Archive for May, 2011

RFID has bee researchers abuzz

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

RFID technology has allowed researchers a rare glimpse into the flight patterns and homing abilities of honey bees. A report in the scientific PloS ONE Journal says that bees frequently fly several kilometers to and from vital resources, and utilize a form of symbolic dance language to communicate those locations to fellow bees.

Each bee was tagged on the thorax. Each tag carried a unique 64 bit number which allowed researchers to track flight patterns of individual bees. Two readers attached to the beehive tunnel recorded the bee’s exits and arrivals.

Here’s how researches utilized RFID, according to the publication:

Pollen-carrying bees were captured upon return from a foraging trip at the hive entrance and briefly immobilized on ice, so that a RFID tag with known ID number could be glued to each bee’s thorax with shellac glue from a queen marking kit.

Groups of 20 tagged bees were then kept in cages with ad libitum access to 50 percent sucrose solution. The cages were transported to the respective release sites in dark styrofoam containers so that the bees did not derive any directional information before the experiments began. The preparations were conducted in the morning, so that the experimental bees could be released in the early afternoon. At the respective release sites, the cages were opened at one side, and the bees were given five minutes to take off. The bees then spiraled upwards in wide circles until they were lost from view; homing trajectories could therefore not be determined. Animals which had not left the cage after five minutes were excluded from the experiment.

Approximately two hours passed between the bees’ capture and release. Upon return to the hive, the bees’ identity and homing time were recorded by the RFID receivers at the hive entrance.

Click here to read the full research paper:

 

 

U.S. DoD tests RFID to get food rations to troops in Afghanistan battlefields

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

In case you missed this week’s lead story, we’ve posted it here for you:

The U.S. Department of Defense is testing RFID with the hope of using the technology to get more nutritious foods into the hands of U.S. troops involved in critical missions overseas.

Long an innovator when it comes to RFID, the DOD’s latest use case involves tagging First Strike Rations, a compact, eat-on-the-move assault ration designed for use by soldiers during periods of highly intense and mobile combat operations, such as those in Afghanistan.

The DOD has enlisted a team of researchers at the University of South Florida Polytechnic’s College of Technology and Innovation Lab to develop a system to predict the shelf life of packaged FSR meals and to monitor their quality during shipment and storage. Eventually, more than 5,000 pallets of FSRs could carry RFID tags. The DOD will also consider tagging more than a million pallets of MREs.

Phase two of the project, which began in April and will run for 18 months, will study food science issues like how high temperatures in storage depots break down the nutritional value of FSR’s. During phase one, which began in 2009, researchers tested hundreds of temperature sensitive tags and developed a system that uses a Motorola hand-held reader and software to interrogate an RFID tag and determine the quality of food items and its remaining shelf life. Researchers have recommended a tag from Intelleflex for the project, although they will continue to study new tag technologies that emerge over the next 18 months.

“Shelf life is dynamic. It depends on the temperature of storage,” says Dr. Ismail Uysal, a post-doctoral researcher and one of 10 CTI researchers working on the project. “Some of these products will be stored in Iraq or Afghanistan, where warehouse temperatures can reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The hotter the temperature, the quicker the food quality declines.”

The research team is conducting tests by tagging pallets of First Strike Rations (FSRs), which were first developed in 2002 and began shipping to troops in 2007. A single FSR, which contains 24 hours worth of food, is approximately half the size and weight of three MREs. The typical shelf life for FSRs is two years, stored at 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Seven cases of FSRs — which include items like pocket sandwiches, cereal bars, applesauce and beef jerky — provide a one day supply of food for 63 soldiers.

Uysal says that the system has been developed to the point where the DOD could put a pilot into place at any time if it chooses to do so. “If they wanted to implement a pilot tomorrow in the actual FSR supply chain they could,” he says. “The technology is there. It’s a closed loop system. We are just on the research side of this. But the technology is there.”

The CTI Lab continues to test the technology within its internal labs. The research doesn’t involve shipping actual product through the DOD supply chain, but utilizes the lab’s temperature chambers to simulate temperature conditions that FSRs will likely be stored in.

The DOD, meanwhile, will benefit from increased food quality and safety, which can translate into peak performance for soldiers. Away from the battle lines, the DOD’s current quality control system requires a person to spend 10 to 15 minutes inspecting each pallet for food quality. RFID technology can cut the time to 10 to 15 seconds, reducing labor time and eliminating waste.

Dr. Jean-Pierre Emond, dean of the College of Technology and Innovation, says that the research being conducted for the DOD will also benefit consumer food safety and supply chains in the future.

“The knowledge gained can be readily transferred to the commercial sector with consequent benefits to the nation’s food supply,” he says, “from fewer rejected deliveries and availability of better quality food to consumers. In any commercial supply chain using temperature-sensitive products ranging from fresh produce to pharmaceuticals, the proposed solution will be invaluable to prevent losses, increase customer satisfaction, and promote smart transportation practices for improved product distribution and management.”

The government has long been one of the biggest and most innovative users of RFID. According to VDC Research, the government — led by the DOD — accounted for tag sale revenue of $457.5 million in 2010, a number that is expected to reach $520 million this year. (VDC also includes figures from the aerospace industry in the government category). Government and aerospace use of EPC UHF tags is expected to increase at an annual rate of nearly 70 percent between now and 2015. In 2010, 136 million units were sold into the sector, totaling $19.3 million in revenue for tag suppliers. Unit volume will increase to 244.5 units this year, reaching 1.5 billion in 2015.

Additional activity in supply chain and asset tracking is driving much of the growth, as is the fact that more suppliers are tagging product. Roughly 70 percent of the products received by DOD depots carry RFID tags, although that doesn’t mean that 70 percent of suppliers are tagging products.

Drew Nathanson, director of research operations at VDC, says that the government market is moving quickly into Gen 2 UHF tags. “The government market has been big for active tags,” he says, “but there is a big movement to use more passive, so you are starting to see Gen 2 passive tags coming into play in lot of areas where its been active in the past. The government is one of the leading sectors when it comes to innovation. They are a pioneer and have a lot of money, so it’s easy for them to develop new applications. The DOD has been a hotbed of innovation, and when you support a military or government contract there are incentives to have that commercialized as well.”

Speaking at RFID Journal last month, Paul Peters, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Supply Chain Integration for DOD, said he expects the use of RFID will continue to accelerate. “I believe the expansion of RFID in the DOD will in fact accelerate similar to what it did through the first five years of this journey,” he said.

 

DoD tests RFID to monitor food items shipped to troops during combat

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

The U.S. Department of Defense is testing RFID with the hope of using the technology to get more nutritious foods into the hands of U.S. troops involved in critical missions overseas.

 

Long an innovator when it comes to RFID, the DOD’s latest use case involves tagging First Strike Rations, a compact, eat-on-the-move assault ration designed for use by soldiers during periods of highly intense and mobile combat operations, such as those in Afghanistan. The DOD has enlisted a team of researchers at the University of South Florida Polytechnic’s College of Technology and Innovation Lab to develop a system to predict the shelf life of packaged FSR meals and to monitor their quality during shipment and storage.

To read the rest of the story, click here to sign up for the RFID 24-7 newsletter. RFID 24-7 will carry the rest of the story in tomorrow’s issue.

 

Wall Street Journal: RFID will simplify the airline experience for travelers

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

We’ve covered a lot of developments in the aerospace sector when it comes to RFID and how the technology will benefit the airline industry. Airbus, which is scheduled to deliver its new A350 line beginning in 2013, says that each new plane will include from 3,000 to 10,000 RFID tags to simplify maintenance and safety checks, saving airlines thousands of hours in labor.

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal looks at some of the consumer-facing benefits that flyers can look forward to. Some, like RFID-enabled check in at airports, are currently in the pilot stage. Others, like using RFID to track the progress of trips from start to finish, are longer term projects. Either way, just the idea that RFID is going to greatly enhance the consumer travel experience is exciting news.

An excerpt from the WSJ article:

Qantas Airways Ltd. has gone a couple of steps further with a pilot program in place for domestic flights at four airports in Australia. The program allows travelers to check-in in seconds at a kiosk that reads an RFID, or radio-frequency identification, chip in their frequent-flier card. At that moment, flight details, including a gate number, are sent to the traveler’s smartphone. At the gate, passengers can simply have their card scanned again and board the plane.

Farther down the line, technology will emerge to manage every aspect of a trip, from door to door, says Brian O’Rourke, who leads the global airline team at International Business Machines Corp., which is working with Qantas on its RFID technology. “In a decade or two, there will be smart analytics around your travel itinerary that will do everything from recommending the best transport options to and from the airport to being able to update the airline, the driver, the hotelier and the rail company on the status of your flight and other travel,” he says.

 

 

Video documents savings from cloud-based RFID solution

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

More and more enterprises are turning to technology solutions like RFID and cloud computing. Now, the two go hand in hand. Balluff RFID unveiled a cloud-based solution for RFID applications on Wednesday that allows users to leverage shared IT infrastructure and standard software to collect and present tracking data without having to develop, maintain and finance a redundant and load balanced infrastructure internally.

(Click here to view RFID 24-7’s previous coverage on RFID and the cloud.)

By turning to cloud-based solutions like the one from Balluff and software provider IGear, the burden and cost of the IT infrastructure can be greatly reduced or even eliminated. Investment in IT infrastructure is a major concern of companies considering the use of RFID technology.

“Manufacturers are moving their applications to secure cloud environments,” says Mark Doyle, vice president of sales at IGear Online. “While quality and productivity applications are becoming more mandatory, the capital and labor to build and maintain these systems are becoming scarcer. The cloud has emerged as the optimal solution.”

According to Balluff, building an on-premise application for a single machine or work cell could require an upfront investment of $30,000 or more for hardware, software and integration services. The ongoing cost of support and maintenance requires an additional $10,000 investment. In contrast, a comparable cloud application would involve an annual subscription of $1,000 with the potential need for one-time configuration services of $10,000, representing a savings over $20,000 during the first year and as much as $9,000 every year thereafter.

Click here to view a video on the Balluff RFID solution.

Boeing and Alaska Air to pilot RFID maintenance solution

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

The aerospace industry is strongly pursuing RFID technology for a variety of reasons, including tracking work-in-process, improving productivity and maintenance procedures. On Monday, Boeing, Alaska Airlines and Fujitsu announced that they will partner on a solution to speed up onerous maintenance and safety checks on Alaska Airline aircraft. The pilot program, which will be deployed in Q4,  will document the time savings involved in using RFID to perform normally tedious safety and maintence tests in the cabin of aircraft. The program, called Component Management Optimization,  utilizes RFID tags that store part numbers, serial numbers and maintenance history, which can be updated constantly to create an electronic record that travels with the airplane. When the program is certified, it will be available for use on Boeing and non-Boeing airplanes.

“Our partnership with Boeing reflects our vision of being on the leading edge of the best technology applications that we believe will shape the future airline operations environment,” said Fred Mohr, vice president of maintenance and engineering at Alaska Airlines.

Click here to view a short video about the application.

Click here to view RFID 24-7′s previous coverage of the Boeing Fujitsu announcement.

Click here to view RFID 24-7′s past coverage on RFID and the aerospace sector.

Item Level RFID Initiative considers adopting a global approach by partnering with retailers in Europe

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

The Item Level RFID Initiative made some big waves in January when it unveiled its mission at the National Retail Federation conference in New York. Since then, the group has been relatively quiet as it studies issues like serialization, tagging compliance and how to handle the massive amounts of data that retailers will soon harness from RFID.

The goal of the group, which includes retailers like Walmart, Macy’s, Kohls and Dillards, is to further accelerate item level tagging by publishing industry guidelines and business case roadmaps for return on investment for retailers and suppliers. (Click here to read RFID 24-7′s previous coverage on ILRI)

The group is now considering admitting European retailers into the group to make for a more global approach when it comes to standards. The move seems to make sense, since many retailers utilize the same suppliers in China.

In a recent interview with RFID 24-7, Gerry Weber CIO Christian von Grone explained his desire to collaborate with his North American retail counterparts.

“We have a similar situation in Europe with two or three different initiatives just coming from the ground where industry partners are joining to see what we can we do about RFID in Europe,” he says. “We are part of two of those initiatives. Some of the members of the ally would like to coordinate our efforts (with the U.S.) because in the long run we all meet at the same suppliers in China.”

Gerry Weber belongs to the FashionGroup  RFID and the Working Group Source Tagging initiative.

Bill Hardgrave, who is an advisor to the group and a member of the staff at Auburn University, believes the North American group should seriously consider global collaboration.

“The Item Level RFID Initiative should include all retailers and brand owners,” he says. “In short, I think we need to get them involved and I hope we find a way to do it.”

Grone says that developing separate standards in the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world would only make things more difficult for suppliers. “We should coordinate our efforts so that we have the same technology standards and the same  standards for things like tag placement. We encourage GS1 US Europe and GS1 global and who else is out there to help us coordinate this worldwide.

“In Europe we have a great interest to join the ally.”

Grone says his North American counterparts have shown an interest in making the group more globally focused. “They know that we have conducted lots of research and in some cases we are maybe a little further along when it comes to implementations than the U.S., so sharing those experiences will be a good thing. Besides, the U.S. is very retail driven and Europe is industry driven and putting those strategies together could be very helpful to both of us.”

 

Retailer Gerry Weber enters Phase 2 of RFID deployment

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

For those that missed last week’s newsletter, we’ve posted it here. Leave a comment and let us know what you think!

Gerry Weber has been a driving force behind item level retail tagging. The German retail chain has taken an aggressive stance on RFID and became the first overseas retailer to source-tag all of its products earlier this year when it began tagging all 28 million items that travel through its supply chain.

As both a manufacturer and a retailer of women’s fashion items, Gerry Weber has added incentive to tag at the source of manufacture. In a recent interview, CIO Christian von Grone explained that in phase two of its RFID program, Gerry Weber will extend the use of RFID to improve front of store and back store operations.

Gerry Weber is also making its RFID software interface available to all apparel manufacturers, and expects utilize cutting edge RFID systems to provide a near real-time view of inventory and to allow customers to shop with interactive fitting rooms.

Grone says that Gerry Weber is the first company in Germany, and possibly in Europe, to embed RFID tags into the garment care labels that are sewn into apparel items individually. One single label provides fabric care instructions, track and trace, and the electronic product code to manage inventory.

The retailer, which operates more than 400 stores and 2,000 shop-in-shop outlets, decided to tag of all its garments so it could gain greater supply chain visibility, in addition to the store level benefits of RFID.

The company invested about $2.8 million to tag all its products. Grone notes that the tagging represents an 8-9 cent premium above the 4-7 cent (Euro) cost to produce the conventional care label that is affixed to every garment. Gerry Weber recently concluded an additional investment of about $2.7 million Euros to roll out RFID, and expects payback in two years.

“We made the decision to source tag everything so that we can make full use of RFID in our logistics process,” says Grone. “Otherwise we would have to split production and split warehousing between owned, retail and wholesale volume, and this would add complexity to our processes. We want to simplify processes with RFID.”

Part of the use case for Gerry Weber was the expectation that as tagged goods arrive at retailers, they will begin to use RFID as well. Therefore, Gerry Weber profitability is bound to improve as a result of having more products readily available at retail outlets. Grone says Gerry Weber has already seen several retail pilots develop since it went to 100 percent source tagging early this year.

“We’ve been 100 percent source tagging since January and in those three months I’ve had about as many questions about RFID from retailers as within the last year when we were in the press and had big press conferences and presentations,” says Grone. “The retailers start to believe that the technology is working when they see the chips in the garments. We’re seeing the first pilots with mid-sized retailers. The larger players are undecided.”

Grone says that the retail pilots are starting small, with a store using a single handheld reader to start off with. He stresses that it is not important to capture all the benefits of RFID at the outset, but to just gain an understanding about what the technology can achieve.

Although Gerry Weber understands the value that comes from having stock on the store shelves at all times, a major driver for the source tagging program was that electronic article surveillance (EAS) could be incorporated into the RFID tag as well, eliminating the added cost of applying a second tag to the garment.

“The biggest driver is replenishment and out of stock minimization and all those other things that we know about, but it wouldn’t have worked without the EAS part,” says Grone. “The use case just wouldn’t have worked without the EAS component.”

Gerry Weber still has inventory carrying the old EAS tags, and will funnel those products through its supply chain until June. At that point, the EAS security gates in stores will be removed, and the chain will rely solely on RFID for the EAS security function. The RFID tag will not be deactivated until the garment is purchased, allowing an alarm to signal if someone leaves the store without paying for an item.

When it comes to phase two of its RFID program, Grone says Gerry Weber will first look at replenishment programs at its larger stores. “If we don’t have an item on the shelf but in backroom storage, we have to replenish it as soon as possible, thus enabling further sales,” he says. That’s no surprise, as replenishment and reducing out-of-stocks is a major driver for every retailer.

Also in the works is a pilot for using intelligent fitting rooms powered by RFID, with touch screen monitors that display information about the item the customer brought into the fitting room. By utilizing the touch screen, customers can signal a store associate to bring another size or color of the item to the fitting room, enabling a better customer shopping experience.

Gerry Weber is currently in the process of establishing the software interface between manufacturers’ software and its own hybrid supply chain management tool. So far, two software manufacturers have agreed to implement this in their software. “We expect this to be up and running in June, with more to follow,” says Grone. “By the end of the year, I expect about 30 percent coverage with our suppliers,” including all of the major ones. That will enable source tagging to spread to other apparel manufacturers at a quicker pace.

Another phase two project includes piloting the Mojix solution at one store, most likely to begin in September. The Mojix STAR system enables organizations to use inexpensive UHF passive RFID tags for real-time location tracking, bringing economic advantages to supply chain management and asset tracking. By using Mojix, Gerry Weber will gain a near-real time view of its inventory, enhanced by location information. Store associates, for example, could generate a list of misplaced items in a store, and link product placement information with sales data to enhance visual merchandising operations. Furthermore, the Mojix system could replace the store’s RFID EAS gates.

Gerry Weber will also likely look to enhance EAS functionality with a “tamper-protect” tag, using the new NXP G2xx generation of RFID chips.

“We are very excited about new technology,” says Grone. “The interesting part is how do you get the industry to take part on this? Luckily in Europe, we have many fashion companies who have at least 20 percent owned retail as well. Companies like VOS Sports or Oliver that have 10-20 percent volume through their own retail outlets can make RFID pay off in their own retail operations, and also by helping the other 80 percent or so of their volume going to the broad market. Therefore, all retailers benefit.”


RFID 24-7 Q&A: Impinj founder Chris Diorio talks about the future of RFID technology

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Chris Diorio, Impinj’s chairman and CTO, recently won the RFID Special Achievement award at the RFID Journal show in Orlando. Dr. Diorio was recognized for his work in the development of the UHF EPC Gen 2 RFID standard.

Diorio took some time this week to discuss the award with RFID 24-7, as well as what the future holds for RFID technology.

What does the Special Achievement Award mean to you?

“The Special Achievement Award is an honor and I’m very thankful to have been chosen. But I don’t feel like the award is mine alone—there were many other individuals who were instrumental in delivering a robust UHF Gen2 standard and my thanks goes out to them. And, of course, the standards work isn’t done and I look forward to continuing to evolve UHF Gen2. I would also like to recognize the other award finalists—the work that Roger Blazek and Bill Hardgrave have done to advance RFID in the retail space is truly outstanding.”

RFID technology has made huge advances in the last two years, both from adoption and the technology itself. Where do you see RFID in 3-5 years?

“As evidenced by recent reports by VDC Research, UHF Gen2 is the fastest growing segment of the RFID market. I think current applications of the technology represent the tip of the iceberg and I expect continued growth in the apparel space and expansion into other consumer retail product categories like consumer electronics and jewelry, as well as into government-mandated categories like pharmaceuticals and liquor.”

“In terms of technology advances, I think that we will continue to see standard product improvements but expect that emphasis will be on developing application-focused solutions that couple together standard off-the-shelf components with specialized antennas and software. An example of an application-specific solution is our recent launch of the STP source-tagging platform for retail brand owners and service bureaus that are trying to scale their item-level tagging operations.”

As you look back over the years, what has been the biggest challenge faced by the industry?

“Developing and getting agreement from everyone for a single, worldwide standard, which we accomplished in December 2004 with the ratification of UHF Gen2 and its subsequent adoption by ISO. After that it was gratifying to see the first products launched and performing as anticipated, but the delay between the availability of superior products and true retail adoption took longer than any of us had anticipated. I am pleased to see the performance improvements we’ve made over the past several years that really take advantage of the standard’s capabilities, and I am especially pleased to see the adoption that is happening now.”

What challenges remain?

“Two items:  First, adding anti-counterfeiting, loss-prevention, security, files and file management, and untraceability to the UHF Gen2 standard while maintaining backward compatibility with currently deployed systems. Secondly, continuing to ease adoption through performance/feature improvements, cost reductions, education, and solutions enablement.”

Can you discuss the improvements being made to Gen 2 technology and what they will enable?

“The enhancements we are making to UHF Gen2 will allow it to better meet user requirements for loss prevention, consumer privacy, and usage in consumer electronics, aerospace, and applications that require secure access.  GS1 EPCglobal would like to ratify the enhanced standard, known as UHF Gen2 V2, in 2012.”

What’s the future for RFID? Will the technology eventually become ubiquitous in every day life?

“I think RFID will become part of the fabric of our everyday lives, and in so doing will become less overt and less ‘techy.’  Coke’s Freestyle machine is a great example of UHF RFID’s value – the technology is embedded and used in such a way that it provides real business value and improves consumer experience. RFID has such huge potential in so many areas — I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years will bring!”

Asset tracking and supply chain solutions drive strong growth at Zebra

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

The stock of Zebra Technologies up is strongly today after the company announced first quarter results that exceeded Wall Street estimates. Zebra’s 2011 first quarter net sales were $237.3 million, up 11.9 percent from the same period in 2010. The company expects second quarter sales to fall in the range of $240-250 million.

By mid-morning, the stock had set a new 52-week high and was trading just over $43.00 a share.

In a press release, Zebra attributed the increased results to supply chain and asset tracking solutions.

“Excellent execution on a clear and focused business strategy helped Zebra deliver these record results,” Anders Gustafsson, Zebra’s chief executive officer, stated in the release. “Innovative new products introduced over the past year are helping us meet more of our customers’ asset tagging needs in a more complex supply chain environment.”

Last month Zebra unveiled its UHF Gen 2 RFID card powered by Impinj Monza® 4 chips. The new UHF card extends Zebra’s high performance card product line with a new model that offers exceptional performance in access control, personnel tracking, long-range ID applications, and social media and hospitality check-ins.