Digital Magazine

The 411 on RFID, Part 1

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Like it or not, radio frequency identification (RFID) is here.

New developments and constant changes in RFID technology are happening faster than you can say "5¢ chip." Here’s the "411" on just a snippet of what’s been going on in the world of RFID the past 12 months.

September 2003
EAN Intl. and the Uniform Code Council (UCC) launch a joint venture named EPCglobal Inc. (epcglobalinc.org).

The joint venture’s new identity signals the launch of the not-for-profit organizations’ efforts to drive global, multi-industry adoption of the EPCglobal Network, based on RFID technology, which reportedly will enable companies to have true visibility of their supply chains in real time, in any industry, anywhere in the world.

Under the terms of the agreement, EPCglobal will oversee the development of open, global standards for the EPCglobal Network. Developed by the Auto-ID Center, an academic research project headquartered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the EPCglobal Network is a system based on a unique number called the electronic product code or EPC.

The EPC can be assigned to individual items in cases and pallets within the supply chain for identification and tracking. Similar to today’s bar code, these "license plates" for products are embedded in EPC tags, which can transmit EPC information to special readers placed in dock doors and other locations.

October 2003
Information Week (informationweek.com) reports the US Dept. of Defense (DOD) issues a mandate requiring all of its suppliers to use passive RFID tags on the cases and pallets they deliver to its various branches by January 2005. The DOD’s directive could have huge ramifications for the technology. The initiative will affect tens of thousands of suppliers, more than Wal-Mart’s initiative announced earlier in the year. The Defense Logistics Agency, the department’s largest agency, has nearly 24,000 providers. The department’s mandate calls for support of the EPC, standards developed by EPCglobal.

"This is as good or better than the Wal-Mart mandate in terms of driving adoption of RFID," says Noha Tohamy, a Forrester Research senior analyst in a statement to Information Week magazine. The Defense Department is a global enterprise," she adds. "They stay away from proprietary deployments."

SATO America Inc. (satoamerica.com), which introduced the first thermal transfer bar code printer in 1979, announces support for the UCC’s EPC initiatives. With the accelerated attention focused on RFID technology, SATO reports it is well positioned to support its customers’ RFID requirements. As a precursor to this commitment, the company launched an RFID Kit for SATO CL408e and CL412e printers and the partnership agreement with CCL Label Inc. (cclind.com) to be a manufacturer of RFID tags and labels for SATO.

November 2003
McCarran Intl. Airport, Las Vegas, NV, USA, announces a contract with Matrics Inc. (matrics.com), Columbia, MD, USA, a manufacturer of EPC-compliant RFID systems, to supply RFID tags for use in tracking passenger bags as part of the airport’s ongoing commitment to improving customer safety and satisfaction. The system will be designed to track automatically all passenger bags through inline explosive detection and screening equipment, ensuring safe passage for the airport’s millions of customers.

Tyco Fire & Security (tycofireandsecurity.com), Boca Raton, FL, USA, a global provider of RFID solutions through its Sensormatic and SensorID branded solutions, and Rafsec Oy (rafsec.com), Tampere, Finland, a manufacturer of RFID tags and labels, sign a letter of intent to provide a complete physical layer solution of tags, readers, and reader infrastructure in the US. The relationship reportedly will offer retailers, product manufacturers, and packaging companies a seamless and complete RFID product set. Tyco Fire & Security will deliver its EPC-based RFID reader products, as well as EPC-based RFID tags and labels manufactured by Rafsec, to end-users in the US market.

December 2003
Matrics Inc. (matrics.com) forms a contract with International Paper (IP) (internationalpaper.com) to supply RFID tags for use in tracking inventory as part of IP's new warehouse tracking system (WTS). Developed by International Paper, with tag and reader technology from Matrics, the WTS operates at the company's Texarkana, TX, USA, mill and warehouse.

January 2004
VeriSign Inc. (verisign.com), Mountain View, CA, USA, a provider of infrastructure services for the Internet and telecommunications networks, is selected by EPCglobal to operate the Object Naming Service (ONS) as the root directory for the EPCglobal Network.

When the EPC is linked to the directory, it becomes a tool that enables new ways of doing business. To support this new model for supply chain management, thousands of enterprises need to be able to securely access, in real-time, potentially billions of unique EPCs from a highly available global ONS directory.

Chipco Intl. Corp. (chipco.com), Raymond, ME, USA, introduces its latest casino chips embedded with TI-RFID’s new 22mm Tag-it smart label inlay.

February 2004
The Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute (TLMI) (tlmi.org) hosts its annual converter meeting (February 22-25, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico), which features the session "Smart Label Technology: Here Today, Mandatory Tomorrow." Moderated by John Bennett of Flexcon (flexcon.com), panelists included Max Golter, Bielomatik (bielomatik.com); Tom Pounds, Alien Technology (alientechnology.com); and Peter Tomicki, Baxter Healthcare (baxter.com).

Jeff Dunphy of Design Manufacturing (designlabel.com) and the meeting chairperson writes:

You better learn how to compete on a whole new playing field, or you'll, ultimately, be left watching from the sides."

However, converter skepticism was evident after learning up to 40 percent of RFID tag and label trials are failures.

AIM NA Inc. (aimglobal.org) applauds the efforts of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as it issues a report highlighting specific steps it will take to keep the US drug supply secure.

The report cites RFID tagging "of products by manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers appears to be the most promising approach to reliable product tracking and tracing,’ and ‘most importantly, reliable RFID technology will make the copying of medications either extremely difficult or unprofitable."

The agency goes on to detail a timeline that would lead to mass serialization and RFID adoption by 2007, explains AIM.

At the 10th Annual Public Library Associatoin Conference held in Seattle, WA, USA, 3M (3m.com) introduces the latest addition to its line of library systems technology and solution choices, the 3M One-Tag RFID System. The single-tag system for authenticating, securing, tracking, and managing library materials uses Texas Instruments’ (ti.com) 13.66 MHx ISO inlays with the ISO/IEC 18000-3 and ISO/IEC 15693 standards.

The Auto-ID Labs (autoidlabs.com) Packaging and RFID Special Interest Group (SIG), a research consortium for packaging and RFID-related issues, holds its first quarterly meeting at the Auto-ID Labs of MIT. The Packaging SIG researchers presented their first quarter research progress including the first version of an electromagnetic simulation and visualization tool and the first protoype of an energy detection and tag emulation tool. Packaging SIG members were given prototype energy detection tools for use within their pilots and operations utilizing RFID systems.

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