Views from RFID adopters at Smart Labels Europe

Views from RFID adopters at Smart Labels Europe
240 people attended this sixth annual Smart Labels Europe conference and exhibition at Cambridge University 20-21 Oct.
Dr Peter Harrop of IDTechEx gave a brief warm up on where the money is being made in RFID and what comes next. System integrators are doing well, for example, and many are being bought by larger companies as a consequence. He noted that as markets mature, one must be in a niche or be one of the biggest. There is not much benefit in being neither a Toyota nor a Ferrari. However, one must be in a sector that continues to have economic meaning. He expressed doubts about RFID middleware in this context as it is being subsumed into general management software and into smart interrogators.

Great interest in pharmaceutical applications

There was great interest in the presentation by GlaxoSmithKline on successful use of RFID in pharmaceutical R&D. They found HF (13.56 MHz) best for them. They worried about UHF heating drugs and, for the short ranges they employed, they found UHF tags to be rather large. There is a need for RFID labels to adhere well to avoid risk if ingestion but tamper evident versions are also needed. The regulator also wants tags to stick well to prevent removal causing invasion of privacy.

Success with furniture

IKEA, the major furniture chain, discussed its trials of RFID in closed loop settings, with assistance from Lund University in Sweden. This can lead to traceability of high value and production critical components, loading units such as containers and trailers, unit loads, racks and other packaging systems. Also in Sweden, Volvo has saved $80 million from RFID tagging racks, it was noted. Indeed, IKEA sees satisfactory paybacks of "under two years". It is persevering with UHF. So far it has used 915 MHz, the US UHF frequency, because it could not get deliveries of labels at the European UHF frequency of around 868 MHz. 100% reads have been achieved at wrap and at dispatch but these dropped to an unacceptable 50% reads at returns because here there is a lot of metal about.

Ambitious work at Kaufhof

Uwe Quiede of Kaufhof Warenhaus, part of Metro in Germany gave a fascinating update on its many RFID trials, with 13.56 MHz for item level in the main and UHF for pallets and cases but with problems here of plastic not just water and metal. On pallets and cases up to three maters range is achieved. The breadth of this work is most impressive and it even includes use of cellphones for purchasing and for provision of information on products for sale.

M&S lead the world in apparel tagging

James Stafford of Marks and Spencer in the UK said his rollout of apparel tagging to all 350 million items yearly is now over "two to three years" - a world first in our opinion. This uses UHF at 869.4 MHz on swing tags that the customer always removes before wearing the apparel.

Beer kegs

Trenstar, the outsourcing manager, now controls 4.5 million beer kegs on behalf of clients. It is number two in the world after Diageo, the world's largest liquor company in the number of kegs it owns. It still uses Philips Hitag chips in LF tags for this, which is totally satisfactory, giving read write at 40 centimeters range. Typical payback of their projects is under two years.

Rapid payback for high value cases

...making necessity into virtue
Microsoft reported a payback of under twelve months for its RFID tagging of cases at Link Snacks for Wal-Mart compliance. The project cost was only $48K in the first stage. It is unusual to hear of any Wal-Mart supplier getting a payback on their mandated tagging of pallets and cases. The reason for Link Snacks bucking the trend and getting a payback is because it has a high value product at about $100 value per case for dried meat snacks. The tag is used to improve recalls (not that they have had any) and improve efficiency. Link Snacks awaits Gen 2 labels in the hope that they will improve the unacceptable read performance with existing UHF labels.
There was much more - read the full review in this month's Smart Labels Analyst (for subscribers).

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