coke coolers at least part of the time, the retailer will need to download, maintain, and monitor the RFID/NFC app, and consult the app to ensure that the RFID/NFC readers are always operating correctly. Furthermore, the retailer must comply with the restock instructions provided by the smartphone app to either personally restock the cooler, or contact the appropriate Coke distributor to have the cooler restocked.
Otherwise, besides maintaining existing power, telephone, and/or WiFi connection on the premises, the retailer will not need to change their behavior for this solution to work. As always, it is optimal for the retailer to not put anything in Coke coolers besides the contractually agreed-upon mix of Coke products.
What materials does your solution require?
RFID/NFC tags installed on Coke cans and bottles; Wifi-enabled RFID/NFC readers installed on Coke coolers; Wifi access and electrical power provided by the retailer; and smartphones with RFID/NFC applications installed and enabled.
Best guest on cost to implement
RFID/NFC tags can cost as little as 5 cents per can/bottle, and NFC readers may cost around $30 per cooler, both before the cost savings related to buying in bulk, and Coke's own leverage with suppliers, due to the volume of tags and readers needed. Without further knowledge of Coke's can/bottle production processes, costs, or costs to change manufacturing processes, I am unable to estimate how much that facet of the solution would cost to implement.
Challenges you/your team ran into
The limited range of NFC technology presented a challenge related to how many NFC readers would be needed to track products in the entire cooler, but there are ways to boost the signal, e.g. using an NFC patch kit. With regard to RFID readers, a challenge was where to place them to accurately capture the movement of products into and out of the cooler. Also, the cost of RFID/NFC technology, along with the related changes to the Coke packaging process presented challenges of how to offset the added cost with benefits related to reduction of stockouts, reduced cost of the product restocking and scheduling process, and increased customer engagement using RFID/NFC technology.
What you/your team learned
I learned that non-mechanical solutions provide more scalability and flexibility, but implementation may be limited by the sophistication of a retailer's equipment, as well as the costs of changing product design and manufacturing processes. I also learned that it's fun to find new ways to streamline processes and cut material costs based on product design, such as how Coke saved on can material costs with cut-outs on the top and bottom of cans (compared to the design of a typical, cylindrical soup can).
I will continue to research and develop this solution, especially since it has wide-ranging applications for consumer products. I am a patent attorney, so I will also write an application for this method of reducing stockouts using RFID/NFC tagging, and pursue improvements to what I have already created during this hackathon.