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Sun and NOL Open RFID Test Center

The two companies are banding together to help Singapore companies start using RFID.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jul 28, 2005Santa Clara, Calif.-based RFID software developer Sun Microsystems and logistics firm Neptune Orient Lines (NOL) have launched a new RFID test center, the NOL-Sun Advanced Technology Center, near NOL's main facility in Singapore.

The center, which opened late last week, will provide RFID testing services as well as tagging and tracking services to NOL and Sun clients, as well as other companies that want to begin tagging products to comply with retailer mandates or as part of internal initiatives.

Sun's Jim Del Rossi
"Sun and NOL want to work together to help advance the use of RFID technology in Singapore," says Jim Del Rossi, Sun's chief engagement manager for RFID.

The RFID test center is a 7,000-square-foot former warehouse that NOL owns and operates; it is part of a larger warehouse facility within NOL's Singapore headquarters and contains some basic warehousing equipment such as conveyor systems. Sun Microsystems has contributed RFID testing equipment, which it developed at its RFID test and development center in Dallas, to the test center, as well as computers and its Java-based RFID software architecture. Singapore's Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) contributed to the center's funding. The IDA operates under Singapore's Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts and works to foster competitiveness in the country's information technology and communications industry. In total, the center cost $1.6 million to build.

The testing equipment is being used for such purposes as measuring the signal strength of different makes and models of UHF passive tags attached to various types of products. Sun has also contributed a conveyor-based frame onto which RFID interrogators from various manufacturers are mounted, as well as portal and handheld readers. These are being used to determine the ability of different interrogators to read client's tagged products as they move through a warehouse or distribution center.

Tags, interrogators, smart label printers and tag applicators, from Sun and a number of partners, including Alien Technology, Printronix, Symbol Technologies and Zebra Technologies will be used in both testing and the tagging service. This list is likely to grow as Sun develops more partnerships with hardware manufacturers, says Del Rossi.

The center will also provide site assessments of the end user's facility, in order to map out any possible interference from existing systems that could hamper RF transmission. To provide the site assessments, however, Sun is likely to contract local RFID services firms with a strong knowledge of how the RF spectrum is regulated in Singapore. This will help ensure that end users establish RFID tagging systems that do not violate rules governing how radio frequencies can be used. "Companies in different countries have different needs," says Del Rossi. By partnering with local firms, Sun and NOL will capitalize not only on those firms' knowledge of the local regulatory aspects, but also their knowledge of the regional resellers of RFID goods and other related services.

Del Rossi says these testing services will help end users ramp up their RFID tagging systems. The testing fee structure is dependent on the number of stock-keeping units (SKUs) to be tested and the number of different tests requested.

For end users intending to outsource RFID tagging, the NOL-Sun Advanced Technology Center will offer a tagging service. "Some clients are not interested in ramping up their own RFID tagging system," says Del Rossi. In many cases this is because the volume of products a supplier is required to tag does not justify the expense of deploying an in-house RFID tagging system. For these clients, NOL and Sun will work together to provide advance shipment notices and to tag cases and pallets bound for Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and other retailers and organizations requiring their suppliers to use RFID. NOL will also provide ancillary services such as package tracking, which would include advance shipment notices and package tracking information.

In March, Sun announced its development plans for an RFID Test Center in Busan, South Korea, in collaboration with Busan National University (see Sun to Build Korean RFID Test Center). Like the Sun-NOL center, the test center in Busan will offer testing services using passive UHF tags, UHF readers and RFID-enabled portals and conveyor belt systems. However, Del Rossi says the Busan center will also have a strong emphasis on research and development in RFID tagging systems and active RFID systems for cargo security. The NOL-Sun center, on the other hand, is more focused on helping clients to begin using currently available passive UHF RFID systems.
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