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Optimism high at RFID Live; new solutions
and innovation drive the industry forward

04/11/11 | John R. Johnson | email

The annual RFID Live show concluded in Orlando yesterday, with an onslaught of new products, the unveiling of new applications and solutions, and unforeseen optimism for the industry moving forward.

Activity in retail, aerospace and medical/healthcare is expected to skyrocket as new applications unfold in those sectors. Execs from Macy's, Walmart, JC Penney and Dillard's participated in a panel discussion to provide an update on the Item Level RFID Initiative, a joint effort to accelerate item level retail tagging. Some industry execs marveled that the four panelists joined together on the same stage to discuss RFID best practices when collaboration among competing retailers was unheard of just two or three years ago.

"We are rapidly moving to a world where everything in the Internet is connected, and the key element to that is RFID," Gene Delaney, executive VP at Motorola, said in a keynote address. "Companies that convert data and filter information and get it into the hands of the right person at the right time will be able to make real-time decisions that can change the competitive landscape."

Avery Dennison's Jack Farrell kicked off the event's opening day by elaborating on the company's shipment of its one billionth tag last week, and pointing out that RFID is in the early stages of a very strong growth cycle. "We are seeing exceptional growth," he says. "It's across the board and it speaks well of the continued momentum behind RFID when you have large companies rolling out the technology because very simply — they know it will make them money."

Farrell, vice president and general manager at Avery Dennison, said Avery is seeing the biggest growth in the retail apparel item level tagging, but "in three or four years it'll be something else, whether a pharmaceutical application or authentication of consumer products."

The show revealed a host of innovation occurring in the industry, from recent new chip announcements from Impinj and Alien Technology, to the tiny on-metal tags being developed by Xerafy for use on medical tools and other high value assets. While Alien says retail represents its biggest business sector, the company has signed five deals for bag tags at airports in Europe in the last 12 months, and has also seen increased activity in vehicle tagging in Mexico, Turkey, Thailand and parts of China.

German retailer Gerry Weber announced that it recently concluded an investment of about $2.7 million Euros to roll out RFID, and expects payback in two years. The investment does not include tags costs, which totaled approximately $2.8 million (U.S.) to tag about 28 million items. (Gerry Weber was the recipient of the Best RFID Implementation award. Look for more on Gerry Weber in next week's issue).

One of the biggest examples of a game-changing application was ODIN's announcement that it is partnering with the Mayo Clinic to commercialize a solution designed to automate tracking and data entry in pathology labs.

The solution could revolutionize the way that specimens are tracked as they move from one step to another at medical facilities. ODIN estimates that the average industry error rate of 10 percent could drop dramatically once the solution is introduced.

"The people at the Mayo Clinic are stunned that this is still a paper-based system," says ODIN CEO Patrick Sweeney. "Each time a product comes into the lab, it gets re-labeled. One specimen might get re-labeled five or six times, and so it could be mislabeled during the process."

"Pathology labs almost universally receive paper requisition forms with accompanying specimens for accessioning into the laboratory information systems," says Schuyler Sanderson, a Mayo Clinic pathologist who has been championing RFID for AP specimen management at Mayo. "These paper requisition forms are typically filled in by hand from nursing staff and clinical providers. This practice represents a major source of specimen labeling errors, all of which have the potential for … adverse outcomes for patients."

Mayo has been researching the RFID solution for four years, and hired ODIN last year to commercialize the solution. Mayo has already begun to roll out the solution at 42 labs in North America. Sweeney says that the average size lab could expect to pay about $500,000 for a solution, but could save $1-2 million per year, half from soft savings like labor costs and the other on material savings. ROI is expected in 12 months or less.

Sweeney expects the automated solution to become the norm for the medical industry. "You've got chain of custody, pedigree and accuracy through the whole system," he says. "Mayo is committed to commercializing its IP around RFID and automating what they see as rudimentary processes. The ROI is significant but more importantly it just takes eliminating one error (and saving a life) to make this worthwhile. Now that the technology is out there that can prevent errors, medical facilities are at a liability risk not to use it. So we see it as a huge market opportunity."

The solution clearly represents an example of how RFID can help to improve patient treatment and potentially save lives.

"There are fun things we do at ODIN, like the social media applications with Vail Resorts," says Sweeney. "Then there are things that are changing the world and this is an application that is changing the world."

Sweeney also provided an update on his firm's revenues, noting that sales increased 30 percent in the first quarter of 2011 over the same period last year. He expects healthcare to represent 50 percent of ODIN's revenues in 2011.

For more coverage of this week's show, including annual award winners, check out next week's issue of RFID 24-7.

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