In With a Bang

In With a Bang

Copyright 2003, Traffic World, Inc.

Market interest in radio frequency identification technology is growing, as evidenced by attendance at the recent EPC Executive Symposium produced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology''s Auto-ID Center and Advanstar Technology Group, a division of Advanstar Communications.

Brian Randall, general manager of Advanstar Technology Group, said he was "blown away" by attendance numbers - over 1,000 people including senior-level executives from manufacturing, government and retail, as well as press and analysts. Edward M. Wolfe, an analyst with Bear Stearns & Co.''s Transports, Logistics and Supply Chain Technology Research team, said there was standing room only at the event.

The Auto-ID Center is involved in building and testing standards for RFID technology used to track goods and containers through the supply chain. The technology provides more information and greater automation of tracking procedures than barcodes, albeit at a higher cost. The center is a partnership of almost 100 global companies and five research universities. EPC, which stands for electronic product code, is a unique identification number linked to RFID technology for tracking items.

Analysts, including Wolfe, attribute the high interest, adoption rates and hardware and software development in RFID to Wal-Mart. The retail giant is requiring that all its suppliers use RFID at the pallet and case level by December 2006. It announced in June that its top 100 suppliers must become RFID compliant by January 2005.

The Wal-Mart announcement "doesn''t leave much time to roll out an RFID program," said AMR Research analysts Kara Romanow and Scott Lundstrom in a recent report, "RFID in 2005: The What is More Important than the When with Wal-Mart Edict."

The costs to users also could be quite high. "Take, for example, a typical consumer package-goods manufacturer that ships 50 million cases per year. The conservative cost estimates for RFID implementation total $13 million to $23 million," said Romanow in the report. "The actual costs could be much higher if physical infrastructure changes need to be made."

Nonetheless, Lundstrom predicts that "RFID will have a dramatic impact on the operation of global supply chains over the next 10 years" as it will give companies immediate access to inventory information. Lundstrom issued his predictions in a separate report, "RFID Will be Bigger Than Y2K," published in late July. "Ultimately, RFID will be a core technology deployed across the supply chain in most industries," he said.

At the conference, EAN International and the Uniform Code Council, both not-for-profit information standards organizations, announced they will be responsible for driving adoption of the EPC Network, a set of open global standards for RFID and related Internet technology based on EPC developed by the Auto-ID Center. The joint venture is called EPCglobal. The center simultaneously released its first technical specifications for the network.

Several vendors also made announcements at the show, including Tyco, Manhattan Associates and OMI International. Tyco Fire & Security, a division of Tyco International Ltd., released a new version of its Sensormatic product line, including a SensorID RFID Agile Reader Series 2 and the accompanying SensorID OmniWave antenna. The company also released SensorID Works, an RFID software program "to more easily evaluate RFID technology using small-scale pilot programs," said a spokesperson. George Reynolds, Tyco Fire & Security vice president of RFID, said the new reader and antenna "will help our customers meet the 2005 RFID compliance standards."

Supply-chain execution software provider Manhattan Associates released a new RFID solution combining components of its SCE solutions with RFID capabilities and a new version of its Windows-based warehouse management software. The RFID solution uses EPC-compliant printing technology to enable customers to print RFID-tagged labels. The company also integrated webMethods'' Item Synchronization Solution with its Manhattan''s warehouse management software, enabling customers to transmit line-item data from their WMS to trading partners via UCCnet.

Columbia, Md.-based Matrics released PICA, its new, high-speed RFID tag assembly system. PICA, which stands for Parallel Integrated Chip Assembly, assembles chips up to 1,500 times faster than existing web-based flip chip assemblers at a lower cost, said a spokesperson.

"With the introduction of PICA, Matrics will have the capacity to produce millions of EPC-compliant RFID tags per hour at a price point that is economically feasible," said Mike Arneson, founder and CTO of Matrics Inc. A PICA production machine is being installed at Matrics'' headquarters and will begin production in first-quarter 2004. The machine also will produce RFID straps and inlays.

Also at the conference:

-- GlobeRanger released version 4.0 of its iMotion platform, built on Microsoft''s .NET framework. The Richardson, Texas-based company is integrating its products with Manhattan Associate''s technology line and entered into an agreement whereby OMI International will resell GlobeRanger''s products and develop additional RFID and mobile applications on GlobeRanger''s iMotion platform.

-- Savi Technology, an asset management solutions provider, and LXE, rugged mobile computer manufacturer, will jointly produce a rugged handheld data collection device that will read both active RFID tags and barcodes later this year. LXE, based in Norcross, Ga., is a wholly owned subsidiary of EMS Technologies. Savi, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., also integrated inventory optimization tools from GAINSystems into its Asset Management System software and announced new versions of its AMS and Transportation Security System software applications.

-- San Diego-based ImageWare Systems and 2-D barcode producer Datastrip have integrated Datastrip''s 2D Superscript barcode symbology with ImageWare''s EPI Suite secure credentialing software and EPI Builder software developer''s kit. The integration allows ImageWare customers "the ability to add biometrics, photos and text to identification badges for enhanced security without enlargement of the barcode or the expense of deploying a smart chip," i.e., RFID technology, said a spokesperson.