RFID Helps Deaf Children Learn Sign Language

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Aug 31, 2010 @ 03:55 AM

Tags: RFID, RFID in the Classroom, RFID Enabled Toys

Computer Program and RFID-Enabled Toys Designed to Help Preschoolers Learn Faster

Back to SchoolThis post was sourced from Twitter with credit going to @zanderliving.  The tweet linked to a recent blog article from Trridev Labelss Mfg. Co, a provider of automation solutions and barcoding equipment, and struck a chord with me as so many kids are on their way back to school this month. 

As teachers prepare their classrooms and lesson plans, imagine the extra care taken by those who are planning for rooms full of kids with special needs.  A group of researchers are hoping to make the transition from summer fun to structured classroom a little easier for deaf children by developing an RFID-based system that combines RFID-enabled toys and a computer program to teach sign language.

The Trridev Labelss blog article is posted below:

Thanks to a computer program and RFID-enabled toys, preschoolers learn faster

A group of researchers in the United States are developing a system that uses RFID to teach sign language to very young children.

While there are a whole variety of computer-based sign language learning programs, none of them are very well adapted to the special learning needs of 3 to 5 year olds. The professors and researchers in question have created a system that combines toys and a computer to make sign language more real and more understandable for preschoolers and their parents and teachers.

RFID tags are embedded into several dozens toys, each representing an airplane, dog, cat, car, house, boat and so forth. When a child brings one of the toys up to an RFID reader situated near the computer, the computer screen automatically shows a video of a person demonstrating that item’s sign, as well as several other images of that item. The program also displays the printed word on the screen and speaks the word out loud, for the benefit of parents or educators who can hear. 

The importance of starting to learn any language, including sign language, as early as possible in childhood is very well known. By allowing educators to link actual objects that can be seen and held with their sign, RFID is helping make it easier for very young deaf children to build a solid foundation in learning.

With technology in the classroom changing so rapidly, it is heartening to see that innovation is reaching children of all learning abilities.  Now, with new clothes purchased, school lunches packed and an early morning routine re-established - it's back to school.

Feel free to share your experience with technology in the classroom below.  How else could RFID be used to help students learn and teachers teach?

Trridev Labelss cited http://www.discoverrfid.org/ as the original article source.

Zebra Earns its RFID Stripes Again

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Aug 30, 2010 @ 12:20 PM

Tags: RFID, RFID tags, RFID Printers

Low Cost, Item-Level Tagging for Package Verification, Work in Process, Product Authentication and More

One major milestone achieved by the RFID industry over the last 10 years is its more affordable price tag.  RFID tags in particular used to cost about $5.00 each.  Now they cost pennies each.  We’ve celebrated the innovative uses of RFID in this blog, many of them made possible because deployments are easier on the budget, including lower tag cots.  Now it’s time to recognize the positive cost impact made by RFID printers/encoders.   More specifically, products from ThingMagic partner Zebra Technologies, designed for organizations with high-volume, mission-critical or specialty labeling applications.

Zebra 110xi4Zebra recently announced the R110Xi4, a new high-performance RFID printer/encoder which is fully integrated with the ThingMagic Mercury5e embedded module for UHF read/write capabilities.

The R110Xi4 addresses the growing market for high-volume, item-level tagging and the recognized market shift from compliance-based tracking to more item-level tracking applications; such as retail item tagging, package verification, work in process, product authentication, document tracking and healthcare specimen tracking, to name a few.  In addition to item-level tracking, the R110Xi4 streamlines business improvement and supply-chain management applications like asset tracking and inventory management across retail, manufacturing, healthcare and distribution channels.

In the spirit of lower cost RFID tags, Zebra’s RXi4 overcomes one of the largest barriers to RFID adoption – media cost – by up to 10 percent. Here’s how.

It simplifies set up because the auto-configuration enables encoding of a variety of different RFID tags.  It also cuts cost per label, requires fewer media-roll changes and saves time with faster throughput by encoding RFID inlays that are spaced closer together (.6"/16 mm).  The RXi4 can detect the RFID inlay position within the label and automatically configure the printer/encoder without having to manually calibrate for the inlay – ensuring tag accuracy and saving time and money. If a tag is not encoded accurately, the tagged asset doesn’t “exist” in inventory or in transit and becomes lost, costing money and time.

But wait, there’s more.

Zebra’s Xi™ series printers are built for rugged durability, outstanding print quality, fast print speed, long life, and unparalleled reliability in demanding applications. How’s that for lower total cost of ownership?

RFID and the Beverage Market (part 5)

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Aug 27, 2010 @ 10:09 AM

Tags: RFID, Food & Beverage, Hospitality

Serving Up Soft Drinks, Freestyle

In this week’s posts we’ve covered a variety of topics related to the application of RFID in the beverage market, including beverage supply chain optimization, product authentication, inventory management and patron identification, but there’s more.  Coca-Cola recently began testing a new drink dispenser called Coca-Cola Freestyle™ that they hope will reinvent the market. This may be one of the most innovative uses of RFID and other technologies that the beverage market has seen in a while.

Innovation - Freestyle

If microdispensing and PurePour aren’t terms you are familiar with now, they will be soon.  These are but just a couple of the new technologies used in the Coca Cola Freestyle – a drink dispenser that also includes a curved metal enclosure created by the designers of Ferrari race cars and the latest in touch-screen menu technology. 

Coke FreestyleUsing technologies similar to those used to deliver precise doses of drugs, a single Coca Cola Freestyle can dispense over 100 different beverages.  Through this microdosing process, drink ingredients are blended with water and sweetener and then dispensed from the machine.  Taking innovation a step further, the 30+ 46 ounce flavor cartridges in each Freestyle machine are RFID enabled, allowing Freestyle to detect its supply levels and transmit data back to Coca-Cola and the dispenser owner for re-stocking, and to report which brands of drinks are being consumed and when.

With 1.6 billion servings of Coke sold worldwide every day, one of the most interesting aspects of this system is the massive amount of real-time data it will be providing to Coca-Cola to help assess consumption trends and to improve test marketing activities.  For a view of what a dispenser analytics dashboard might look like, check out these images from SmartData Collective.

‘Like’ Coke?

The way that beverage manufacturers and retailers are connecting with their customers is also changing.  High-cost broadcast and print advertising is giving way to social networks and other methods of permission marketing to extend reach and deliver personalized messaging.

As mentioned in our post RFID and Social Networks, Coca-Cola and handful of companies including Facebook, recently teamed to host an event that leveraged RFID to bring the digital ‘Like’ to the physical world.  With over 500 million active users on Facebook and nearly 11 million who “Like’ Coke’s Facebook business page, a new way for brand owners like Coke to market to their customers is beginning to rapidly emerge.  Will a combination of RFID enabled displays, wristbands like those used at the Coca-Cola Village, and mobile devices help retailers, restaurants, theme parks, museums, and even brand owners, take “Like’ marketing beyond its virtual confines even further to the physical world?

Coke also has a Freestyle Facebook page that lists its test locations, drink flavors, and, of course, Wall comments from many satisfied customers.  This page also has many requests for Freestyle to be sent to "my" location - building awareness and demand from its virtual community of 'Friends'.  Described by Coke:

It's the ultimate beverage experience.

It's about choice.

It's the perfect pour.

It's 106 brands in one special place just for you.

Thirsty?

RFID and the Beverage Market (part 4)

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Aug 26, 2010 @ 12:36 PM

Tags: RFID, RFID Wristbands, Food & Beverage, Hospitality

Combating Underage Drinking and Improving Sales with Patron ID and Point-of-Sale Wristbands

Fake IDThe days of recreating the background of a state driver’s license in your garage, taking a cheesy picture of yourself in front of it, slipping it into generic plastic enclosure and sealing it with your mom’s iron are over.  Now I’m not saying that I ever did that, but I’m sure others tried and were successful in passing off a fake ID to go somewhere or do something they weren’t old enough to do.

Regardless of the method used to produce them, trying to enter a bar or purchase alcohol are probably some of the most common uses of fake IDs.  The debate over the legal drinking age has gone on for years.  Regardless of the position that you take, establishments that serve alcoholic beverages must comply with the law or face stiff penalties.  Making compliance difficult, some young people are willing to take the risk of using a fake ID despite the consequences - including driver’s license suspension, fines and higher car insurance rates.  As a result, simply checking a person’s ID to provide access to a bar or an event where alcohol is being served is sometimes not enough. 

RFID Wristbands for Patron Identification

With over 50 years of experience developing wristband ID systems and nearly a decade deploying RFID systems, California-based Precision Dynamics helps event organizers and venue owners take ID checking to the next level.  For positive age identification and verification, the Precision Dymamics AgeBand® system scans the magnetic stripe or 2-dimensional bar code of an individual’s credentials (typically a driver’s license or other ID card) and prints their name and other pertinent information on a non-transferable RFID-enabled wristband.  If they are 21 years of age or older, the system also prints “Age ID Verified 21” on the wristband.  In addition to confirming the age data on a person’s credentials and providing visible verification for venues that serve alcohol, use of the AgeBand system provides a technology advantage over mean looking bouncers – often scaring away those using fake IDs before they try to enter an event.

In addition to being used to verify patron ages, AgeBands are made of thermal material to support point of sale applications.  When used in conjunction with a specialized kiosk, the system allows patrons to load cash credit onto their RFID wristbands to support instant, automated purchases at concession stands and other retail areas.

If it’s a safe event environment and increased sales that you are after, you may want to check out Precision Dynamics SuperFest case study.  The write-up details how the system helped increase throughput at concession stands, reduce long lines, and allowed the venue to replace expensive stand-alone POS units – resulting in a 15% increase in revenues.

We welcome your comments below.

RFID and the Beverage Market (part 3)

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Aug 25, 2010 @ 07:14 AM

Tags: RFID, Food & Beverage, Hospitality

Beverage Dispensing – Managing the Perfect Pour

Historical records track the consumption of beer and wine back 5,000 years.  Liquor distillation began about 2,000 years ago and today, liquor is one of the world’s most traded commodities.  Central to the liquor industry are the millions of bars and restaurants that serve millions of liters of drinks each day

Key to the successful management of a bar or restaurant is being able to measure its liquor pour cost - the bar’s cost of goods sold as a percentage of total sales.  For those keeping score, if a bar of restaurant has a drink product that cost $2, and sells it for $10, then the pour cost is 20%.  In order to calculate an accurate pour cost and determine how to factor it into their overall profitability measures, restaurant and bar owners need to contend with inventory shrinkage, which is a big problem in this massive service industry.  More specifically, bar operations often lose profits due to careless draft beer pouring by bartenders (the horror - around 10-15% of tap beer goes straight down the drain in most pubs), over-pouring liquor shots and product theft.  In fact, industry research reports that the average bar can be losing more than 25 percent of their liquor, wine and beer profits through inventory mismanagement.

Gordon's, Vodka, Kina Lillet. Add RFID. Shaken, Not Stirred.

It may seem a little like an 007 gadget from the Q Branch, but, believe it or not, RFID is being integrated into liquor pour systems to help establishments measure every milliliter of alcohol poured to customers.

LasVegas.netLasVegas.Net Liquor Inventory System, for example, offers replacement RFID pour spouts, active antennas and browser-based software that allows bar and restaurant owners and managers to record and review drink pour data – down to the last drop.  With this system an RFID Spout is assigned to each bottle in the bar and every drink dispensed is automatically tracked in real-time.  The Liquorinventory.Net System can generate customized real-time reporting, giving bar owners a detailed view into their establishment's liquor usage to help determine open stock inventory, bartender over/under pours, employee theft, and resolve differences between reported dispensed volume and point of sale records.

Similarly, Northern California based Capton, a leading developer of RFID-based business control solutions for the hospitality market, offers a solution called Beverage Tracker.  Beverage Tracker utilize patented RFID-enabled pour spouts that monitor liquor use and wirelessly transmit information on every ounce that is free poured.  In a recently published case study, Caption details how the Hotel Del Coronado on Coronado Island in San Diego, CA produced an immediate 3.6 point drop in liquor costs by using Beverage Tracker – an improvement that paid for the system in only 3 months.

The first cocktail party ever thrown was by Mrs. Julius S. Walsh Jr. of St. Louis, Missouri, in May 1917.  50 guests were invited to the Walsh mansion at noon on a Sunday for a one hour pre-lunch party.  Surely times were different and RFID-enabled pour spouts were not a topic of conversation at the Walsh house.  But the next time you are out enjoying your favorite cocktail, take a look at the pour spout of the liquor bottle at the bar.  Is RFID is helping manage the perfect pour?

[Image: LiquorInventory.Net]

RFID and the Beverage Market (part 2)

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Aug 24, 2010 @ 12:14 PM

Tags: ePedigree, RFID, Food & Beverage

RFID for Wine Production and Anti-Counterfeiting

In 1985, a bottle of Chateau Lafite, 1787 sold for $160,000 at Christie’s London – the highest price on record for a single bottle of wine.  Apparently the bottle bears Thomas Jefferson’s initials etched into the glass.  At this price, you can bet the buyer went to great lengths to make sure the bottle and the wine were the real McCoy. 

WineFor as long as wine has been made, it has been fraudulently manipulated and counterfeited.  As far back as 1820, German chemist Friedrich Accum noted that wine was one of the commodities most at risk for being misrepresented.  Penalties for producing and distributing fraudulent or “corrupt” wine have been severe.  During the Middle Ages, if a merchant was found selling fraudulent wine, he was forced to drink all of it.  In medieval Germany, the penalty for selling fraudulent wine ranged from branding to beating to death by hanging.

Wine fraud continues, sometimes with deadly consequences for consumers.  In 1986, twenty-tree people died because a winemaker in Italy blended toxic amounts of methanol into his wine to increase its alcohol content.  The less lethal practice of illegal blending also continues, with several wine producers and shippers recently found guilty of blending inexpensive wine with their pricey counterparts to inflate production and increase profit.

Given this long and sometimes lethal history of wine fraud, it should be no surprise that the legitimate wine producers are constantly seeking ways to cambat fraudulent wine production and distribution.  Enter RFID. 

ePedigree

In 2008, eProvenance introduced a bottle seal and authentication system that uses a combination of RFID technologies to create the electronic pedigree for each bottle of wine produced.  Semi-active RFID tags are used to log temperature throughout each bottle’s journey from production to distribution and ultimately to the point of sale.  Passive RFID tags are also attached to the base of each bottle to automate inventory management and discourage theft.  Data collected from these tags enters the eProvenance Online Monitoring System (OMS), providing users with a global start-to-finish view of product authenticity.

Put a (RFID) Cork in It

Taking innovation into the bottle, Lab-Id, has patented an RFID-enabled wine cork that can be encoded with data about the wine including type of grape, bottling date, and alcohol content.  Once in the bottle, SmartCorq can be used by wine producers to improve storage and distribution processes.  Distributors and retailers can read the SmartCorq to determine specific details about each wine bottle, and consumers can be presented information about the wine’s producer and vintage through interaction with a smart retail display.

RFID Labeling

As reported earlier this year, the Tenuta dell'Ornellaia estate in Tuscany plans to implement an RFID system to track the distribution of its wines in order to prevent black market activity and guarantee of authenticity.  The solution includes RFID tags embedded into the back label of the wine bottle, with RFID read points at labeling application machines and warehouse gates.  This system records data from each bottle into a dispatch and customer data base.

Beyond fraud prevention systems, RFID is also being implemented into winemaking and compliance solutions and interactive retail kiosks (see Bacaro at the Zurich Airport).

For wine producers, implementing RFID-enabled solutions provides opportunity for process improvement across many areas of their business - from growing grapes, to making wine, to sales and marketing.  If you have a story to share on these topics or others related to the use of technology in wine production and anti-counterfeiting, please let us know below.

"May your glass be ever full. May the roof over your head be always strong. And may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you're dead." - Old Irish Toast

[photo: William Koch]

RFID and the Beverage Marketplace (part 1)

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Aug 23, 2010 @ 03:53 PM

Tags: RFID, Food & Beverage, Keg Tracking

Thank You Sir!  May I Have Another?

  • Consumers in the U.S. purchased approximately 9.4 billion cases of carbonated soft-drinks in 2009. 
  • According to Slashfood, 51.7 million cases of beer are sold in the week surrounding the Super Bowl and 63 million for Father's Day (way to go dads!).
  • Market research group Mintel reported wine sales reached $27.6 billion dollars in 2009, up from $27 billion in 2008.

The production and sale of soft drinks, bottled waters, beer, wine, spirits and all other non-alcoholic and alcohol drinks makes up a $700 billion global beverage marketplace.  In order to remain competitive, brewers, vineyards, bottlers and distributors need to continuously drive efficiencies into their businesses to create new categories, offer new brands and deliver new products to market to each year. 

Throughout this week we’ll be serving up a few examples of how RFID is being used in the beverage market to drive efficiencies and create new consumer experiences.  Some examples, like keg tracking, have been around for a while - addressing well known asset tracking and supply chain challenges.  Others are newer innovations in the areas of dispensing, sales trend and consumption analysis, and test marketing that companies are using to differentiate themselves in order to maintain a competitive edge.

RFID in the Beverage Supply Chain

kegsFor beverage companies, RFID offers a number of ways to help move products through the supply chain and keep the shelves stocked with drinks when customers are there to purchase them.  RFID solutions speed data capture throughout production cycles and eliminate manual and paper-based processes that are prone to errors and can result in distribution and fulfillment delays.

For example, in April 2009, PepsiCo's Quaker, Gatorade and Tropicana business units began using RFID-enabled pallets from Intelligent Global Pooling Systems (iGPS) in their supply chains.  RFID reading and reporting solutions from iGPS provide improved asset visibility, billing accuracy, reduced loss, and helps companies comply with industry requirements like Sarbannes-Oxley.  iGPS RFID solutions are also being used by The Sunny Delight Beverages Co., a leading producer of juice drinks including brands including SunnyD citrus punch, FruitSimple fruit smoothies, Fruit2O flavored waters, and Veryfine juice drinks. 

To improve the distribution of its products, Ringnes, a subsidiary of the Carlsberg Group and Norway's largest brewery and supplier of bottled water and carbonated drinks, is using an EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID system to track the beverage containers it ships to retailers and as they return from distributors. Surely influenced by its view of ‘a smarter planet’, Ringnes teamed with IBM to source and deploy its RFID infrastructure. RFID Journal covered this news in a detailed case study.

Another area that RFID is being used is beer keg tracking.  Keeping this discussion away from college parties, game-day tailgating and backyard barbecues and instead, focusing on the number of kegs used and returned by bars and restaurants, it may surprise you that over fifty million of these reusable containers are lost or damaged each year.  To combat this loss, several companies have implemented RFID-enabled keg tracking solutions.  A few examples follow.

New Belgium Brewing Co. has implemented Fluensee AssetTrack™ to track the aluminum-and-steel kegs used to distribute the beers it produces at its brewery in Fort Collins, Colo.  The RFID system not only allows New Belgium to track keg location and status, but also provides key customer metrics such as fill-to-fill cycle times and distributor keg turn rates.

Scottish and Newcastle, a subsidiary of Heineken, is using the InteliTap RFID keg tracking and management system to keep track of 2.1 million kegs.  InteliTap is also working with other major brewers including Carlsberg UK and Molson Coors.

So, the next time you tip back a tall frosty beer (origins dating back to the 6th millennium BC), sip your favorite Cabernet Sauvignon (first plantings in the 18th century), fill up a fountain drink (Coca-Cola was invented in 1886), serve your kids a SunnyD (first manufactured in 1964), or contemplate what next year’s favorite flavor is going to be, share your thoughts about how technologies like RFID have impacted your beverage choices.  You’ll be the hit of the party – I promise.  Or, you can share them with us.  We’d like to hear from you.

Oncology Solution Uses RFID to Improve Patient Experience

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Aug 20, 2010 @ 11:36 AM

Tags: RFID, Healthcare, Oncology

Because it Takes More Than Courage to Beat Cancer

This week in Boston is an important one.  On Thursday, Aug. 19 and Friday, Aug. 20, local sports radio network WEEI and the New England Sports Network (NESN) are teaming up to host the 9th annual WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio Telethon.

The tradition began in 2002 when WEEI teamed up with the Boston Red Sox and the Jimmy Fund to broadcast an 18-hour radiothon to help fight cancer in children and adults.  This first event raised $325,000 in one day.  In 2003, NESN joined and the 2nd annual event raised more than $1 million. Over the past eight years, this event has raised more than $21 million for research and care at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  As in the past, this year’s 36-hour broadcast features interviews with Dana-Farber patients, doctors, researchers and nurses, and believe me, it makes for an emotional drive time.  The groups have a goal of raising $5 million during this week’s activities.

As covered in a recent ThingMagic whitepaper, hospitals have been early adopters of new technologies such as RFID to deliver the best patient care possible.  RFID helps hospitals answer the most fundamental questions of knowing who and where its patients and resources are.  With this data, hospitals can enhance a number of processes related to asset management, patient tracking and throughput, inventory control, patient-centric services, and infection control.

With RFID able to support such a wide range of healthcare applications, it is not a surprise that several RFID-enabled innovations have emerged in the area of cancer treatment (see an earlier ThingMagic blog post detailing how The Disney Family Cancer Center has deployed an RFID-enabled system that enhances patient treatment experiences).  In a similar effort to create a better treatment experience for cancer patients, ThingMagic partner XECAN offers an RFID oncology solution deigned to improve the operational efficiency of hospitals. XECAN’s RFID oncology solution enables automated patient queuing, patient chart and treatment plan opening, and accessory verification for treatment devices – delivering new efficiencies in radiation therapy.

XECANWith this solution, patients are greeted as soon as they walk into the clinic and their arrivals are automatically queued in the EMR scheduler with no need for bar-code scanning - creating a personalized experience and reducing wait times. Through this integration with the hospital's EMR system, as soon as patients enter a CT Sim or radiation vault, their personal treatment charts or treatment plans are opened.  Further, the XECAN oncology solution supports the tracking and management of treatment devices such as thermoplastic masks, headrests, breast-boards, belly-boards, vac-lok cushions, custom block, and compensator trays.  XECAN’s fixed and handheld RFID readers allow hospital staff to track where these devices are located in order to provide an efficient care experience.

Casting a broad net, the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio Telethon has only two criteria for taking donations - you can donate if you know someone who has battled cancer.  Or, you can donate if you don’t know anyone who has battled cancer.  From the fundraising power of the talking heads on radio and TV to the innovations delivered by today’s technology experts, we’re moving a few steps closer to prevent, treat, and cure cancer.

What other types of patient-centric applications would you like to see made possible? Respond with your ideas here.

The Appliance Approach to RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Aug 19, 2010 @ 12:10 PM

Tags: RFID, Asset Tracking, RFID Appliances

Combining Read Points and Auditing For Asset Tracking

“If you have garbage in, you get garbage out and I need to make sure that I am capturing all the data I possibly can.  By doing that, it means I’ve got the best performance on the front-end in capturing the data versus anyone else on the market.”

The above statement from Jack Romaine, CEO of Element ID, Inc. is how market leaders think when evaluating technology and making choices that can make or break their ability to deliver quality Auto Identification products in a competitive market.

Element IDFor years, companies have benefited from using barcodes to track their assets.  But how should they transition to using newer technologies?  With the growing adoption of RFID, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based Element ID recognized that companies could benefit significantly by leveraging their existing infrastructure when moving from barcodes to other auto ID technologies.  To ease this transition they developed a complete RFID system product or ‘appliance’. 

With previous experience developing their own High Frequency (HF) RFID solutions from the ground up, Element ID sought to take advantage of existing embedded RFID reader technology to build a family of Ultra High Frequency (UHF) Appliances.  Today,UHF Series Logo the company’s UHF Series Appliances consist of an RFID Reader + Automation System Controller + Embedded Linux PC – all in a single box.  In providing this total solution, Element ID gives its customers all the benefits of RFID without asking them to spend extra money on new infrastructure – all while maintaining the benefits they are used to with barcodes and other auto ID equipment.

RFID Appliances in Action

Element ID UHF Series Appliances are targeted at companies needing a cost-effective solution for the tracking of high-value assets throughout a building, such as IT assets, or lab or hospital equipment.  One particular application where having a complete appliance is much more cost effective is in the tracking of high-value assets such as IT equipment.  In this context, the Element ID solution consists of three parts:

Elevator read point – An Element ID UA1200 appliance is mounted in the elevator and functions autonomously to gather data as assets are moved from floor to floor. 

Standard read points throughout the building – The Element ID UA1200 solution requires no middleware and data is delivered directly to the asset management software the customer already owns.

Auditing component – An Element ID UA1000i appliance is run off a battery and placed on a cart.  The IT department wheels the cart around to inventory asset tags.  Data can be delivered over Wi-Fi or stored on the reader and downloaded when the employee returns to her desk.

Putting all of these pieces together gives the customer a complete solution for tracking high-value assets.  While the scenario described above for tracking IT equipment, Element ID also could be used for semiconductor or pharmaceutical companies tracking expensive lab equipment, or a hospital with expensive equipment.

We’re interested in your thoughts on how RFID appliances could benefit your business.  Please comment below.

RFID and Social Networks

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Aug 18, 2010 @ 02:56 PM

Tags: RFID, Social Networks, Coca Cola, Facebook Places

RFID Brings the Digital ‘Like' to the Physical World

[Update on August 20]: Who, What, When, and Now...Where. Will Facebook Places extend the Digital Like?

Originally published on Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Like DislikeI expect this topic will result in equal amounts of “Likes” and “Dislikes”.  Regardless of your position, let us know what you think…

At Facebook’s f8 developer conference a couple of months ago, the company announced its testing of RFID for location-based services.  Upon registering, conference attendees were given RFID tags to swipe at check in stations located throughout the conference venue.  Called “Facebook Presence”, this solution provided a visualization of people’s ‘check-ins’ and enabled users to post presence-based information, tag photos, and link to other content simply by swiping their RFID card – removing the need to manually post updates via a computer or mobile device.  Apparently, Facebook has been using this solution internally for a very unique application.  Deployed at its headquarters “Keg Presence” provides a stream of information that lets users know what type of beer is being served from the company keg and when it is empty.  I’m a Facebook user and sometimes enjoy refreshments on Friday afternoons at the office, so I think I get it.

While Keg Presence may offer limited value outside of Facebook’s four walls, I’ve always thought that some day RFID and social networks would collide.  With RFID able to record many events in the physical world and social networks being used by so many individuals and businesses, the convergence of these technologies and platforms has to result in some practical applications, right?

Coca Cola + Facebook + RFID + Teens = Influence

Enter Coca Cola, Facebook, RFID, and a bunch of tech savvy teenagers.  This summer Facebook, the Coca-Cola village in Israel, and a couple of experiential marketing agencies (Promarket and Publicis E Dologic) teamed to bring the Facebook ‘Like’ out of the virtual world and into the physical world.  Coke organized a hangout called The Coca Cola Village and invited thousands of teens to attend.  It wasn’t an old fashioned direct mailer they used to attract participants though. They required participants to collect 10 Coke bottle caps each, gather eight friends who did the same, and then register through Facebook.

Upon arrival at the Coca Cola Village, party-goers were asked to configure an RFID-enabled wristband that would hold their Facebook login and password.  Attendees swiped their wristband when starting a variety of activities throughout the venue.   Each swipe updated a person’s Facebook status with what they were doing - automatically digitalizing, archiving, organizing, and sharing their physical experience with the virtual world.  It is reported that the three day event attracted over 650 teenagers a day, generated 35,000+ posts a day, totaling over 100,000 posts for the event. 

Social networks, permission marketing, crowdsourcing, and tribe building offer new ways and tools for companies to develop, market, and sell products.  From renowned entrepreneur and author Seth Godin in a post on his blog titled Tribe Management:

“It starts with permission, the understanding that the real asset most organizations can build isn't an amorphous brand but is in fact the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them.”

I’ve not seen any ROI data, but I have to think that some purchasing influence was achieved by having a tribe of consumers sharing, discussing and promoting the Coca Cola brand on a social media platform that serves over 500 million active users.

Like?

E is for Agriculture?

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Aug 17, 2010 @ 02:45 PM

Tags: RFID, Food Safety, Agriculture

How RFID Enables Sustainable Forrest Management, Accurate Apricot Harvesting and Food Safety

e-agricultureWe’ve all heard of e-commerce, e-learning and e-pharma - but e-agriculture?  E-Agriculture is a relatively new term that is used to describe the application of information and communication technologies across all aspects of agriculture related industries including crop cultivation, water management and harvesting - to post harvesting activities like processing, food transportation, packaging, preservation, quality management and storage.

In a previous post, we discussed how ThingMagic partner Harvest Tec is integrating RFID into hay baling machines to improve the quality of hay for livestock consumption and to increase its market value.  Here are a few more e-agriculture examples:

Next-Generation Dendrochronology

Tree rings tell the life story of a tree. For each year a tree ages, another ring adds itself to the inside of the trunk. Analyzing tree rings can provide information about the age of the tree, what the climate was like during its life, if it was damaged in any way and if it encountered drought conditions.  Taking a step beyond dendrochronology (the science of studying tree rings to date past events), RFID is being used by commercial growers to collect data about the lineage of trees for planting, harvesting and sales purposes.

Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods (HLH) is one company implementing RFID for these purposes.  Situated on Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano in Hawaii, HLH raises koa trees for furniture building.  The trees begin their life in biodegradable pots in a nursery with a corresponding RFID tag placed in the soil.  Each RFID tag stores data about a tree’s lineage which is referenced at the time of planting in order to maintain a diversified and healthy forest.  At planting, a second RFID tag is placed in the soil next to the tree, raised high enough to be read from a distance of ten feet.  As the trees age, the tags are updated to include fertilization records and other growth related information.  Each field of trees is also mapped out according to latitude and longitude coordinates and the GPS location of each tree is stored on the tag as well.  Handheld RFID readers are used to acquire data from the trees which is periodically uploaded to HLH business systems.  At the time of harvesting, investors interested in purchasing koa tree timber are presented with each tree's lineage and growth data to help with their purchase decisions.

An Apricot Grower In The Know

Qew Orchards in Tasmania is one of the largest apricot orchards in the southern hemisphere.  To improve how they manage their commission-based picking process they’ve turned to RFID to track each picker’s daily progress.  Replacing an inefficient and cumbersome paper-based system with an RFID solution, Qew Orchards now issues employees an RFID-enabled picker card and RFID crate tags.  The ruggedized credit card sized tags are associated with the picker ID card at the beginning of each day.  When crates full of apricots are moved onto an RFID-enabled scale, the crate number and picker productivity is tallied and sent off to payroll.  With this system, pickers are guaranteed to receive compensation for each crate they turn in.

Food Safety

As noted in a previous post titled Addressing Food Safety Issues with RFID, we pointed out how there is an incredible opportunity, if not a responsibility, for growers, distributors and retailers to expand their use of technology, not just to enhance efficiencies, but to create value for their customers in ways that promote health and safety.  One such system is being developed by the University of Arizona's School of Plant Sciences.  The system uses RFID and GPS to allow farmers and retailers to trace lettuce through the supply chain while offering farmers a better view into the productivity of their fields.  Beyond the use of RFID and other communication technologies to drive efficiencies into the produce supply chain, just think about how this type of system could help prevent outbreaks of E. coli and food safety concerns.

If you have an e-agriculture success story or project that could benefit from RFID, please let us know.

(image source: yellowpages.com)

The House Bets on RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Aug 16, 2010 @ 11:03 AM

Tags: RFID, Asset Tracking, Hospitality

Giving new meaning to the ‘eye in the sky’

Remember the movie Rain Man when Dustin Hoffman’s character Raymond Babbitt, an autistic savant, used his keen photographic memory to count cards to win at Black Jack?  In real-life, counting cards is a strategy that casinos deal with as part of the business.  Although, lucky for them, not many people have such an ability and using devices to count cards is illegal.  Yet they still must protect themselves by watching players very closely.

Casinos also face another challenge every day.  It’s the poker chips.  Even if you aren’t a gambler, you probably know that players accumulate chips (if they’re lucky) representing their winnings, which eventually turn into money in their hands.  The chips themselves don’t pose the challenge. They have a little help.  Players have tried to come up with ways to win big by using the chips in a way not intended by the casino.  If you guessed counterfeiting and smuggling, you’re a winner!

Casino ChipsIn a previous blog post we saw how the horticulture industry hopes to put an end to counterfeit containers with RFID.  Casinos are using RFID for very similar reasons.  By using an RFID-based tracking system, casinos can verify the authenticity and value of each chip in seconds.  In turn they can put an end to counterfeit chips and staff pilferage, as well as honest errors in cashier counts. This technology enables casinos to track each chip throughout the casino.  Specialized readers and software lets the casinos monitor and collect information on payments, fills and credits, table drops, tips, and win and losses per table.

One such solution is provided by Gaming Partners International Corporation which has provided more than 70,000 casino chips and plaques to the Viage entertainment and gaming complex grand opening earlier this year.  The chips and plaques, which are from the Company's Bourgogne & Grasset line of casino currency products, were fitted with 125 KHz RFID micro chips.

Aside from keeping an eye on counterfeiters and smugglers, RFID-enabled processes can help increase the speed of various casino actions.  As reported by RFIDNews, at The Global Gaming Expo Asia in June, GPI introduced its new RFIDPoker application, which automates continuous readings of the poker pots, charges and rakes.   With this type of system, casinos can obtain data and statistics to analyze table and game performances, round-ups lists and daily totals.  Also by GPI, an RFID Cage application serves as countertop reader that works in three dimensions so cage operators can read chips whether they are in stacks, in chip racks or in a pile. Now that’s cool.

So when that player tries to make a look-alike chip to double his money, or when that cashier thinks about taking a few loose chips home, they should remember that the eye in the sky has a new friend and its name is RFID.  

RFID for Document Management

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Aug 13, 2010 @ 09:00 AM

Tags: RFID, Asset Tracking, Document Management

Giving Valuable Documents a Digital Identity

In many industries, the value of a printed document can be substantially higher than an equivalent weight of currency.  Losing or misplacing important documents such as health records and legal documents can have undesired security, confidentiality and financial consequences. 

To avoid the loss of critical media, some organizations are embedding RFID tags into valuable documents so they can be located and tracked in real time.  With RFID, these documents inherit a digital identity, giving staff the ability to search for and locate them as easy as clicking the search button on an Internet search page. 

While we’ve touched on the following RFID document management implementation in a previous blog post, we think it is worth expanding on as another example of users naturally interacting with RFID and where the technology is so integrated and transparent that it disappears into its environment.

An Industry Breakthrough for Florida AG’s Office

In a four storey Attorney General’s office in Florida, tracking down one of 21,000 available case files can be a nightmare. The file in question could be in any department, on any employee’s desk or misplaced somewhere no one would think to look.   

At the Florida State Attorney’s 15th Judicial Circuit Office, the file could also have made it over to the adjacent Palm Beach County Courthouse next door.  In order to locate this file for an approaching court date or deadline, mass emails would have to be sent to notify every employee.   In the Felony Department it was not unusual for all 120 staff members to stop what they are doing to focus all energy on the missing file.  This system is completely inefficient and on average could waste twenty minutes of employees’ time, adding up to $54,000 annually.

Florida AG Document TrackingWhen RFID was first suggested as the answer, cost per tag was around $5 which was far too expensive for the extensive case file collection.  Once UHF came on the market, the price dropped from dollars to pennies per tag, making RFID a much more realistic goal.  For their solution, the office turned to InnerWireless for their Wi-Fi tracking expertise.  InnerWireless specializes in accommodating wireless into existing buildings effectively, especially in the healthcare and government sectors. The proposed system used Alien Squiggle tags printed from a Zebra label printer and ThingMagic Mercury5 Readers which were chosen for their 100% read rates and market-leading performance.  Extensive testing of the Zebra printed labels such as moving tagged files in groups was done to ensure 100% accuracy.  After the successful field trial, CIO Dan Zinn organized a group of ten colleagues to make sure the project would fulfill everyone in the building’s needs.  In the end, 18,000 files were tagged with passive RFID tags and 300 employee badges were equipped with active RFID tags. Back end systems integrated into the readers allow employees to access the document tracking system right from their PC.  At any moment they can log on and see where the file in question is and who it is with. Delays from missing files are cut down to almost zero. Mass “missing file” emails asking employees to check which files they have are a thing of the past.

The Attorney’s Office went on to expand their system after a few years and turned to ThingMagic partner SimplyRFID. ThingMagic Astra Readers were chosen for their power-over-Ethernet capabilities and their easy integration into the building.  The office estimates that their $100,000 system paid for itself in less than 18 months.

“We think that this project was an industry breakthrough.  We addressed a mission-critical business problem with an RFID solution that has exceeded the goals identified at the onset of the project,” said Zinn.

Wouldn’t it be nice if confidential earnings releases, merger and acquisition memos, health records and legal documents could message their owners if they left the building?

Process Manufacturing with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Aug 12, 2010 @ 10:00 AM

Tags: Process manufacturing, WIP, RFID

WIP it Good - Vaillant Group Uses RFID for Automation within One-Man Boiler Manufacturing Process

It’s hard to think about it now, but imagine if your boiler breaks down in the middle of the coldest night in January.  Imagine if it’s because one part was put in the wrong place during the assembly process.  That would make for cold, unhappy home or building owners.

Believe it or not, in this day and age when lean, fully automated manufacturing processes are adopted across industries, boiler manufactures still make products on an individual, customized basis.  This because of the meticulous quality necessary to ensure the product doesn’t fail when it’s needed the most.  It is also because homes and buildings in which boilers are installed are different, requiring customization.

So, how do boiler manufacturers go about infusing any kind of automation into these processes?  A great answer to that question is to look at how the leading European heating technology manufacturer, Vaillant Group, uses RFID to drive efficiencies in monitoring work-in-progress.

Vaillant Group has a 135 year pedigree in heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.  From their first patent in 1894 (for a closed system boiler for heating water) to their recent innovations with fuel cell and heat pump technologies, Vaillant Group is now Europe’s number one heating technology manufacturer with sales of over €2.4 billion, employing over 13,000 people in eight countries.

Vaillant Group’s manufacturing in the UK concentrates on high efficiency domestic boilers.  The Belper plant has a track record in achieving significant increases in production volume and manufacturing efficiency.

Boiler production at Belper depends on a one-man-build approach, with assembly staff moving the boiler chassis on a trolley through a 15 stage manufacturing process. The operations conducted at each stage depend on the required final specification of the boiler.  Monitoring work in progress so that each boiler chassis follows every step in the right order is necessary to maintain product quality. Making best use of the production lines is vital for keeping manufacturing costs down.

RFID Keeps the Trolleys on Track

The Vaillant Group approach to manufacturing control uses RFID to monitor the movement of boilers through the assembly process and to trigger guidance to operators on which manufacturing step is needed next, as well as provide visibility to each boiler during process.  By automatically detecting the arrival of a chassis at a manufacturing stage the Vaillant Group system can power up the tools at the station only as they are required for use. This makes sure that each manufacturing and test stage is followed in the correct sequence (a chassis at the wrong stage doesn’t allow the power tools to be used). If a chassis is removed from the production flow (because of non-availability of parts for example), then the chassis can be automatically returned to the correct production stage when parts became available.

Core RFIDThe Belper production facility uses four lines each with eighteen stages. Each stage has two stations that allow the line to function as a single or twin track line.  The monitoring system uses battery assisted passive RFID tags on the trolleys to identify which boiler is at which station at which stage and ThingMagic Astra RFID readers that link back to the production flow management software system.  ThingMagic consulting partner CoreRFID recommended the use of Astra RFID reader because of its dual antenna capability, allowing it to handle the two stations at each manufacturing stage with a single reader.

Richard Sainsbury, Industrial Engineering Manager for Vaillant Group UK, summarized the benefits. “The RFID system links directly to our production management system providing immediate information where individual boilers are in the line. The RFID solution improves quality by ensuring each boiler has exactly the right manufacturing steps carried out in the correct sequence.”

Not that we are wishing the summer away, but when you fire up your boiler for the first time this fall/winter, you can think of how RFID can make a difference on how reliable it could be.

Construction Management with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Aug 11, 2010 @ 10:00 AM

Tags: RFID, Tool Tracking, Construction

Tool Tracking, Heavy Equipment Management and Next-Generation 4-Dimensional Building Information Modeling

Construction companies and maintenance organizations face a unique set of asset management and operational challenges during the best of times.  Given the tight economic and budget conditions we face today, keeping a closer eye on the location of tools and equipment, and ensuring a safe working environment is more important than ever.

Having access to timely and accurate information about the location and status of critical assets such as tools and equipment are directly related to the successful completion of a project and a company’s bottom line.  With the advanced technologies and innovations in the construction industry, it has become both technically and economically viable to integrate the use of automated data collection methods – like RFID - into daily operations. 

Deploying an RFID system involves individually tagging each tool or piece of equipment and then outfitting warehouses, trucks or kiosks with RFID readers.  A comprehensive RFID system can be implemented at a low cost to the customer and provide significant improvements across all areas of the construction process.  Here are a few examples:

Tool Tracking on Vehicles

Normally, trucks leaving work sites have to manually take inventory of all their equipment. More often that not, a piece of this equipment is inadvertently left behind, forcing the company to pay to replace it.  Other times an assignment might call for a specific tool or piece of machinery that has been misplaced.  Looking for the missing item wastes labor hours and wages paid during the time spent searching.

With an RFID-enabled tool tracking solution, employees loading a truck headed to a work site can take inventory in a matter of seconds and retrieve any misplaced or forgotten items.  Upon completion of the job, inventory can be taken again to prevent leaving valuable tools behind.

OK – you didn’t think we could go too long without mentioning Tool Link in our 100 Uses of RFID campaign did you!  Ford Work Solutions™ Tool Link™ uses UHF RFID technology to tell you what's in your truck and what isn't.  This solution is a prime example of the growing number of innovative solutions where users and consumers can naturally interact with RFID and sensors and where the technology is so integrated and transparent that it disappears into its environment. 

Construction Site Tool Tracking

Atlas RFID, a professional service agency dedicated to improving business processes in all fields of RFID, has created a tool tracking solution using ThingMagic USB Readers.

Atlas RFID Atlas RFID Atlas RFID

Atlas’s Asset Management System (AMS) not only tracks tools and equipment, but also the personnel involved.  In addition to the loss prevention and elimination of inefficiencies, Atlas AMS also has the ability to check compliance with safety regulations and inspection.  When tools are passed by the self-service kiosk, this data is displayed up on the user friendly touch screen, allowing a worker to take action if required.

Heavy Equipment Management

Heavy equipment providers that lease cranes, bulldozers and other machinery are testing or deploying RFID to keep track of assets and monitor their use in order to maximize lease revenues. In addition, these companies are testing RFID to keep tabs on workers to ensure both safety and productivity.

RFID and Sensors for Maintenance and Building Information Modeling

The integration of RFID and sensors into building material is finding its way into Building Information Modeling (BIM), allowing construction firms to generate and manage real-time building data during its life cycle to increase productivity in building design and construction.

For example, tagging of building components allows one to perform authentication and lifetime maintenance of construction materials such as concrete blocks, steel beams and piping.  RFIDS in environmentally stressed materials can be monitored for the lifetime of a building, measuring strain, temperature and moisture to deliver a profile of building with very high resolution in real-time for real-time control.

Let us know your thoughts on how RFID and sensors can be used in the construction industry.  Please share your success stories with us.

Improving Farming with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Aug 10, 2010 @ 10:00 AM

Tags: RFID, Sensors, Agriculture

Making Hay with RFID

Farming includes a wide spectrum of agricultural activities. At one end is the subsistence farmer, who farms a small area with limited resources.  At the other end is commercial and industrial agriculture farming which involves large fields, large numbers of animals, and a high level of mechanization and efficiency.  While farming has been around for a long time (reportedly since 8000 BC!), the ways in which land is farmed and is constantly evolving.  As a result, each acre farmed is producing more food for more people – an important trend given the world’s population growth trends.

When you think of RFID and sensors being used in the agriculture and farming industries, tracking livestock with low frequency (LF) RFID tags to automate processes like feeding, weighing, and disease management may come to mind.  Or, maybe using RFID and sensors for food security and cold chain systems.  But hey, what about automating hay harvesting?

Harvesting Hay with RFID

Harvesting hay is a very precise process with a very large impact on the success of a farm’s feeding program.  Not only do livestock get nourishment from eating hay, but farmers who harvest hay need it to be top quality in order to sell it for a good price.  Hay is at its prime during a specific one week period during its maturation.  Passed that point, it becomes coarse and dry and much of its nutritional value has faded. Once the hay is cut, it then has to be dried and then baled. Tracking the moisture levels in bales is one of the most important aspects of the entire hay baling process.  A bale with a moisture content above 20% is at risk for spontaneous combustion due to elevated heat levels during its respiration process.  Any bale harvested below 12% has experienced field losses, leading to low feeding value and yield losses.

As with any job or process, not everything always goes perfectly and in the business of hay harvesting, the quality of some bales turn out to be better than others.  Cows’ multiple stomachs can properly digest hay at many different qualities - even moldy. But, the production of milk and meat from cows fed high quality hay is significantly higher than those fed a lower quality.  Other animals such as horses are at a higher risk of getting sick from eating bad hay – elevating the need for growers to produce high quality hay for these species.

What was once managed manually can now be done much more efficiently with newer technology and machinery.  Advances in baling equipment have led to the production of large square bales that have increased field harvesting capacities and mechanized handling and feeding.  Bales can now be created by one tractor that cuts and rolls it in one step.  Conditioners are available to speed up the drying process and now – believe it or not - RFID tags are being incorporated to monitor every detail about each individual bale.

In the Field with Harvest Tec

Harvest Tec

ThingMagic partner Harvest Tec offers a useful RFID Bale Identification Systems add-on for three popular hay baler machines: AGCO, New Holland, and Case IH.  Harvest Tec chose to develop RFID-enabled solutions because of the technology’s widespread use across many industries and low cost per tag.  In their solution, as the bales are leaving the tractor a thin RFID tag is wrapped around one of the twine holding the hay together.  On this small tag, all of the data essential for farmers is stored.  With either a handheld or tractor mounted reader anyone can see which field the hay came from, on what date it was harvested, average and high moisture levels, temperature, weight, amount of preservatives used, latitude and longitude of the position the bale was harvested from, and a unique ID number.  With this valuable information, farmers can distribute hay to their livestock and ensure it is of consistent quality.

The rest of the hay can be sold for a higher price since the buyer knows exactly how nutritious each bale is.  Bales with too much moisture or mold can be removed from a stack so they don’t contaminate the rest of the bales.  These bales can then be efficiently used to feed cows or other uses where top quality is not a priority.

Harvest Tec has produced a few cool videos and have them posted on their website.  Check them out and let us know about other areas of the agriculture and farming industries that you feel can benefit from the use RFID.

Designer RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Aug 09, 2010 @ 10:00 AM

Tags: RFID, Retail, Item Level RFID

Enhancing the Shopping Experience While Boosting the Bottom Line

Remember when your casual wardrobe was dominated by Levis or Wrangler jeans and Izod shirts? And in the 80s we branched out to don Jordache, Polo and Z. Cavaricci. Some of you probably had parachute pants and a velour jumpsuit in your closet. Admit it. Don’t worry, we won’t tell.  Despite the few fashion choices and faux pas we may have made years ago, we all still have one thing in common – we want an easy way to get our favorite styles and brands.

Well there is a whole new world of shopping out there today, which includes more malls, specialty boutiques and the vast online retail experience. And with this diversity in stores and more brands and styles to choose from, the need for a better way to make sure products are on the shelf when shoppers are in the store is driving retailers and their suppliers to innovate. And that is a good thing – especially for those of us who want the latest designer denim!

But it’s not just about track and trace and supply chain efficiency anymore. That is so 2005. It’s about creating a better shopping experience for the customer and higher sales figures for the seller. In fact, according to Reik Read’s RFID Monthly - Apparel Supplement, “Improved receipt, faster cycle counts and greater inventory visibility have freed up over 175 labor hours per month at each of the 10 RFID-enabled American Apparel stores. The analysis suggests that American Apparel could save $27,000 annually per store through reduced labor. However, we expect at least a portion of labor savings can, and should, be redeployed to help drive revenue through increased customer interaction.”

Enter ThingMagic partner TAGSYS.  TAGSYS has deployed its RFID solutions within a number of retailers’ production supply chains, bringing significant operational benefits both in logistics and retail, with an average ROI of less than 18 months.  Notable retail customers include:

Rica LewisRica Lewis, the leading supplier of jean apparel to major European retail stores. It sells more than 5 million pairs of jeans each year. Rica Lewis is using the TAGSYS “RFID for Fashion” solution to deliver a better customer experience and improved store efficiencies. Its RFID implementation delivers complete real-time visibility of its merchandise from distribution to the Point of Sale. Each sales manager from Rica Lewis is equipped with portable RFID readers enabling them to perform rapid inventory of items directly on the sales floor, greatly improving the efficiency of retail distribution. Initial results have demonstrated that the previous manual inventory has been reduced by more than 80%.

Serge Blanco, a French luxury sportswear designer and retailer, tracks more than 1.5 million items per year at its distribution centers. The company uses TAGSYS “RFID for Retail” which incorporates UHF garment hang tags, HHU-400 handheld readers, the SRU-400 point of sale reader, UHF Security Gate for theft prevention and TAGSYS’ e-Connectware software, which manages RFID data and processes.

At Serge Blanco, the merchandise is received into the back room and then moved to the retail floor. The RFID tags are read as they pass through UHF RFID reader portals positioned at a variety of checkpoints. Information is recorded and the inventory is automatically updated in the store’s management database. Fitting rooms are also equipped with RFID readers so that Serge Blanco can assess conversion rates of products based on what customers try on versus what they actually purchase. Inventory on the shelves also is performed regularly so that the right items are available to customers and not hidden away in the back room.

These are just a few examples of the natural applicability of RFID technology in the Fashion & Apparel supply chain.  Tremendous opportunities for improved customer satisfaction exist when the RFID infrastructure is integrated into the IT system, allowing brand manufacturers and retailers to have access to actionable information in real-time.

Innovations like these make sure that I can get my straight fit sable ples marques aux pouches Rica Lewis jeans when I want them.  And what CEO or VP of Sales wouldn’t want the level of knowledge that RFID provides, to help drive their business forward?

RFID Takes on Container Fraud

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Aug 06, 2010 @ 11:10 AM

Tags: Loss Prevention, RFID, Container Tracking

Horticulture Partnership Takes a Giant Step for its Industry 

When you think of counterfeiting, it's things like $100 bills, documents, watches and signatures that usually come to mind. But would you ever think of containers? Somehow that doesn’t seem like it would attract the black market. But where there is easy money to be had, even containers don’t go unnoticed. And the window of time in which they can be intercepted is quite big. Often times they must go through customs and pass inspection at various sites on overseas trips and it’s at those spots that the containers are stolen, identification tags are falsified and they are lost in the system forever.

Previous tracking and identification methods proved fruitless

Counterfeiters aren’t the only ones to blame for missing containers. Needless to say, it’s no easy task to monitor containers on long journeys. Aside from being stolen, they are often misplaced or damaged. Container Centralen (CC), the most widespread returnable transport item (RTI) pooling system in the European flower and pot plant industry, has 3.5 million containers and 25 million Freshboxes, as well as many other RTIs like trolleys in circulation around the world. It and other horticulture companies would authenticate the carts visually with specific padlocks, metal plates with serial numbers and bar-coded labels. But dirt and the environment made the bar codes illegible and the counterfeiters could easily duplicate the visual identifiers. CC was replacing about 150,000 trolleys a year that were missing or stolen. It was time to put a stop to it.

The horticulture industry takes action

CC CartCC formed a partnership with other organizations to launch a project called ‘Operation Chip It’ that would implement RFID to address container loss and improve its overall efficiency. Because this was deemed a very large and important project (a $16.6 million project to be exact) CC enlisted IBM to design the hardware and Confidex to custom design the tags. Handheld RFID scanners suitable for different types of CC container users have also been certified for the project, including several from PANMOBIL and Nordic ID that include ThingMagic embedded RFID modules

So how does the system address counterfeiting?  Containers with falsified identification tags will not be accepted into the CC Pool System.  If a user returns a container with fake tags at a CC depot, a failed reading will result and it will be refused at the door – period.  Being able to read the RFID tags guarantees Container Centralen and its customer against receiving counterfeit CC Containers. 

Since its inception in 1976, CC has regularly replaced the identification tags on its containers.  This latest tagging project is the fifth for CC and the first one using RFID.  Imagine the cost savings for both CC and its users if counterfeit containers are squeezed out of the system and no longer need to be replaced!

Aside from thwarting counterfeiters, the RFID application yields additional benefits. Since the container is often used as a display unit in stores, the flowers and plants can be tracked from the grower to the consumer, eliminating the need for product handling in between. As a result, the risk of damaged goods goes way down and overall distribution costs also decrease.

And the project continues. The partnership will take the RFID initiative to the next phase once the first tagging phase is complete. Next, the horticulture industry will use RFID to track and trace processes, automate ordering and decrease paperwork. It probably won’t be long before the millions of dollars invested in the RFID project will be paid back with dividends.

Given the large scale of the project, CC is taking significant steps to educate its customers on the value of implementing RFID. CC has established an Operation Chip It web site, they are hosting webinars and training sessions, distributing program brochures and posters, and have even established dedicated web stores with its partners to simplify the purchase of certified scanner hardware.

What other industries are susceptible to fraud, loss and damage that should consider using RFID? 

RFID Enabled Smart Shelves

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Aug 05, 2010 @ 09:52 AM

Tags: RFID, Retail, Smart Shelves

Out of Stock?  I’m Out of Here!

In the current economy, retail businesses are challenged with increased pressures to continue growing their store over store revenues while containing and reducing costs.  Stores have adjusted their work days to reduce costs, redundant staff has been laid off and inventories have been leaned along other cuts to help stores survive a drop in consumer spending.  Despite these changes, a process retail stores must remain invested in to be successful is accurately inventorying its products.  In order to ensure items are available when a shopper wants them, valuable store labor is spent counting items, replenishing low stock and dealing with over-stocks.

One innovation which is helping retailers address these issues and streamline retail floor efficiency is the ‘Smart Shelf’.  Smart shelves - or wireless inventory control systems - use RFID tags and readers to scan the contents of display and stock shelves and alert store employees when product levels are running low or when theft is detected.  Data feeds from smart shelves can also be integrated into inventory management and supply chain systems to help with overall inventory analysis, determine purchase trends and monitor in-store promotions.

Minneapolis based Seeonic Inc., has developed smart shelf equipment and corresponding software to incorporate into a store display or fixture.  Their product named SightWare, integrates ThingMagic’s M5e Readers and some of the thinnest and lightest antennas ever made.  Up to sixteen of these tiny antennas can be connected at once, providing 100% read rates and complete product visibility.  Seeonic’s corresponding data management software, Seeniq, processes all of the data and enables access on the web to both suppliers and retailers with real time visibility of exactly what is on the shelves and more importantly – what is not.  A demonstration of Seeonic’s shelf reading technology can be seen in a video they created at the University of Arkansas.

Seeonic Smart Shelves in Action

Tomorrow's MotherIn 2008, maternity clothing supplier Tomorrow’s Mother turned to Seeonic to help them improve their business. With Seeonic’s smart shelf solution, Tomorrow’s Mother was able to monitor and manage their current in-stock levels online and could ship out garments before any inventory problems arose.  The four by five foot display racks incorporates a single RFID reader with a 2 foot read range which calculates if an item is no longer available for sale.  Data from the reader can then be analyzed along with point of sale data to determine how many items were actually purchased and stocked, allowing the retailer to make sure the display was optimally inventoried. Over time the real time data can provide both the retailer and the manufacturer a tempo to consumer demand which was previously unavailable to them and most importantly help them better plan their forecasting and replenishment cycles.

RFID-enabled smart shelves, medical cabinets and other storage units offer great promise for improving item-level inventory management for retail, pharmaceutical, library and many other markets.  Combined with smart displays and other innovations throughout the supply chain, we’re moving a step closer to the next revolution in wireless and mobility – where significant process improvements and unique personal experiences are realized through the use of RFID and sensing technologies.

What are your thoughts on where smart shelves will have the biggest impact?  We’d like to hear from retailers and other users too.  What needs do you have related to RFID performance and smart shelf design?

Specialty Retail Inventory Management with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Aug 04, 2010 @ 08:58 AM

Tags: Specialty Retailers, Retail, Item Level RFID

From Diamond Dealers to Pawn Shops, RFID Allows Small Retailers to Compete with Big Box Stores

Over 400,000 specialty retail stores operate in the US, with combined annual sales of about $350 billion.  Targeting narrowly selected markets, specialty retailers include auto parts suppliers, book stores, camera shops, garden centers, jewelry stores, office supply centers and even pawn shops.

There are many success stories of RFID-enabled handheld scanners and portals being used for inventory in the mass apparel and footwear markets.  Whether counting jeans or Jordans, using RFID for retail floor inventory has been proven to take a fraction of the time it takes to complete a manual inventory and is one of the primary reasons cited by Wal-Mart for rolling out a new item level RFID program to track clothing.

But what about smaller specialty retailers?  Does the same hold true for counting diamond rings and digital cameras?

Given the fragmentation of the specialty retail market, it can be difficult for these stores to stand out.  Because of this, it is important for specialty retailers to take advantage of technology to increase efficiencies so they can compete with larger mass retailers not only on customer service and selection, but also on price.

EIS PortalThingMagic partner Electronic Inventory Solutions (EIS) based in Carrollton, Texas, has seized on this opportunity and is providing RFID inventory management solutions to specialty retailers like eyeglass stores, jewelry stores, pawn shops and liquor stores.  With the decline in passive RFID tag prices and improved read rates, EIS believes that RFID solutions for specialty retail is an explosive growth market, delivering a tremendous opportunity to implement an improved method for inventory management and control.

EIS serves the market with two complementary products based on ThingMagic embedded RFID modules:  a portal security system and a handheld fast audit system that can be deployed individually or as an integrated solution. 

Several specialty retailers have deployed EIS security and inventory management systems, including Bishop Pawn & Jewelry in Dallas and Santa Fe Optical in Austin, TX.  The Santa Fe Optical system, which utilizes pre-programmed, custom RFID tags from Avery Dennison, has significantly reduced theft of designer eyeglass frames and has allowed the store to complete its inventories with greater accuracy, less labor, and in less than 20% of the time compared to previous manual processes.  Most importantly, it has allowed Santa Fe Optical to improve their product mix and increase sales.

Given the uniqueness of products sold by specialty retailers, EIS has also invested in the design of active and passive RFID tags, including a new proprietary, reusable, battery assisted jewelry tag that is only 15mm in size and with tamper-proof technology.

With innovations like these, do you believe the specialty retail market moving toward mass adoption of RFID?  What other markets or market segments will benefit from the proven success of large retailers implementing RFID-based inventory solutions?

RFID – The New Future of Retail

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Aug 03, 2010 @ 10:28 AM

Tags: RFID, Retail, Wal-Mart

Everything Old is New Again

The future of retail and changes being driven into the retail market by technology have been topics of discussion amongst business leaders and technology visionaries for years.

WiredA July 1998 article in Wired titled The Future of Retail authored by Nicholas Negroponte explored how the digital age was changing retail landscape, empowering consumers and ultimately forcing brick and mortar retail stores to improve the shopping experience.  More than 10 years later, Bloomberg Businessweek published an article titled - you guessed it - The Future of Retail, highlighting how tech-savvy Generation Y would cause a dramatic change in consumer demand and spending habits. The article quoted a PricewaterhouseCoopers and TNS Retail Forward report, stating: “Retailing will become an industry that realizes, more and more, that it must tailor its offerings to select customers, as opposed to the mass appeal approach of the 1980s, in order to win over customers and foster greater customer loyalty.”

The use of RFID to enhance the shopping experience and streamline retail operations has been a near decade long discussion itself.  In 2004, Wal-Mart issued its now famous mandate, requiring its top 100 suppliers to apply RFID tags to shipping crates and pallets to drive efficiencies into its supply chain.  Wal-Mart and others proposed that this technology would ultimately find its way to the retail floor to provide item-level inventory accuracy and real-time visibility into inventory levels and purchase patterns.  While Wal-Mart’s supply chain RFID initiative did not pan out on its initial time table, it kicked off a high level of interest in RFID technology from retailers and retail industry suppliers.  

So here we are on August 3rd, 2010.  What’s new?  Well, quite a bit actually.

RFID continues to be explored for a variety of uses within the retail market.  Top among them, according to a report recently published by the Aberdeen Group, include process efficiency, product and demand visibility, shrink management, and increasing profits.  While these may not be new goals for many retailers, one very important point Aberdeen makes is: “The RFID industry finally has a portfolio of solutions (including tags and readers) with a form-factor that is broad enough, stable, and standards-compliant such that it applies to and satisfies the diverse needs of the retail environment.”  This statement can’t be ignored.  It is clearly stated by Aberdeen believes that the technology itself is no longer barrier to entry.

A second area of interest is the rate of adoption within the retail market.  According to a recent blog post from VDC Research, the retail market will account for only 6-7% of the total global revenues in 2010 – out of a $4.2 billion market. Yes, a small percentage of the entire market, but for RFID vendors this should be viewed as an opportunity to innovate! 

So where will this innovation come from?  Will Wal-Mart’s recent announcement to use RFID to track jeans and underwear to improve its inventory be a tipping point for retail industry adoption of the technology?   Will smart signs and smart shelves become commonplace in retail stores?  What will the magic mirror tell us the next time we stand in front of it?

PSFK resized 600Over the next several months, we’ll explore areas within the retail market that can be impacted by RFID.  In the meantime, take a look at this incredible, thought provoking presentation developed by New York City based trends research and innovation company PSFK, titled – you got it – the Future of Retail.

PSFK invites us to: “…think less about real estate, staff, footfall and online stores and start thinking about the entire world as a store; one in which we can easily make instant purchases regardless of time and place. Driven by technology, the web, community and the search for ever-richer experiences, the world of shopping is undergoing a sweeping transformation.”

Sound familiar?

(photo credit: Wired, Catalina Kulczar-Marin Photographer)

No Greenwashing Here: How RFID Helps the Environment (Part 3)

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Aug 02, 2010 @ 12:26 PM

Tags: Waste Management, RFID Recycling Programs, Smart Packaging

RFIDS for Recycling Incentive Programs, Waste Hauling Automation and Smart Packaging

A few recycling facts:

  • Enough energy is saved by recycling one aluminum can to run a TV set for three hours.
  • Recycling just one out of every ten plastic bottles would keep 200 million pounds of plastic out of landfills each year.
  • The average American uses 650 pounds of paper during the course of one year. 100 million tons of wood could be saved each year if all used paper was recycled.
  • A steel mill that uses recycled scrap reduces related water pollution, air pollution, and mining wastes by at least 70 percent.
(source: epa.gov)

Decreasing the amount of waste that households and businesses produce and discard has become a worldwide focus in order to reduce polution and conserve our Earth's resources for future generations.  To achieve this, recycling, resource conservation and pollution reduction programs of all kinds are being implemented across the globe. Over the last several years, it has become increasingly clear that the use of RFID technology can help streamline and encourage participation in these programs.  Here are a few examples how:

Recycling Incentive Programs

Recycling incentive programs embed RFID tags into curbside recycling bins at residences in order to identify bin ownership.  RFID readers located on trash hauling trucks combine data from the RFID tags with the bin weight in order to issue credits to participants based on the amount of recyclable material they contribute.  Program participants can then cash in their credits at national retailers or local businesses.

RecycleBankWith offices in New York and Philadelphia, RecycleBank, is a leader in the recycling rewards program market. RecycleBank partners with cities and waste haulers to reward households for recycling. Households earn RecycleBank Points that can be used to shop at over 1,500 local and national businesses.  As of this post, RecycleBank claims it is operating in more than 300 communities across 26 states and the United Kingdom.  Check out a cool video on RecycleBank’s website detailing their service.

R4RSimilarly, with a mission of making community curb-side recycling a benefit for all, Michigan-based Rewards for Recycling encourages recycling in communities through reward-based partnerships with municipalities, residents, area businesses, and waste haulers.  They’ve got videos on their site too, including The Story of Stuff, an amazing video created by Annie Leonard to promote a more sustainable and just world.  

Waste Management Process Improvement

With significant improvements in performance over the last several years, UHF RFID tags and readers have matured to the point where they have become a dominant technology in the waste management market, providing a high-performance alternative HF RFID which has been used for early market solutions.  The combination of UHF RFID tags and ruggedized UHF RFID readers not only enables service offerings like recycling incentive programs, but provides an opportunty to improve many existing manual processes.  By RFID-enabling hauling vehicles and bins, waste management companies can automate customer billing data entry and track missing or stolen containers.  Integration with complementary technologies like GPS and telematics systems can also improve route planning and vehicle efficiency monitoring.

Smart Packaging

Innovations in smart packaging are also being used to help reduce waste.  In addition to adding safety mechanisms such as tamper-proofing and providing the ability to measure the freshness of produce, information from RFID and sensor enabled smart packaging can be used by to help sort packaging materials in waste streams.

These are just a few examples of the numerous applications where RFID is making a positive impact on the environment.  We expect to explore more during our 100 uses of RFID campaign.  In the meantime, we would love for you to share other RFID-enabled recycling applications that you know about with us.

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