(Dec. 7) MARKHAM, Ontario — At the Canadian RFID Centre in this northeast Toronto suburb, visitors can see, touch and smell what’s going on with the latest in radio-frequency identification technology.

Yes, they can smell what’s going on. Fragrant produce, including boxes of broccoli, crates of clementines and cases of apples, bagged salads and potatoes, were part of the center‘s Nov. 21-22 Produce Day demonstrations of RFID in the produce supply chain.

The Ottawa-based Canadian Produce Marketing Association sponsored the demonstrations.

The $1.7 million center, which opened in September and is located in an IBM Canada Ltd. facility, takes visitors through a complete supply chain simulation, from the initial tagging though the warehouse, distribution center, cooler and out of the retail back room.

It was developed by founding partners CPMA, the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors, the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, EPCglobal Canada, Food and Consumer Products of Canada, IBM Canada, Intermec Technologies Corp., Symbol Technologies Inc. and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

The center was created so people in the industry could see for themselves what RFID can do for their businesses, said IBM’s Linda Schwartz, RFID consultant and project manager.

“We’re designed to be everything to everybody,” Schwartz said. “No matter where you sit in knowledge level of RFID, whether you’ve heard about it, or just want to learn a little more about it, or for those who are a little further into it and are contemplating getting into it, we can provide some hands-on learning.”

The center is a unique opportunity in North America, said Jane Proctor, director of industry technology and standardization for CPMA.

“I’m certain there’s no other place in North America where you can come in and look at your product in a simulated supply chain, which shows all of the supply chain, including the coolers,” Proctor said. “That is unique.”

Most often, tours are scheduled for the facility in a generic setting, but partners like CPMA have offered customized sessions for member organizations. Proctor said the customization also is unique to the center.

“I’ve been to other RFID demonstrations, a manufacturer of tags for example, and they’ll have a little box of plastic fruit for the demonstrations,” Proctor said. “They get plastic fruit so it looks like produce for us, but it’s such an antiseptic environment. Whereas here, it’s very different.”

The center has had no trouble booking tours, said IBM’s Alaine Moss, center operations manager.

“In November, we were 80% to 90% capacity,” Moss said. “We are not lacking in interest.”

The center’s focus has been for members and customers of the sponsor organizations, but visits from non-members also are available. Proctor said the next Produce Day likely will be in February or April, but she encourages visits in the meantime.