Highlights from RFID Smart Labels USA 2006
Apr 10, 2006 Raghu Das
The fifth - and largest - IDTechEx "RFID Smart Labels USA" event was attended by more than 500 delegates from 31 countries - over 20% more compared to 2005. The event covered how RFID is progressing in a wide variety of industries and the plethora of technology developments. This report highlights a few of the key lessons of the conference. For more, listen to the audio from the speakers themselves at www.smartlabelsusa.com .
Universal interrogators needed but who is listening?
General Electric and the US Department of Defense both stated their need for a single interrogator which can work at the different frequencies. They have found that they need to use different frequency systems depending on the products tagged and the desired range, obstructions encountered etc, and so far they have implemented LF, HF, UHF and active RFID. However, the interrogator manufacturers are still a long way from this.
Mismatch of supply and demand
In his new Masterclass on How to Make Money Out of RFID, Peter Harrop gave the opinion that there is indeed a big mismatch between supply and demand in the booming RFID market. There are about 1000 suppliers in various points of the RFID value chain. However, he believes that many of them address lacklustre opportunities and even cash traps. Meanwhile there is an almost total lack of truly global system integrators, for example.
Tyson Foods overcomes its process challenges
Tyson Foods, the World's largest processor of chicken, beef and pork, reported how it has successfully implemented UHF RFID to comply with the Wal-Mart RFID mandate.
A major problem for Tyson is that their meat needs to pass through a metal detector as it leaves them for retailer distribution centers. An RFID tag applied before this stage would set off the alarm. This has prevented Tyson benefiting from the RFID system within the manufacturing process. Can someone help?
Looking into the future, Tyson Foods wanted to see "food friendly" tags at lower prices. Beyond compliance, they wait for chipless tags which would enable cost effective tagging of all the produce they manufacture. The speaker was asked if the major retailers have the power to make Tyson and its peers tag pallets and cases almost regardless of economics and the answer was left rather open. The conference made it clear that the retailers and the military already see paybacks, so there is no going back on the UHF tagging of pallets and cases.
P & G / Gillette sees pallet/ case paybacks
Gillette's new five blade razor system, Fusion, was launched this year with a major promotion during the Super Bowl. It is their first product where RFID is applied to all the product cases and pallets. These are shipped to 400 locations which have RFID systems. As the cases are being made, each one is tagged. The tags are read as they arrive at retailer stores and at the retailers' box crushing machines, at which point Gillette knows all the product is now on the shelf. Fusion was a major launch for Gillette, and they wanted to see what the benefits would be by using UHF RFID on all cases - a large commitment in itself. Jamshed was unable to share the results at this stage, but he reported them as being "phenomenal".
Some turn to item level
Alastair McArthur of Tagsys reported industry statistics of the sales of counterfeit drugs at $39 billion - 11% of all pharmaceutical sales. Tagsys supply Pfizer with HF tags which are applied to bottles of Viagra destined for the US - a drug with a massive counterfeiting problem. The product is made in France and shipped to the US. The project is fully live today with millions of tags being used this year. HF has been chosen because Tagsys achieves an unusually high read rate and absence of false reads and the tags are the smallest available for the job in hand, so they fit on even the smallest packages without deterioration of performance but there are other reasons too.
RFID in China takes off in 2006
Victor Claudio from SparkICE and Dr Wenfeng Wang from the Chinese Government RFID Group both updated the audience on how they see RFID beginning to take off in China this year. They believe that one standard is not appropriate for all and therefore will use appropriate frequencies and standards for each application. Victor gave us some insight into the differences of Chinese culture and how this affects business there - in particular work is closely done with the government. The Chinese government are rolling out the largest RFID order ever placed - a contactless national ID card to over 1 billion citizens, with peak deliveries over the next three years. IDTechEx will be visiting China at the end of May to research developments in the country. If you would like us to report on any issues in particular please contact Ning Xiao email@example.com. The report will be published in Smart Labels Analyst.
A new approach - UHF labels with near field coupling
In his fascinating presentation, speaker Rich Fletcher, CEO of Tagsense, went further into the new option at UHF. He said that that several companies are now developing UHF tags working on near field induction, like an HF tag. In this case, they use a coil as the antenna. Even though most performance is achieved using a dipole antenna at UHF, the overlap between the two physics is gradual, and some benefits of near field antennas can be realised at UHF. He considered the key benefit of a near field antenna rather than one working at far field to be that it is more tolerant of metal and fluids. Rich said he has seen UHF tags working at up to 1 meter read range with a near field antenna.
ISO 18000 Type 3 EPC time temperature recording labels arrive
Maxim Dallas Semiconductor revealed their progress on a silicon chip design which will support the EPC UHF Gen 2 spec but also enable sensing because it allows a battery to power external sensors. Alien Technology and other have also announced work to such open standards with TTRs at UHF. Normally, TTRs have been at HF to proprietary standards.
RFID chip costs
Thierry Roz of EM Microelectronic spoke. This is one of the fastest growing RFID chip suppliers and it is aiming at one billion units delivered cumulatively over the years by the end of this year - only one year behind leader Philips. He discussed RFID silicon chip costs. He made the point that standards and associate IP often come with non negligible additional costs. Most of the chips they supply are therefore dedicated for the applications and often simpler than would otherwise be the case. He cited for example, the Gen 2 specification, with some 42,000 transistors - about 8 times more than simpler RFID chips.
Chipless RFID breakthroughs
There was strong interest in chipless technologies, including users who seek a cheaper alternative to silicon chip tags but also recognising other potential advantages such as thinness, flexibility, damage tolerance and eventually printing directly onto products and packaging like over 85% of barcodes today. Inksure unveiled their fully printed transistorless 96 bit tag which they demonstrated publicly for the first time. They also demonstrated multiple tag reads. Their aim is a sub one cent read only tag, and they are currently also developing handheld readers for this.
Motorola and PolyIC updated delegates on their developments with thin film transistor circuits (TFTCs) - or the "plastic chip". PolyIC displayed the first polymer-based 8 bit read only RFID tag which functions at 13.56 MHz.
With 65 speakers there was much more to this conference than the brief taster we have provided here. For the full report read the IDTechEx journal Smart Labels Analyst.
If you missed the event you can purchase the slides and audio of all the presentations - or select ones. Go to www.smartlabelsusa.com for details. Any of the Masterclasses (Introduction to RFID, How to Profit from RFID, How to Make RFID labels etc) can be repeated on your premises if you wish - just contact IDTechEx firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't miss RFID Smart Labels Europe 2006 in London on September 19-20 - save the date. www.smartlabelseurope.com