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Enormous ambitions

Transportation and logistics account for more than 7 per cent of Hong Kong's gross domestic product (GDP) and employ over 210,000 workers.

To build on the importance of logistics and supply chain management (LSCM) to the local economy, the Hong Kong R&D Centre for Logistics and Supply Chain Management Enabling Technologies was established by the government's Innovation and Technology Commission in 2006. Based in Cyberport, the centre is undertaking research and development work in three main interconnected areas.

"The first area is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), an enabling technology to automatically identify and capture information about (tagged) physical objects as they move along the supply chain," says Professor Tan Chung-jen, the centre's CEO. Unlike bar-code technology, RFID does not require contact or line of sight for communication.

The uses of this technology go beyond the commercial sector. "Every hospital operation uses maybe 20 or 100 sponges," Tan says. "Now, with an RFID tag embedded in each sponge, you can check whether you have left one inside the patient before you sew him up.

"The second area we're working on is [how to build] a network infrastructure to allow the captured information to be accessed anywhere in the world. And [the third is] how that information can be used to provide value-added services to businesses."

Tan identifies the trend that will combine identification technology with data gleaned from other sensors such as temperature, humidity and location (using GPS) "so you have total information along the supply chain".

He believes the importance of enabling businesses to share information will also grow "so they can interact with each other in a more efficient and transparent way".

"People are looking more and more into sustainability. If someone wants to buy a shirt they may look on websites to find out the manufacturer's green index. We're now working on projects to identify and trace carbon consumption along the supply chain," he says.

"We also have a project to develop green RFID tags using printed technology instead of metal antennas, for example. They would degrade over time or could be disposable."