From retail mandates to agile readers, this year’s hottest tech topic is RFID technology and implementation. O+F asked seven experts in the field — three consultants and industry experts, and four manufacturers and integrators — for their take on the subject.
DAN MULLEN, president, Association for Automatic Identification and Mobility (AIM), Warrendale, PA: “The biggest change in the last few months has been related to the supply chain. For example, users are deciding whether RFID technology will be used in the supply chain at case-level and pallet-level activity.
“Having an agreed-upon standard is critical for RFID users. This is what is good about the Wal-Mart, U.S. Department of Defense, and Target announcements.
“There is a lot of development taking place in new RFID tags within labels. The reason is that there will continue to be demand for dual support — bar code and RFID — for quite some time. There is also work being done to embed tags within or against some other material. Much of the research is also looking at the environment around the tags to see what has the most impact on read range and readability.
“A lot of work [is] being done on products with multiple protocols and frequencies, called agile readers. These readers can also adapt to the regulatory requirements in different parts of the world. They can monitor what products are coming in, identify what the frequencies are, and read them appropriately.”
TIMOTHY DOWNS, president, Shorecliff Communications, San Juan Capistrano, CA (sponsor of the RFID World 2004 Conference): “The RFID community has recently split into two groups. One is focusing on meeting … retailer mandates. This is the EPC — electronic product code — standard. The other is low-frequency RFID technology. Even though there is not yet an agreed-upon EPC standard, the momentum is in place to create one. This would make it easier for user organizations to adopt it.
“RFID is becoming an integrators’ issue, rather than a technology issue. The middleware and software that need to be refined for the hardware will be a key area of growth for software developers and enterprise users.”
MIKE EMMERTH, manager, Sedlak, Richfield, OH: “The industry is driving toward a 96-bit tag, which will contain all the information closely resembling an ASN — vendor ID, item number, serial number, and level of item, such as pallet, case, and eventually, unit.
“In a rush to carve a niche in the RFID marketplace, software vendors have enabled middleware to bolt onto their own product or another vendor’s product, enabling the user to read and write, rather than developing end-user, standalone RFID products.
“Label printers are being upgraded or retrofitted to allow for RFID. They write data to the embedded RFID tags within labels as they unspool into the print head.”
JOHN THORN, general manager, supply chain and brand solutions group, Checkpoint Systems, Thorofare, NJ: “We have recently developed a suite of readers in cooperation with some other manufacturers, and are currently building the network for these readers to plug into, making sure it is flexible enough to adapt to best-in-breed applications as they develop. We will be bringing to market a radio frequency EPC network management platform that will allow users to deploy RFID readers anywhere within their operations, manage the network, [and] route the information from the readers into the appropriate business applications. This is currently in beta stage development.
“Current tag prices are in the 20-cent to 25-cent range. The market wants us to be in the under-ten-cent range. There is a road map and volume levels that will lead to this, but it is further out in time. This will require volumes of tens and hundreds of billions, much larger than today’s current usage levels of tens and hundreds of millions.”
JAN SVOBODA, product manager, SATO America, Charlotte, NC: “Our new products focus on UHF RFID technology, which is being promoted by Wal-Mart, the Department of Defense, and Target. We have added the RFID encoding and verification portion to the printing of the standard compliance labels. From the user standpoint, they will still be dealing with a one-step process. We have blank media loaded in the printer that will also contain an RFID inlay. The user sends down data from the system, which will also include the data to be encoded in the RFID tag. In one step, the printer will do the RFID coding and the verification of the RFID inlay to make sure that the correct information has been written to it, and then finalize the label by printing all of the information on the top. If there is a failure, the printer will void that particular tag and then try on the next one.”
GIRISH RISHI, senior vice president of marketing, Matrics, Columbia, MD: “We have a new reader which is multi-protocol, in that it will read both Class 0 and Class 1. It also has network management features that can become part of the user’s ID infrastructure. It will process XML transactions, will have event management capabilities, and will have Web configuration capabilities.”
GREG GILBERT, RFID strategist, Manhattan Associates, Atlanta, GA: “There is a lot of interest in RFID technology in certain industries, especially pharmaceuticals and electronics, which have need for the track-and-trace capabilities of RFID, such as serial number, lot tracking, expiration date, etc. The technology has been available. However, applications haven’t taken advantage of it yet.
“We are also starting to see improved performance, such as improved readability, read range, read rate, and omnidirectional reading. This is being accomplished via better antenna and/or tag design. In the future, we will see better utilization of mobile devices with RFID capabilities, such as forklift-mounted RFID readers.
“There is a need to implant tags with RF information and human-readable information. In that area, we will be introducing RF-enabled printers.”
William Atkinson is a business writer who can be reached at email@example.com.
Intermec Technologies Corp.
Symbol Technologies Inc.
Zebra Technologies Corp.