Smart Labels Europe 2001
25 - 26 September 2001
The World's Largest International Conference on Low Cost RFID, hosted by IDTechEx, was attended by 218 people from 20 countries
"Really interesting, I've found what I did not expect to." Ugel Maurizio, Electrolux Zanussi, Italy. "Interesting talks, easy to talk to speakers during the breaks, valuable business contacts." Dr Werner Knop, Diester Electronics, Germany. "A really excellent event." Andrew Price, British Airways, UK. "Interesting - good for making contacts, particularly new and unexpected ones." Dave Skinner, 3M Laboratories, Germany. "A valuable investment of time and money." Jean Cooper Moran, Consignia, UK. "Excellent - very good networking." Edwin Shufflebotham, Applied Optical Technologies, UK
Some Impressions of Smart Labels 2001
24-25 September 2001 (Optional Workshop on 26) Robinson College, Cambridge, UK Despite the appalling terrorist attacks in the USA shortly beforehand, Smart Labels 2001 attracted 218 delegates from 20 countries and was voted a tremendous success by most of them. The tutorial on the third day was attended by 45 people from across the globe. Smart Labels is now such a hot subject that the event was able to take in its stride the cancellation by several speakers and perhaps 30 delegates staying away due to travel problems. Companies such as Kodak, British American Tobacco, GlaxoSmithKline, several airports and the leading paper, printing, label and packaging companies saw fit to attend.
Once again, the sheer breadth of interest was testimony to the fact that this is about far more than the replacement of barcodes. Indeed, transport is the biggest success so far, from remote vehicle access to contactless smart cards for bus and train passengers and the 15 million non-stop tolling tags in vehicle windshields. Are 14 cent (2002) disposable smart tickets the next big thing in transport? Views differed. Supplier ASK of France saw them becoming an enduring market of at least hundreds of millions yearly and RATP, the Paris bus/train system certainly need 100 million yearly and Venice needs 20 million yearly. ASK expect to sell 500 million in 2005. RATP are sure that 5 cents price can be achieved in due course. However, they see them as a necessary evil alongside RFID cards and would hope to phase them out in due course. Supply chain management is coming up very fast as a market for smart labels, with 1-2 year paybacks the norm and functions way beyond tracking being commonly involved - even new customer propositions. The overarching concept here is the Internet of Things, otherwise known as the Product Internet, so the conference started with a talk by Kevin Ashton, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Auto ID Center, where it all began, and the launch of the world's first in-depth report on the subject "The Internet of Things" by IDTechEx. Click here for more details of the report. Kevin reported that he now has 33 sponsors including a pantheon of the world's leading brand owners and retailers such as Coca Cola, Unilever, Tesco, Procter & Gamble, Philip Morris, Gillette and Wal Mart plus big names in electronics such as Philips and even the US Post Office and the Military being involved. His biggest problem is getting enough technology vendors, however, a fact that greatly interested the large number of potential suppliers present. Basically, MIT is eyeing the " quadrillion" of products sold every year in the world, although the concept goes beyond this. Its FMCG sponsors alone make 550 billion products yearly. MIT see an imminent field trial in Tulsa Oklahoma leading to a 5 cent chip smart label being available by the end of 2002, tens of millions of these being fitted to FMCG (in the main) in 2003. MIT see billions being fitted around 2004 and this then being a profitable exercise for those involved. MIT now talk of only 64 bits being needed for their numbering system, where they previously felt that 96 bits were essential. This is a compromise of course and it is not particularly exciting to chip manufacturers as chip costs only drop a little in this range. The rapidly growing list of chipless smart label manufacturers and inventors (Navitas, Siemens, Checkpoint and others have joined the fray since last year) will be more interested as chipless tag costs usually drop linearly with memory. However, the anticollision (many tags at a time) and size problems at even this memory size are a difficulty for most chipless technologies, so the jury is out on what will win. Alien Technology gave a rivetting talk on their revolutionary liquid self assembly of chips that has no problem with the smallest RFID chips available today such as the Hitachi Meu chip which is 0.4 mm on the side or chips 0.1 and even 0.077 mm on the side that are coming along. However, all this push for stripped down chip tags is not the whole story, even for sophisticated mass users. San Francisco Airport puts smart labels on some passenger bags for security and it leads the world in baggage tagging, with orders soon to be in the millions. Nonetheless, their system integrator Ultra told us that the old computer systems used by many airlines can not get the right information to the right place on time for most baggage so much data will have to be stored on the tag itself for the foreseeable future. Those serious about supply chain applications with their many paybacks included Chep, the world's largest manager of pallets with 200 million in its control. Chep majors on passive (no battery) UHF tags and supports the GTAG push for global standards and frequency allotment in the UHF range. MIT and several leading suppliers also support this, with ranges of at least 2 metres and read-write capability being the main focus. This is an excellent precursor of "tags on everything" but the specification is very different. The "tag on everything" will have to prioritise price and size over the GTAG parameters and there is no concensus as to whether this means 13.56MHz, UHF or 2.45GHz. Savi Technology has turned its business upside down. It used to be primarily a tag and hardware maker: now it is a software/ systems integrator that only develops hardware when it can not obtain it on the market. That way it gets higher margins on its rapidly growing $40 million sales but it has had to do new and clever things in this skill set. Mark McGlade told us that the rewards include installing and supporting the world's biggest RFID supply chain project, this being within the US Military. The prize for going to all the non-military applications? Mark just noted that supply chain costs are a massive 4% of GNP, if US experience is anything to go by. In Smart Labels Analyst we have already noted the surreal situation in RFID where many major names are laying off staff, abandoning product ranges and losing many of the biggest orders to the little known names. GlobalID presented. They represent Sokymat of Switzerland (who?). Sokymat are making 60 million RFID tags this year, mostly vehicle access, making them world number one in RFID tags, well ahead of Texas Instruments, Philips and Motorola, according to market researchers VDC. Innovision presented. They said that they have now made over 50 million smart labels in just a few years, mainly for toys. Innovision employs only 60 or so people and it does work outside RFID. Andrew Price of British Airways spoke on the implications for RFID of the new terrorism. Certainly the air industry must spend more on security and his personal opinion was that RFID security seals and RFID that says what should be done with bags or items of freight will be needed. More evidence that the computers just can not keep up with simple "numberplate" tagging. Prices of smart labels are often inflated by fragmentation of the market - the cost of short runs - and James Bevan, presenting the statistics for conventional labels, said that this was a major problem with them as well. New production technologies greatly help get prices down. We were told that Hitachi now put 2000 antennas onto chips in one go with "Coil on chip" technology. These devices are selling in tens of millions and soon hundreds of millions yearly despite range of only a few mm and prices of tens of cents. Their memory size and other performance features are superior to smart tickets and the applications are rather different, however. Radically new smart label technologies are arriving thick and fast, from Tagtec who launched their movement sensing tags at the conference to i-Ray with tags that can work from GSM transmissions or, without a battery, give position to 0.6m at 30m range using an interrogatory beam. New chipless tag materials and technologies were also announced. All lectures - even those of two lecturers who could not attend - are in the proceedings. A disk of the tutorial slides can also be purchased. Here, uniquely, is the very latest in the subject from the leading companies globally.