Archive for February, 2011

RFID makes major inroads into supply chain, healthcare and financial sectors

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

In case you missed Wednesday’s issue of RFID 24-7, here is our lead story.

There is major traction for item level RFID in the retail environment, but several other industries are also seeing rapid adoption. That’s been evident by the RFID-enabled hygiene systems being unveiled at this week’s annual conference hosted by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.

In addition, there’s a big story unfolding in Europe, where Confidex has filled an order for 3.5 million tags for Container Centralen to use in tracking floral deliveries. The deal is the largest UHF RFID tag implementation for returnable transit items in the world, and is also the largest purchase order of EPC Gen2 specialty tags ever.

Lastly, keep an eye out for greater use of RFID in financial circles, including tagging bundles of cash. The recent publicity RFID gained in the theft of RFID-tagged poker chips from a Las Vegas casino has put more focus on how RFID could help to track large amounts of cash — from casinos, to armored cars and banks, to the large amounts of money moved by retailers like Walmart.

The European Central Bank has been using bar codes to help track large bundles of cash for several years. Recently, it began to look into using RFID. Central banks in the U.S. are also looking at the technology. Although the U.S. is far behind its European counterparts, the idea of using RFID to track and trace hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash is intriguing and makes sense.

Just as the healthcare industry is using RFID to track assets worth a quarter million or more, it makes sense to tag cash for the same reasons. Aside from providing visibility into the movement of money, such a solution would also guard against theft and counterfeiting and would assist in providing more accurate cash counts for banks, retailers and others.

“There has been a very aggressive effort with the banks in Europe to take those same [bar code] practices and add RFID where appropriate,” says Sue Hutchinson, director of industry adoption at EPCglobal. “When you think about retailers like Walmart and casinos and all of the other places on the planet that have to manage cash, RFID will be an interesting initiative. It’s in the very early stages here in the U.S. and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.”

Another recent deployment playing out in Europe is the tagging of a fleet of 3.5 million containers used to transport floral goods throughout Europe. The tracking system went live last month, with special UHF Gen2 RFID tags from Confidex being used for Container Centralen’s full scale RFID rollout called “Operation Chip It.” Confidex developed and delivered tags to IBM Denmark, which are used as an electronic seal by Container Centralen. The tag has been in development for over two years.

The new tag brings unprecedented transparency to the supply chain and improves overall quality of the CC container pool by reducing the risk of counterfeit containers working their way into the pool. Confidex developed the electronic RFID “e-seal” which securely authenticates the origin of the CC Container. The anti-tampering feature was achieved without compromising the small tag size and the read performance requirements of logistics operations.

To be effective, such a high quantity of tags also had to be easy to attach, without additional tools, in any conditions. The tag also needed to withstand harsh use outdoors. The e-seals are identified and verified with RFID handheld devices, supplied by NordicID and others.

Since the CC Container is also used as a retail display unit, flowers and plants can be transported directly from the grower to the consumer in the store. By eliminating the need for product handling in between, goods are less likely to get damaged and overall distribution costs are reduced.

“We’ve developed a unique total solution system for an incredibly demanding security RFID application,” says Jarkko Miettinen, vice president of new business development at Confidex.

Similar asset tracking systems are rapidly gaining acceptance in the healthcare and hospital environment, as are RFID-powered systems that track the hygiene habits of hospital personnel. So while hospitals benefit from operational gains, patients see distinct advantages as well.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that hospital acquired infections cause almost 100,000 deaths a year in the U.S. That’s why improving hand hygiene habits is so crucial. Birmingham, Ala.-based Princeton Baptist Medical Center recently registered a 22 percent reduction in healthcare associated infections by implementing Proventix’s nGage™ RFID based hand hygiene monitoring system.

The nGage system monitors hand hygiene compliance 24 hours a day, 7 days week. Healthcare workers wear badges that are uniquely recognized by control units at soap dispensers throughout the hospital. When a worker enters a room or area where there is a control unit, they are recognized and, upon the completion of a quality hand hygiene event, they are given important, patient-specific information (such as “the patient is at risk for a fall”), general employee information, or employee-specific information. The messaging creates incentives for healthcare workers at the point of care, improves workflow and creates opportunities for efficiencies while enhancing patient safety and quality of care.

“The information gathered in these case studies will help the industry understand how valuable health IT as a tool can be to improving patient safety and quality,” said David A. Collins, the director of healthcare information systems at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. “By sharing notable quality improvement outcomes, we hope these innovative examples will serve as guidance to others for improved healthcare delivery and demonstrate the benefits of health IT adoption.”

PGA utilizes RFID-enabled tickets to enhance the fan experience at Northern Trust Open

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

RFID technology continues to be a winning combination for sporting events. The technology was rolled successfully at Vail Resorts this winter, with the RFID-enabled EpicMix ski pass allowing resort guests to track their ski days and communicate with friends online.

This week, RFID will be in use during the Northern Trust Open on the PGA tour, where a pilot program using RFID will measure fan and corporate sponsor experiences. The pilot is being run through a partnership between Avery Dennison, Stark RFID and the PGA TOUR.

The PGA Tour began investigating RFID in 2010. This week, some of the entrance tickets to the tournament at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades will be equipped with RFID inlays to enhance access on the grounds, personalize engagements between corporate sponsors and VIP guests, and better track how tournament offerings are being utilized.

“Our goals in pursuing and expanding this RFID technology pilot are simple: to improve the fan experience at our events and deliver added value to our corporate sponsors,’’ says Jack Tyson, PGA TOUR director of ticketing operations. “With the participation of Avery Dennison and Stark RFID, we’ll learn firsthand at the Northern Trust Open how important corporate sponsors maximize real-time data collection to personalize and improve their hosting engagements with VIP guests.’’

At the Northern Trust Open, guests with the special RFID tickets will see personalized greetings flash up on a big screen TV as they enter the Avery Dennison hosting tent.

“We believe RFID will play a key role in the event management space in the coming years,’’ says Maggie Bidlingmaier, global director of sales and marketing, Avery Dennison RFID. “The applications will go far beyond access control. It will not only be used in multiple areas within the event operations, it will ultimately be seamless to the attendee and improve his or her experience. In conjunction with the PGA TOUR and Stark RFID, we are proving just how successful RFID technology can be when applied to event management applications.”

RFID is very popular for tracking athletes at events like marathons and at the Olympics, and has been also used for fan access control andd to control counterfeit tickets at the last two World Cup soccer events. But the next frontier for RFID and sporting events involves enabling fans to interact with advertisers and social media avenues, similar to the EpicMix app.

Retail push into item level tagging will benefit shoppers in the long run

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

02/07/11 | John R. Johnson | email

For those that missed last week’s issue of RFID 24-7, we have posted the lead story here.

Retailers stand to benefit greatly from item level tagging. By affixing RFID tags to apparel goods, footwear and other products with complicated SKU mixes, retailers like Walmart and Macy’s gain from increased sales and customer loyalty by having products on store shelves when customers need them.

However, at the end of the day retailers hope it is the customer that gains the ultimate benefit and will drive the adoption of item level RFID tagging in retail. As customers become busier and more connected through mobile devices, they will embrace retailers who have inventory where they want it, when they want it, and priced how they want it.

“This is now literally a customer-centric initiative,” says Peter Longo, president of logistics and operations for Macy’s. “It’s not a jazzy technology initiative that consultants are working on. It’s now a customer mandate. The [retailers] that get this and move on it quickly will be the organizations that consumers reward. Those that are laggards or disbelievers will be the organizations that the consumer will punish.”

Not long after listening to Longo speak at the NRF show in New York, I heard a funny story about a friend who entered an Old Navy store looking for an uncommon size of jeans. “You might find them online, but not here in the store,” the store associate adamantly replied. Well, guess what. Sitting on a store shelf was the exact size the patron was looking for. Had she not opted to shop the store anyway, some other retailer would have received credit for that sale.

That type of occurrence, and many more just like it, happen every day at retail outlets with poor visibility into their inventory. In fact, most store inventories are only 65 percent correct.

“The status of where we are in the consumer space today and the demands of the customer for efficiency and accuracy doesn’t tolerate 30 percent inaccuracy with our inventory,” says Longo.

Beyond inventory accuracy, retailers that deploy RFID will eventually gain from a reduction in labor. While Walmart isn’t on record as saying so, the end goal of many retailers is automated checkout areas that utilize RFID. Item level tagging allows a stack of goods to be scanned with a single swipe of a reader, rather than scanning the bar code of each individual item. Although some may mourn the loss of the “personal touch” at the checkout area, what shopper really wants to stand in line for 10 minutes to purchase goods when a swipe of a mobile device or a customer loyalty card will do the trick instead?

“Last year we spent a lot of time looking at retailer benefits through the studies coming out of the University of Arkansas,” says Sue Hutchinson, director of industry adoption at EPCglobal. “But every time we put pen to paper, we kept being pushed back by retailers and vendors saying lets look first and foremost at the value to consumers. This is no longer something that is retailer or industry-centric. The consumer is pushing for this. At the end of the day, a lot of growth is coming from consumer demand to have products that they want in the right stores at the right time.”

Eventually, RFID will allow retailers to interact with shopper’s mobile devices or loyalty cards, alerting them or promotions and special pricing. Shoppers, in turn, will be able to do comparative shopping inside the store.

RFID also greatly simplifies warranty and returns issues. It will benefit the retailer by eliminating much of the existing return fraud, and consumers will gain by having better service when they do return goods.

Walmart began the push toward item level tagging last summer, announcing that it would tag all men’s jeans and basics at its 3,000-plus stores that carry apparel. The retailer is expected to increase the categories it tags sometime this year. Elsewhere, Macy’s is taking the lessons it learned at its Manhattan Bloomingdales RFID initiative and expanding item level tagging to seven Macy’s units. JC Penney is expected to deploy RFID in 30 stores this year, with 20 more on tap for 2012.

Of course, the consumer centric angle for RFID adoption doesn’t stop at the retail cash register. Almost every RFID application has a consumer gain attached, and many are designed exclusively with the consumer in mind, such as RFID wrist bands for amusement parks, and RFID solutions designed to assure safety of students on school busses. The EpicMix ski pass is being embraced by skiers at Vail Resorts, who can take information about the runs they ski and post it on Facebook. Skiers can also track others in their group and discover their location on the mountain.

RFID also has huge consumer ramifications in the healthcare and medical sectors. RFID can assure that patients receive authentic drugs and can guarantee that medical devices are ready when needed during surgical procedures. In these cases, RFID isn’t about easier transactions or customer loyalty, but about saving lives.

Vail skiers surpass 25 billion vertical feet using RFID-enabled EpicMix, powered by ODIN

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

RFID technology is helping skiers at Vail to track the runs that they ski and to use that data to interact with friends on Facebook and other social media outlets. The EpicMix program, which debuted this year, reached a milestone this week when pass holders surpassed 25 billion vertical feet of skiing.

Every skier holding a season pass is measured by software from ODIN, which integrates real time physical world data into Vail’s unique virtual experience called EpicMix, allowing full integration into Facebook, Twitter, SMS, etc.

“RFID is a natural choice for social media programs, but the accuracy has to be 99%+ to keep participants happy,” says ODIN founder Patrick J. Sweeney II. “The software has to be very scalable as well. Vail is the tip of the iceberg for social media applications that tie the physical world with the virtual world through Facebook, Gowalla, Foursquare and other popular sites. Sports teams, trade shows, events are all starting to adopt RFID to create unique and long-lasting guest interaction”

ODIN assisted Vail in deploying hundreds of RFID readers at its five mountains, across thousands of miles. The system was fully integrated in five months. The RFID operating system has performed flawlessly on readers deployed where temperatures dipped as low as -35 degrees Fahrenheit.

Click here to view a video about how EpicMix works.

Footwear & apparel sectors will combine to use more than 750 million item level tags in 2011

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Item-level tagging continues to accelerate in the apparel and footwear markets, with those industries now making up an increased share of the total world market for RFID tags. According to a study just released by ABI Research, more than 750 million RFID tags will be used in global apparel markets in 2011.

(Click here to view RFID 24-7’s previous coverage on item level apparel tagging.)

“RFID systems allow apparel retailers to get a better handle on inventory, reducing costs and preventing out of stock situations that result in loss of sales,” says ABI Research principal analyst Bill Arnold. “The growth in retail item-level tagging is huge, both in shipments and in total spending. The average growth rate is close to 60 percent for the next three years. In fact, the number of tags that will be used for retail ILT in apparel alone is likely to exceed the total number consumed over the past five years for all RFID markets combined.”

Major retailers such as Macy’s, JC Penney, and Walmart are leading the charge to make RFID systems commonplace in the retail environment.

Arnold says that the typical ROI times for such RFID deployments are only three to six months, representing a very compelling business case for retailers. However, Arnold says that the global economy is still causing delays in deployments. And a major supplier of RFID systems to the apparel sector recently told RFID 24-7 that a large retailer recently pushed back its deployment schedule by six months.

“The state of the global economy is still creating serious delays in getting money allocated to retail RFID,” says Arnold. “Executives are still very uneasy about business conditions and availability of credit, and while ILT systems are technically scalable right down to small businesses, credit will be the big limiting factor for smaller independent stores.”

A related use of RFID in retail is in EAS (Electronic Article Surveillance) systems: loss prevention tags containing only one bit of data. This segment is led by Checkpoint and Tyco Retail Solutions.

Research director Michael Liard adds, “Retail adoption of RFID at the item level parallels the course barcodes took about 30 years ago. The main difference this time is that retail department stores, not grocers, are leading the charge.”

ABI Research’s new study The Retail Apparel RFID Item-Level Tagging Market” provides current analysis and a five-year forecast of UHF adoption at the item-level in the retail apparel market. It discusses market drivers and inhibitors, along with a summary of the key RFID solution providers and product suppliers.

RFID TagSource inks R&D agreement with FAA; high-memory tags take off in aviation apps

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

RFID TagSource has signed a cooperative research and development agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration that allows the firm to use the FAA’s laboratory facilities and resources at the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center in New Jersey.

The collaborative research will eventually help to enhance flight safety and maintenance operations by storing maintenance history information directly on aircraft parts by using RFID TagSource’s new high memory passive RFID tag. The AeroTag, unveiled in November, stores information on a small chip that tracks the pedigree of flight certified parts and improves inspection operations.

The FAA agreement is an indication of the capabilities that RFID TagSource has developed for RFID in aerospace and defense. Last year RFID TagSource worked with Boeing on the Air Force ARAI program where specially designed RFID tags were attached to an Air Force F-16 and tested at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

“This work supports the mission of the aerospace industry to continually improve flight safety and operational efficiency,” said Kevin Donahue, managing director at RFID TagSource. “The resources available to us at the FAA Technical Center have really helped speed up our development efforts. This is a fantastic opportunity and exciting time for our company.”

RFID TagSource is a tag supplier for the Airbus A350, which is currently under development. Airbus is requiring that most parts be tagged with RFID tags. Airbus expects that up to 3,000 aircraft parts will be tagged on each plane, with 2,000 of these tags being high memory tags carrying 4 kilobytes or more of storage.

“The Airbus program is very real and it’s very far along,” said Donahue. “They are actually in the process of having [RFID tagged] parts delivered.”

Airbus will use the RFID tags to maintain maintenance records and parts history. When it comes time to check the history of part, maintenance personnel can rely on a hand-held RFID reader to obtain the full history of an A350 part. Donahue says that the Airbus requirement for read performance using a handheld unit is a minimum 20 inches globally, but that RFID TagSource is exceeding that requirement, in some cases reaching 24 inches or more.

While Airbus will use up to 3,000 RFID tags per plane, actual tag consumption will likely be up to 10 times that number for each plane, as all spare parts stored at global distribution centers and warehouses will also carry tags.

In November, RFID TagSource announced the development of the AeroTag family of high memory passive RFID tags, developed within the guidelines put forth by the Air Transport Association (ATA). The tags meet ATA Spec2000 and SAE-AS5678 specifications. With 4 kilobytes of memory and a lightweight rugged design, the tags are particularly well suited for manufacturers supporting the Airbus A350 XWB RFID initiative.

“The AeroTag has been designed to address an identified need for storing maintenance history information directly on aircraft parts,” said Donahue. “There are a number of initiatives underway in the aerospace industry that cannot be supported using generally available lower memory tags. The combination of our new high memory and our partner’s lower memory offerings has RFID TagSource uniquely positioned to serve the broad set of needs for RFID technologies across the aerospace and defense industry.”

Click here to view RFID 24-7′s previous coverage on RFID and aerospace.

The new AeroTag product line features integrated circuits from Tego, a provider of high memory passive RFID chip solutions that meet the ATA Spec2000 spec. AeroTags outfitted with Tego silicon can be configured to store up to 32 kilobytes of data.

Last year RFID 24-7 reported that the airline industry could consume hundreds of thousands of high memory RFID tags within 12 to 18 months, 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,” Tego CEO Tim Butler told RFID 24-7. “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.”