Friday, August 12, 2005

Second Wave RFID : Bigger & More Velocity

Like many other nascent technologies, RFID has improved with age, writes BWeek. Excerpts with edits & comments:
RFID has become more reliable and less costly. Boeing says its RFID system works 99.8% of the time, failing to read just 21 tags out of more than 18,000 in six months. That's negligible compared to the occurrence of human error when deliveries are entered manually. RFID system costs have come down, finally making the technology's return on investment attractive. While several years ago, the simplest RFID tags cost $1 to $5, they now sell for 25 cents to 50 cents. And tag prices are still dropping - expected to reach 20 cents this fall as suppliers deploy new, materials-saving manufacturing processes. Now manufacturers are starting to incorporate RFID on their own accord, to better manage their inventory and to track work in progress, storage containers, and tools. Indeed, RFID adoption among manufacturers is about to go into high gear. As many as 40% of all U.S. manufacturers - in industries as diverse as aerospace, pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, automotive, and mining - will deploy RFID by 2010, up from under 10% today, estimates Kara Romanow, an analyst with AMR Research. That's a tremendous jump, considering that most companies using RFID today are running only limited trials.

RFID suppliers should see a sharp escalation in demand in mid-2006. That's when manufacturers are expected to first start moving from pilot tests to large-scale RFID deployments as new, industry-standard RFID technology comes to market. Called Gen 2 RFID, these new readers and tags will be cheaper, a lot more accurate, and work at distances up to 30% longer than their predecessors. With Gen 2, it would be far more easy to implement RFID. RFID no longer requires a mountain of special add-ons to corporate networks. Manufacturers that have installed Wi-Fi, a wireless broadband access technology, on their factory floors can use these networks to capture information from RFID tags without the help of RFID readers. Major customization and tweaking of corporate software systems have become unnecessary, too. RFID feeds, for example, will be a standard part of Microsoft' enterprise-resource-management software, used to track products through the manufacturing process and due for release in the first half of 2006. Tools and equipment vendors are starting to make RFID a standard part of their wares used by manufacturers to improve asset management. Business-intelligence software helps managers analyze daily trends in inventory buildup. In the future, RFID's importance for making business decisions will grow, as the tags start incorporating more memory as well as a slew of sensors, recording things like temperature and noise levels

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Gillette : RFID - Hype To Reality

Infoworld has an interesting article with indicative metrics for returns on RFID investment - though the actual details of solutions,investments, savings and returns computed are not revealed - a peek into process efficiencies makes interesting reading. For Gillette, RFID has improved order processing, streamlined inventory management systems, and increased shipment accuracy, providing operational cost savings in excess of 20 percent per distribution center. The Gillette Company uses RFID for both pallet and case applications. It moves its inventory to a packaging center, where they are placed into cases and moved to the DC to be compiled into customer orders. Before the EPC (Electronic Product Code), this procedure required an operator to scan the cases at least five times, and involved at least three different keyboard operations. For example, somebody had to count the number of cases on each pallet and verify that each case contained the right product. The process for a pallet to go from packaging to the DC took about 20 seconds. With EPC in place, all the cases in a pallet are scanned with RFID readers as they move along the conveyor belt. Moving a pallet to the DC now takes five seconds, or 25 percent less time.
When a customer order is processed out of a DC, it is often a mixed order, meaning different products need to be assembled onto a single pallet. This labor-intensive task used to take anywhere from 80 seconds to 20 minutes. With RFID, the process takes 20 seconds per pallet because each pallet is spun through a “verification tunnel” that knows exactly what the customer ordered and whether the pallet contains the correct products. For special event promotions, earlier the data collection and forecast used to be an output of an erroneous spiral -primarily due to delays and co-ordiantion issuesin logistics. Using RFID, both the retailer and Gillette are able to track the time elapsed between events and strategize how to reduce the pain points the next time. If Gillette can move product so it gets where it needs to be when it needs to be there, it means products are on the shelf when consumers want to buy them - a major step forward. Factoring in productivity savings of 20 percent per DC, in addition to improved product availability on retailer shelves, Gillette estimates it has realized a return on its RFID investments in excess of 25 percent.This makes interesting reading - but lot more details about facilities/processes changed at various supply chain nodes are needed to be fully convinced but no doubt even big number improvement in part of the supply chain after RFID implementation should offer significant benefits.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The World Of RFID Guided Robots!!

Researchers are envisioning mobile, RFID-guided robots taking on tasks such as helping families tend to disabled relatives and assisting in factory inventories. Secom, a security company in Japan, has already built a machine, called Robot X - equipped with a camera, the robot relays live video to a remote security facility. When a stranger approaches one of the children, the robot, controlled remotely, gets aggressive. On six wheels, it pursues the intruder, flashing bright lights and sirens and spewing a thick cloud of smoke. The cyber-guard snaps a few pictures, too. While the potential for robots guided by radio signals is vast, such technology is likely years away from becoming mainstream.Scientists in Japan, Germany and the United States envision a myriad of uses for mobile, RFID-guided robots. An assistant professor at Utah State University is experimenting with one designed to assist blind people while they shop, helping them navigate stores and find merchandise.
Others hope the technology will someday help families tend to elderly or disabled relatives, dispensing medicine and performing household chores. The Infineon machine has an RFID reader, and when set to work on "smart carpet" embedded with RFID chips, the robot is guaranteed not to miss a single crumb or dust bunny, while taking the most efficient route across the floor. One of the main problems is that in order for a robot to detect something or someone, he, she or it must have an RFID tag on it. The tags combine a radio antenna and microchip. They have no power source of their own, but when scanned by a special reader, they broadcast a unique serial number. Over the last year or so, companies have been putting thousands of RFID tags on everything from casino chips to library books as prices for the technology have fallen and technical standards have emerged.
Tags must become a lot cheaper before they appear on everyday items. Today, tags range in price from 15 cents to as high as $100. At those prices, retailers and consumer goods companies are mostly reserving tags for large cases or pallets of merchandise, which allows them to track warehouse inventory. RFID tags won't appear on individual tubes of toothpaste and packages of socks until tag prices fall below 5 cents. That's why IBM designed its RFID-enabled robot specifically for the warehouse environment. But IBM's robot is just a prototype for now. The company hit on the idea after a brainstorming session involving the Watson Lab's RFID experts and its location-based services group.The researchers realized that once companies put RFID tags on everything, they have a problem. They either have to employ people to walk around with readers taking inventory or install expensive readers throughout their facilities. They came up with a third option-a mobile, location-aware, RFID-enabled robot.Frontline, a robotics start-up that emerged from stealth mode last year, is angling to be among the first in North America to introduce a commercially available RFID-guided robot.

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Saturday, July 02, 2005

RFID : Getting Tagged & Laziness!!

We recently covered the development Mobile phones as tracking agents
John Dvorak, a contrarian but insightful thinker writes,"Instead of using bar codes that would be monitored by the box, we are now seeing usage of RFID tags on all the foods.A complete inventory would be displayed on an LCD panel on the front of the refrigerator".This looks so much easier to read through a long list than to actually look inside the refrigerator. The change from bar-coding food, a cheap ink jet process, to adding an RFID (radio frequency identification device) chip to each pear and orange seems like a major step towards growing stupidity and using technology for technology's sake. But the people behind the effort are serious. Still, the real thrust of RFID is headed like a runaway freight train straight into the world of personal identification. In all of our lifetimes, each of us will be tagged at least once or twice, if only temporarily—at first, maybe as a gimmick, and then for security or to prevent identity theft. Then the final rationale will emerge: control. Such use will be irresistible. And it shouldn't be too hard to convince a dumbed-down public that being tagged is a good thing. "Think of the convenience!" or "For your protection!" Much of this will begin with the increasing problem of identity theft, which really stems more from banking practices In fact, more elaborate RFID systems such as car tags that let you zoom through toll booths seem beneficial, although if there were no toll booths, this convenience would not need to exist. RFID tags are used at the museum's /labs/ exhibition centers, to enhance the visitor's experience,certainly provide some unique value in closed environments. In most cases, the thrust behind RFID stems from laziness. Total control of the public is an afterthought that will follow naturally. Identity theft comes from institutional laziness. John raises the question are we're going to fix it on the cheap with RFID? I agree - several RFID initiatives being paraded have little business value as against several real opportunities like this, this,this where RFID can genuinely bring business value.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Active RFID :For Critical Uses

(Via Infoworld)The generic term RFID refers to more than just the cheap tags that companies slap onto pallets to comply with retailers' edicts. Several types of RFID systems exist. Wal-Mart requires passive RFID tags. Ephraim Schwartz points out that the "very best" for
enterprise needs may be active RFID tags and the infrastructure that supports them
. Passive tags are not powered, so they have a range of just a few feet. A reader must "wake them up," at which point they transmit the little bit of data that they hold. Passive tags also have difficulty sending data through liquids or metal. Active tags, on the other hand, can have a range of as far as 300 feet, are battery-powered, and can either transmit constantly or be activated by an actuator. Both active and passive tags allow data to be captured and put into a database. Add business rules that relate to the tag or groups of tags, and presto! A higher-level application is created. The difference between active and passive is in the kinds of applications the enterprise can build on top of the information that each transmits.
We covered in the post how RFID will play a central role in processes both inside and across enterprises.The sheer volume of traffic generated by a pallet of lemons could be huge. – but business requires that all info be available in realtime using superior filtering mechanisms and smart pattern inference mechanisms.
Active tags shine in high-velocity, chaotic environments, - typically in situations 2,000 gate moves per day at the height of the buying season, passive tags would be useless; each truck would have to stop and get scanned. With active tags, however, the trucks roll in and out. And not only does the manager know when each container has arrived, but even in a yard hundreds of acres large, he knows exactly where everything is at all times. Active tags can also be used for security. A laptop, for example, might be tagged and associated with an employee pass card. If the two don't match as the employee goes through an exit, an alert can be triggered. A passive tag won't work in this case because there is no way of ensuring that the tag will be read as it passes the reader. Business needs to assess usage of active tags for long term benefits. Active tags may be more expensive, but they open up a whole new world of wireless possibilities

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Sunday, June 12, 2005

DHL : RFID Tags For Every Shipped Package

(Via Iweek) DHL Plans RFID Tags For Every Package It Ships -With a goal to gain tighter control of shipments, cut costs, and improve operating performance by reducing paperwork and data collection, DHL International GmbH this month starts developing a global IT infrastructure that will let it affix a radio-frequency identification tag on every package it ships by 2015. DHL's plan to tag every package it handles is a lofty one since the transportation and logistics arm of Deutsche Post World Net ships more than a billion packages a year. DHL already has identified that it needs to automate IT applications, improve connectivity with customers and regulatory agencies, and work with EPCglobal Inc. members to create common standards that can be shared throughout the logistics industry.
The company's IT group spends a lot of time supporting DHL's Object Name Service database, which stores information on shipped packages. Instead, DHL hopes to set up an infrastructure where RFID tags serve as links to information located elsewhere. DHL believes it can reduce its data-collection and reporting requirements related to U.S. Custom declarations by using RFID tags that direct the Customs department to information within databases maintained by manufacturers that ship products. DHL plans to build an automated exception reporting layer to its infrastructure, so that RFID tags will send alerts if something unexpected occurs. For example, an RFID tag will send an alert via mobile phone or E-mail to a transportation manager if a package strays from its appointed route. It is also working to expand RFID-tagging services it makes available to business customers, such as Nokia Corp. and European retailer Metro AG and its suppliers. DHL began testing RFID in 1998 and has since conducted 20 trials with passive and active technology. UPS Inc., by comparison, says it has conducted three big tests, such as using RFID to replace bar codes on packages.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

New Handheld RF Reader With OS

(Via Forbes)Symbol Technologies,announces the first radio-frequency identification reader that supports Microsoft's Windows CE. The move should reassert Symbol's market dominance in RFID and give Microsoft a foothold in the small but growing market.Symbol, which made its name as a maker of bar-code readers, has pegged its growth on RFID technology, from its acquisition of Matrics a year ago to its latest deal with the U.S. Department of Defense in the past month. Boeing is also interested in Symbol's technology. Symbol's new XR400 will be the first non-handheld reader on the market with an operating system. By providing readers with the capability to run third-party applications will encourage consumers to develop software that communicates directly with their existing enterprise resource planning systems. This can take automation to the next level.

Today, RFID implementation can be clunky. A worker scans an RFID tag, which gets fed into a custom application running on a separate machine. Eventually, the data is processed by a back-office system like an Oracle database or a SAP application, from which executives can generate reports. But Symbol's XR400 eliminates the need for the custom machine, which saves time and money. Microsoft has been actively courting RFID companies to encourage support and development for Windows. Symbol said it chose to support Windows CE instead of Palm OS because most of their partners and customers are already familiar with Windows and can quickly develop applications for the platform. Oracle and SAP already provided Windows CE interoperability and says that Symbol will encourage its partners to develop applications for the XR400, which will help seed the market for the device. Symbol counts Marquee names like Marquee Walmart, Home Depot etc as its customer. By integrating software with hardware, Symbol indicates that it's in the market for the long haul.
Pondering Primate asks whether does this mean microsoft will be able to connect to any RFID tag and directly connect to the assigned website? And foresees big things with this alliance.Google may get interested in this space and integrate this with mobile technology. Indeed a significant leap ahead.

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