Archive for November, 2010

Omnitrol financing will extend adoption of its real-time operational intelligence platform

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Omnitrol Networks announced today that it has closed a round of financing with Javelin Venture Partners and several existing investors, raising the company’s total investment since inception to approximately $15 million. The cash infusion will be used to expand sales and marketing, and help accelerate key initiatives in response to sustained industry growth. Omnitrol is expected to announce major partnerships in the next several months.

“We see a substantial market opportunity for companies who can leverage an ‘Internet of Things’ infrastructure to provide real-time intelligence on the status, location and condition of assets,” said Jed Katz, Managing Director of Javelin Venture Partners. “Omnitrol has become a leader in this sector, and we are excited about supporting their long-term plans.”

Omnitrol has deployed its platform and solutions with industry leading companies in aerospace & defense, manufacturing, logistics, food & beverage and retail-store operations.

“Rapid growth and adoption of wireless, RFID and location-based sensor technologies has accelerated demand for Omnitrol’s highly scalable software platform,” said CEO Raj Saksena. “Customers and partners building solutions on our platform are able to achieve new heights in financial performance by significantly improving customer satisfaction and reducing costs. Our customers automatically share information accurately and quickly in real-time from shop-floor operations creating a smarter and more collaborative supply-chain with their business partners.”

Mexico City’s Common People utilizes RFID to deliver interactive shopping experience

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Common People, a luxury goods retailer in Mexico City, is offering its customers an uncommon shopping experience. The retailer is the first independent merchant in Mexico to implement a comprehensive item-level RFID solution that uses interactive sales tools to cross-sell and up-sell merchandise, both in individual departments and in smart fitting rooms.

Aside from demonstrating how RFID technology can transform customer-facing retail processes, the technology is providing store management with rich insights into customer behavior and preferences.

Located in the exclusive Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City, shoppers at Common People can browse amongst carefully curated luxury goods from 40 leading brands, including global designers Caroline Herrera Bridal, Comme des Garçons, Dior and Prada, as well as select national designers.

All products are tagged with UPM Raflatac UHF RFID tags, including ShortDipole hangtags, which are used for apparel; ShortDipole tags, which are used for books and shoes; Trap tags, which are used for media, books, jewelry and cosmetics; and Web tags, which are used for sunglasses.

Implementing item-level tagging not only streamlines inventory taking, goods restocking and checkout processes, but also enables the delivery of a personalized shopping experience to the store’s customers.

The RFID solution, which was designed and integrated by Digilogics, includes two RFID printers from Zebra Technologies Corp.; a hand-held RFID reader and two RFID-enabled point-of-sale stations from Convergence Systems Limited; inventory management software from EnaSys, LLC; and interactive sales tools from 5Stat, including a smart display and fitting room.

The smart display offers an interactive mirror that provides product information and a built-in camera customers can use to take pictures and e-mail them to others for shopping advice. Meanwhile, the RFID-enabled smart fitting room is outfitted with an interactive touchscreen that allows shoppers to scan goods for additional product information, browse complementary items and electronically request that additional merchandise be delivered for their review. These requests are sent automatically to sales employees’ PDAs, enabling them to deliver superior customer service. The integrated RFID solution not only provides data on current inventory positions and item sales, but also which goods were handled, but not purchased. These insights allow Common People’s owners and micro-retailers to optimize their purchasing and merchandising strategies on an ongoing basis.

“Common People uses RFID technology to transform contemporary retailing,” says Luca Pastorello, Partner, Digilogics SA. de CV. “Far more than just an inventory management tool, RFID technology can be used to deliver a high value browsing experience and support shopper decision making, resulting in higher product sales and lasting customer loyalty.”

RFID goes Hollywood with a prime time shout out from the gang on Hawaii Five-O

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

RFID technology has been in use for some time to track athletes at events like the Boston Marathon and at other major sporting events like the World Cup. RFID technology went Hollywood on Monday night when Steve McGarrett and his sidekick Danno relied on RFID to track a team of criminals in this week’s episode of Hawaii Five-O.

Turns out some of the RFID-tagged athletes in a triathlon were up to more than competing. Check out the link to the show here, and advance to the 35th minute to view the RFID mention. Cool stuff!

The LA Marathon and the Seattle Rock & Roll marathon both used RFID systems from Impinj to track runners at last year’s races. More than 25,00 runners were tracked at more than 18 points along the course, utilizing Impinj Speedway® readers and Threshold reader antennas. All runners wore ChronoTrack “D-tags,” powered by Impinj’s Monza™ tag chip and UPM Raflatac’s DogBone tag antenna.

ABI Research: Item level retail tagging will drive double-digit growth for RFID in 2011

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Massive deployment of RFID technology within the retail sector will drive double-digit revenue gains in the RFID sector next year, according to a new research report from ABI Research.

ABI Research sees continuing strong growth potential in RFID markets worldwide and forecasts a total market size of about $4.6 billion by the end of this year for RFID systems (hardware, software, and services). The total reaches $5.5 billion when hardware-only shipments to support automobile immobilization are included.

By the end of 2011, global RFID system markets (excluding immobilization) are expected to amount to almost $5.3 billion, a year-over-year growth in excess of 16 percent. RFID systems software revenue will outpace that from services, transponders and readers. When automobile immobilization is included the total market size is approximately $6.2 billion, representing 13 percent growth next year.

“Item-level apparel tracking is probably the biggest area to watch in 2010-2011 and beyond,” says Mike Liard, RFID practice director for ABI, “especially due to Wal-Mart’s ‘jeans and basics’ tagging announcement.” Liard notes that JCPenney, Marks & Spencer, and American Apparel, among others, remain key retailers to watch given their existing programs and deployment plans.

Here’s a quick look at some of the other major points found in the new ABI RFID Market Data report.

Asset tracking and management: Asset tracking and management applications continue to gain momentum in verticals including healthcare, manufacturing (particularly the aerospace and defense sector), transportation and logistics.

An explosion in passive UHF transponders: According to Liard, “ABI Research expects to see a CAGR of 74 percent in passive UHF transponders from 2010 to 2014 thanks to burgeoning demand within key applications such as retail apparel tagging and asset management.”

Regional performers shine: The “Rest of World” region, which includes the Middle East, Latin America, South Africa and others, currently comprises only 7 percent of the overall RFID market but it is expected to adopt RFID solutions faster than any of the more industrialized regions. This is due to increased focus on using RFID in the Middle East in the oil and gas space and for construction; in Latin America for animal ID, food safety, and retail; and in South Africa for RTI, among others.

Privacy concerns hit the slopes; RFID-enabled ski passes under fire

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Remember a few years ago when word got out that Levi Strauss was piloting RFID at a couple of its outlet stores? The news spread like wildfire, and privacy advocates were picketing the stores soon after, claiming that the RFID tags would be used to track customers and steal their identity.

Well, look at how far tagging has come in the apparel industry. Item level tagging is all the rage for apparel retailers. Now, the privacy issues are hitting other industries where RFID usage is more in its infancy, such as the skiing industry. RFID makes perfect sense for ski resorts. Instead having an employee with a bar code reader scan every skiier coming through the lift line, the process can be done automatically with RFID. It’s all about reducing lift lines, right? (Although I would miss the jokes that the lift attendant at Cranmore provides).

Since Vail Resorts launched its RFID-based social media application called EpicMix, there has been increased backlash against the technology. EpicMix measures vertical feet and terrain skied by users and the lifts they ride. Skiiers who choose to do so can also share their information with friends on Facebook. (I hope to make it out to Vail this winter to trial the technology!)

However, those who are worried about invasion of privacy and having their data stolen are turning to something called Ski Pass Defender, a device designed to allow skiers to activate the RFID-enabled season passes only when they choose to, such as when passing through the lift gate.

An article in ESPN Action Sports says that nearly 700 Ski Pass Defenders have been sold already, and that the $15.95 device is starting to make its way into ski stores as well.

From the article:

The SPD, which sells for $15.95, is comprised of two aluminum-backed sheaths attached to a lanyard. The aluminum prevents the RFID chip from being read. To board a lift, an alligator-style clip is squeezed, activating patented “squeeze to read” technology, allowing passholders to control when and how the information on their RFID chip can be shared.

Other entrepreneurs are breaking into the RFID protection market — sleeves, wallets and bags are being made to prevent RFID-chipped passports and credit cards from being read, and portable devices such as the RFID Guardian alert users when their chips are scanned.

RFID guru Patrick Sweeney of ODIN was at Keystone on opening day this month, and got to try out the technology. Read his account of the EpicMix experience here.

 

VDC Research webcast targets convergence between bar code and RFID technology

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Bar code and RFID technology continue to converge. In a recent study conducted by VDC Research and revealed during a webcast this afternoon, 34 percent of bar code users are integrating RFID into their bar code solution.

“It’s very highly prevalent,” says VDC’s Drew Nathanson. VDC also did some research about the percentage of RFID transponders that also carry a bar code. In some verticals, the number was as high at 65 percent. In the manufacturing and shop floor environment, the number was closer to 35 percent. However, that number will likely grow strongly as the process for applying RFID tags moves down the supply chain to the point of manufacture.

“Convergence is happening because you have an entrenched technology, but you need more visibility,” says Nathanson. “You have an established technology that has been used for an extended period, and it’s been working fine and it still supports much of the compliance needs out there. By adopting RFID with the same solution, you are getting the best of both words. You can still leverage all that bar code information, but to have that non line-of-sight and to have more information follow the product through the value chain is such a strong driver. It’s a necessity that if you are using RFID for anything that is already using a bar code, that you have to look at these two as working together.”

Truecount partners with Motorola; may announce first retail client by end of year

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Truecount, a provider of RFID software solutions for the retail industry, has joined the Motorola Solutions’ Partner Program, which will allow Truecount to provide RFID hardware integration and solutions for its clients across the retail supply chain.

Truecount, founded this fall by former American Apparel RFID guru Zander Livingston, will leverage Motorola’s RFID technology to help retail clients dramatically reduce inventory and replenishment-related expenses, while boosting efficiencies and supply-chain visibility.

Truecount is expected to announce its first major retail customer by the end of the year or early 2011. RFID 24-7 has learned that Truecount’s first client is likely one of the national retailers included in the Item Level RFID Initiative announced on Nov. 1.

Livingston says that without an accurate view of what is happening within the supply chain, retailers cannot make accurate forecasts, control shrinkage or balance inventories. “Truecount’s RFID platform, in tandem with Motorola RFID technology, can achieve up-to-the-minute inventory visibility that is 99+ percent precise. That degree of accuracy is a huge competitive advantage for retailers.”

According to reports issued by Harvard Business School, the retail supply chain faces significant challenges relating to visibility and balancing inventory, with out-of-stock items costing the top 100 retailers an estimated $69 billion annually.

“For retailers, the question is not if they will integrate RFID technology into their processes, but when. And when they decide, Truecount and Motorola will be ready with the right solution to meet their needs,” says Livingston.

West coast retailer will debut active RFID-enabled credit cards; Invengo raises $123M U.S.

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Just returned from the MIT Enterprise Forum’s meeting on the Dash 7 Alliance. Very interesting stuff coming out of this group! Jayant Ramchandani, COO of Novitaz, delivered the most intriguing address about the progress his firm is making in rolling out proprietary RFID hardware including the first-ever, credit-card-sized active RFID tag readable at ranges of greater than 20 feet when placed in a wallet.

A West Coast retailer will begin piloting the technology at several stores in California in early 2011. The software will yield a customized suite of unique customer-centric, loyalty-based solutions. In a nutshell, once a consumer enters a retail outlet, the RFID-enabled credit card will trigger communication with the store. The store will message the shopper about specific sales and promotions. More information on this in the coming days!

By the way, Invengo announced late today that it has secured a nice chuck of funding (817.7 million yuan, or just over $123M U.S.) to accelerate five specific projects including “chip design and commercialization of Internet-Of-Things, RFID handhelds, a management system for RFID-based railway vehicle parts, research and development into an automated library system and tracking devices for trains.” Very interesting apps – we’ll try to bring you more details on them over the next few days.

The funding is through a private placement of not more than 34 million shares at 24.72 yuan per share. The newly offered shares cannot be traded for 12 months.

Last spring, Invengo has signed a contract with USA ID, a division of consumer product giant Conair, to provide at least 20 million RFID labels per year. The contract represents the biggest deal yet for Invengo outside of China, and will help Conair and Invengo launch new services for apparel and garment tracking. Read RFID 24-7′s coverage here.

Here’s why apparel and footwear retailers represent such a sweet spot for item level RFID

Monday, November 15th, 2010

I dropped $90 on a new pair of Timberland boots for my 15-year-old son over the weekend. Ouch. And although I got over the expenditure quick enough, what sticks in my mind is the amount of time it took the Foot Locker sales associate to find the product in the back room.

The rep actually said “be back in a few minutes” when he left to locate the pair of size 13s. So I timed him. And he returned in just under five minutes. Aside from the unacceptable inconvenience of making a customer wait that long (I’d have had to wait another five minutes if that size didn’t fit), just imagine how many more shoes Foot Locker could sell if those lost minutes in the back room were converted to productive customer-facing sales time.

Enter item level RFID. My Foot Locker experience is a classic example of how the footwear and apparel sectors represent such a sweet spot for item level RFID technology. Had an RFID tag been attached to that pair of Timberland boots, my wait time likely would have been 30 seconds or less. I’d have left the store happier, and the sales associate would be on to the next customer.

So lets just take a guess that the average customer sends the sales rep back one more time to try on another size. So that’s about eight minutes spent in the back room on each customer.  If a store sees 10 customers an hour, that equates to over 60 minutes an hour of potential sales time per hour spent in the back room by sales associates. Consider that Foot Locker runs nearly 1,200 stores in the North America, and I’ve got to think the customer experience could be greatly improved. And just think about the significant sales lift that Foot Locker could achieve from the product visibility provided by item-level tagging.

I’m not sure if Foot Locker is a member of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, but the AAFA is part of the RFID Item Level Initiative that was unveiled earlier this month by retailers, manufacturer and trade associations. The group’s goal is to accelerate the pace at which item level tagging is rolled out at retail outlets. Walmart, for example, is already tagging men’s underwear and jeans, and is expected to expand on that rollout next year. And industry sources say that JC Penney has mandated that certain SKUs of footwear products must carry item level RFID tags by March 2011.

So the retail industry gets it. I’m looking forward to the day when those trips to the stock room are eliminated altogether by the use of RFID. And it’ll be even better when I can skip the line at the checkout and simply swipe the shoe box with my RFID or NFC-enabled smart phone and be on my way.

Tego set to produce millions of high memory tags for aerospace and automotive markets

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Editor’s Note: For those who may have missed this week’s top story in RFID 24-7, we’ve posted the story here. Be sure to subscribe to RFID 24-7 here:

Last week the industry was abuzz following the launch of the Item Level RFID Initiative, an alliance of major retailers that hope to accelerate the use of item level tagging in the retail arena. Retail item level tagging could utilize more than three billion UHF low-memory tags within four years.

This week, the buzz is about high-memory tags and the huge impact they could have in the aerospace industry, as well as the automotive, utility and medical sectors. In addition, smart cards and passports could become much more secure and functional by using high memory chips.

Waltham, Mass.-based Tego, a provider of high memory RFID tagging solutions, today announced the worldwide availability of new aviation-grade RFID tags for aerospace and a broad range of industrial applications. Developed by Tokyo-based Marubeni Chemix using TegoChip technology, the Marubeni TAGAT tags deliver high memory and rugged survivability for harsh industrial environments, with a 4 Kilobyte (32 kbit) TegoChip XL inside. Marubeni has purchased wafer-scale quantities to meet global demand.

“This is an opportunity for us to announce to the world that we have production-ready, in-volume tags available to the broad industrial marketplace for high memory,” says Tim Butler, CEO of Tego. “We are now in the position where we can immediately offer tags in the thousands and move into hundreds of thousands and millions within weeks.”

The TAGAT design addresses global interest in high memory RFID solutions for storing the life history of parts. With TegoChip inside, Marubeni’s TAGAT tags improve maintenance and repair operations by streamlining parts service history management, inventory tracking, and regulatory compliance.

“The Asian market has been demanding tags like this for quite a while, and we see many opportunities for these products,” says Yoshihiko Tsujimoto, RFID tag development leader at Marubeni Chemix. “The combination of Marubeni’s advanced tag technology and Tego’s chip technology opens the door to new solutions worldwide that help companies cut costs and improve operational effectiveness.”

The aerospace sector is the biggest and most immediate sweet spot for high memory RFID tags. At last week’s AIM Expo in Chicago, Boeing’s Ken Porad, an RFID pioneer in the aerospace field, said that planes will soon carry up to 3,000 RFID tags apiece, as nearly all parts begin to be tagged. Aside from tracking maintenance and part history, RFID provides huge labor savings for airlines and plane manufacturers. Boeing, for example, is using RFID in 52 pilots at various plants, including tracking work-in-process for the production of its new 787 Dreamliner. Parts for that plane are manufactured around the globe and shipped to Boeing’s production facility in Seattle. The tagged parts are then assembled in just three days. RFID helps Boeing to track those parts. (Click here for previous coverage on how Airbus is using RFID to manage work-in-process)

Within 12 to 18 months the airline industry could consume hundreds of thousands of high memory RFID tags, possibly reaching the millions depending on the applications and use cases that manufacturers adopt.

“Right now we have just the specific applications for flyable tags but there are additional applications that companies are looking to expand into,” says Butler. “Going forward, we think the projections that call for the industry to use many millions of tags over the next three to five years is a very viable estimate.”

Some manufacturers are considering using high memory tags early in the manufacturing process so they can incorporate work-in-process information onto the tags. That allows the tag to become a tool for customization as well as a repository for testing and managing information, not only for after the product is built and placed in use, but during the manufacturing process as well.

That’s one reason the automotive industry is moving into high memory tags very quickly. Given the amount of automobiles produced each year, tracking work-in-process could offer the industry huge productivity gains. “We think this will be a big area for growth in the next year,” says Butler. He says that applications and pilot projects that are starting now will likely result in using fewer than 100,000 tags initially, to eventual usage of more than a million high memory tags in the next year or two.

The rail industry is also considering high memory tags, as is the medical space, which is not so much focused on the high memory feature, but the fact that the tags meet the sterilization requirements of the medical industry.

Another potential sweet spot is smart cards across many industries, particularly where there is a need to use high memory and UHF technology and incorporate significant levels of encryption and authentication. “The need for the high memory is required for those [uses],” says Butler, who notes that the tags are ideal for passports and drivers licenses.

“We’ve already begun discussions with companies around the globe around those applications and solutions,” he says, and Tego is already demonstrating how digital fingerprints and photographs can be encrypted on passports. “All this information can be encrypted onto a passport that cannot be on them today. So the ability to crack the information on there and fake a passport could be greatly diminished. We see significant opportunity there.”

Butler says that the advent of high memory tags is akin to where the computer industry was back in the mid 1980s. “Where computers were at that point in time is where RFID is at this point,” he says. “We are transitioning from dumb tags and mainframe systems, into distributed systems where you have smarter tags and tag functionality just like PCs and laptops, to where the whole process of how information is managed begins to change. With RFID, we’re just at the early stages of that.”