Raising the Bar for RFID Readers

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Nov 14, 2011 @ 01:30 PM

Tags: Business Intelligence, RFID, Healthcare, IT Asset Tracking, USB RFID reader, Telematics, RFID + GPS

Helping Enterprises Realize the Value of RFID

Economies such as the one we are living and working in now, are forcing enterprises to trim costs while maintaining, and even increasing output. This approach requires skill and creativity to avoid misguided cost-cutting initiatives.  One could argue it also requires making intelligent technology investments that can pay for themselves quickly while establishing a foundation for smart growth.  That’s where RFID comes into the picture. RFID isn’t unattainable.  It isn’t a pie in the sky solution that requires a team of engineers and it isn’t cost-prohibitive.  It’s right here in front of us waiting to help.

Taking Flexibility and Integration to a New Level

Those of you who are familiar with ThingMagic most likely saw the product announcement we made last week. Enhancements to our Mercury6 (M6) UHF RFID Reader raise the bar for flexibility and integration.  For reasons, in part brought about by current market conditions, high-quality reader capabilities are much needed by enterprises today.  The firmware upgrade to our M6 reader includes several enhancements to address these needs, most notably support for Low-Level Reader Protocol (LLRP) and Reader-Hosted Applications.

What is LLRP and Why Now?

Let’s first start with EPCglobal - the organization that supports the adoption and implementation of standards-based Electronic Product Code™/Radio Frequency Identification (EPC/RFID) technology.  EPCGlobal was responsible for standardizing the tag and reader radio frequency interface protocol with the UHF Gen 2 standard.  As a next step in facilitating the adoption of EPC and RFID technology, EPCglobal ratified the LLRP standard, a specification for the network interface between the reader and its controlling software or hardware.  In creating LLRP, EPCglobal included air-protocol configurations and a robust set of vendor extension points that support the flexibility and integration required to innovate. The FAQ can be found here.

We’ve chosen to implement LLRP now for two primary reasons.  First, a growing number of enterprise organizations are deploying RFID technology.  In doing so, they need to integrate data generated from RFID reads with existing standards-based enterprise systems to support critical aspects of their business.  Secondly, as the distribution channels for RFID products continue to evolve, supporting standards is crucial.  Supporting LLRP and other standards makes it easier for our channel partners to sell and support ThingMagic products.  The bottom line is that all of this makes it easier for customers to deploy and manage their RFID systems, allowing them to recognize the business benefits of RFID faster.

Reader-Hosted Applications

Also included in the upgrade is a Linux-based operating system capable of hosting on-reader applications. This feature allows the M6 reader to perform application-specific actions independently, providing solution developers the opportunity to differentiate their offerings to the enterprise market.

An example of this is a solution developed by ThingMagic partner XECAN, a leading provider of RFID patient safety solutions for the healthcare market.  XECAN developed a RFID plug-in application designed to eliminate patient identification and potential treatment errors by interfacing directly with Electronic Medical Record (EMR) software.  This application is hosted directly on the ThingMagic reader (in this case and Astra reader, but could just as easily have been an M6).  According to Bin Yang, Ph.D., CEO of XECAN, “By embedding our agent software directly onto the Astra reader, we’ve made our RFID Oncology Solution truly plug-and-play…This breakthrough advantage sets us apart while enabling us to provide an affordable, yet highly reliable RFID system.”

Multiple Choice

It’s important to note that, with this upgrade, ThingMagic customers now have the option of operating M6 readers with the ThingMagic MercuryAPI or LLRP depending on their project requirements.  Existing M6 customers can take advantage of LLRP by upgrading to the new interface without changing how their current host programs interact with the API – making the transition seamless and transparent.  If desired, customers can continue to use the ThingMagic MercuryAPI - a common application programming interface implemented across all of ThingMagic's readers.

To help you visualize the value of the MercuryAPI and how you can develop an application that takes advantage of the breadth of ThingMagic’s product line, including the USB desktop reader, Astra integrated reader, Vega in-vehicle reader and the Mercury6, watch the following video: ThingMagic Mercury6 (M6) RFID Reader Makes Integration Easy

ThingMagic M6 RFID Reader

As illustrated below, with one application, enterprises can gain access to location, employee identification and time stamp information that allows them to track asset throughout the entire chain of custody, including plotting the location of the assets in-transit using integrated GPS.

RFID Application

RFID Tag Selection & Automated Placement Testing

Another important aspect of creating any successful RFID application is knowing where to place the RFID tag for maximum performance. But don’t worry, it’ll be easy.  We’ve done the work for you in our lab, and it can be seen in the video, “RFID Tag Placement: Where do you stick it?

RFID Tag Placement

It’s Time to Reshape the Way We Think About RFID

There is no doubt that over the next decade, RFID systems will become an integral part of the consumer and business experience. The convergence of wireless technologies will be augmented by RFID systems. The development of passive RFID as part of this platform will be driven by the potential to measure, report and monetize a growing number of transactions in the physical world.

Similar to the mobile phone, the widespread integration of GPS into today’s commercial and consumer positioning solutions, and the adoption of this thing called the Internet, RFID is ready to transform markets.

Only time will tell the scale and impact RFID will have, but I for one, bet it will be a big one.

Planes, Trains, Automobiles & RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Sep 01, 2010 @ 10:26 AM

Tags: RFID, Asset Tracking, Airplane Parts Tracking, Telematics

Transportation manufacturing industry relies more and more on RFID

Planes, Trains, AutomobileBased upon the uses of radio frequency identification and sensing (RFIDS) we’ve explored during our 100 Uses of RFID program so far, such as asset tracking and automobile telematics, you have to wonder if RFID would have helped Neal Page get home to Chicago any faster in Planes, Trains & Automobiles.  (OK, you may not think of this, but we do since we love this space so much.)

If the car rental company that lost Neal’s reserved car in St. Louis had used RFID to track its fleet, would the car have been there, sparing him the expletive-laden tirade and allowing him to get home?  Would the car that Del Griffith successfully rented have had sensors that would have detected Del’s lit cigarette, keeping it from becoming a charred convertible?  Would the train that broke down in St. Louis been in better condition if RFID helped ensure a higher quality manufacturing process to begin with?

Of course, this classic movie wouldn’t have been as funny or successful if these scenarios played out, but we ask because these are all ways that RFID is being used by the transportation manufacturing industry.  Today, we continue the 100 Days of RFID by kicking-off a three-part series on this market.

Planes

Airplane manufacturers use RFID heavily in managing its supply chain.  Given the long, complex manufacturing time for a commercial jet, with millions of parts, Boeing and Airbus have used RFID for parts tracking and inventory control for over six years.  That use is now evolving from supply chains and assembly plans to the tracking of parts onboard the aircraft in use by airline fleets.

Boeing is using RFID tags on its new 787 Dreamliner, which will see first shipments in use by the end of this year.  The Dreamliner has tags affixed on its “maintenance-significant parts,” while the Airbus A350 will uses RFID on 1,500 of its parts for what the industry refers to as “airborne RFID.”

The use of RFID tags on these parts gives airlines the ability to track and monitor avionics and other parts after they've been installed on the aircraft. Information gleaned from the tags will support aircraft configuration management and line maintenance, repair shop optimization and life-limited parts monitoring. Consequently, the fast maintenance turnaround facilitated by RFID can translate into improved on-time performance.

Trains

In the train market, a new and very interesting application of RFID is emerging.  Bombadier, which many people know as the manufacturer of Leer jets, also is the number one manufacturer of passenger rail equipment.  Bombardier also runs a $1 billion services business that operates and maintains 8,000 rail vehicles under contract around the world, including the MBTA commuter rail service here in Boston.  To help it grow its existing business in this area, the company is developing a new set of products and services leveraging RFID.

For example, the track on which trains run, must be maintained and visually inspected for defects every 2-3 days.  For the most part, this inspection is done manually by transit workers walking along the track looking for problems, putting them in harm’s way.  As a result, it saw an opportunity for a new RFID-based system called TrackSafe. With the system, track workers wear vests containing RFID tags that automatically link to readers installed approximately every 500 feet along the track.  The readers are connected to a warning light and speaker cluster designed to activate whenever a train approached a construction or maintenance area. Train conductors, alerted to the workers' presence, would instantly know that it was time to slow down and proceed with caution, while workers would be alerted to oncoming trains.

A challenge it had when offering the system, which is not uncommon to RFID applications in general, is the objection among track workers that they would be monitored for the wrong reasons.  To overcome this challenge, Bombardier applied the concept of “sketching the user experience” created by Microsoft product visionary Bill Buxton.  This involves understanding human-computer interaction in order to design technology-driven products that are accepted and effectively used.

Automobiles

RFID in the automobile industry has seen several applications going back to the early days of key fobs, to more recently the integration in the factory, for tracking parts containers across far-flung supply chains and for yard management in vehicle processing centers.

But getting back to our Planes, Trains & Automobiles movie reference, based upon very recent increases in the use of RFID by car rental companies, the days of Neal Page’s lost car may be coming to an end.   Thanks to two advances in RFID technologies, rental companies now can tag entire fleets and use RFID to better manage them from an inventory and security perspective. 

  1. Smart labels – Low-cost RFID tags embedded in windshield stickers can be quickly and cost effectively affixed to rental cars.
  2. UHF readers – The improved read range and performance of today’s UHF readers allow rental cars to be read as they are being driven off the lots, relaying the information instantly to software systems tracking the availability of vehicles.

All of this helps the rental operation streamline its inventory management, improve employee accountability and reduce labor and equipment – not to mention spare its rental agents from expletive-laden tirades from customers!

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