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University of Parma's RFID Lab Launches Test Program for Apparel

The "RFID 4 fashion certified" initiative is intended to determine how well EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID readers, tags and printer-encoders perform in real-world use cases for Europe's garment industry.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 30, 2011Over the next week, the RFID Lab at the University of Parma's Department of Industrial Engineering, in Italy, will begin testing the performance of various makes and models of EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID hardware for use by European apparel retailers and manufacturers. The program, known as "RFID 4 fashion certified," is intended to determine how well the hardware performs in real-life use cases.

Once testing of a specific piece of RFID equipment—a tag, an inlay, a fixed or handheld reader, or a printer-encoder—is complete, the laboratory will present the maker of that equipment with a certificate indicating its product has undergone testing for fashion applications. Then, if the technology vendor authorizes the lab to do so, the results will be made available to businesses that manufacture, transport or sell fashion in Europe, so that they can determine how well the technology will perform in their particular applications.

The University of Parma lab is carrying out the program at the request of the lab's Board of Fashion Advisors—a group consisting of 13 companies in the apparel industry, including Benetton, Gucci, Max Mara Fashion Group, and Miroglio Fashion. The board members and the lab have worked together since 2008, studying RFID technology's benefits (see RFID Boosts Store Turnover by Nearly 10 Percent in Italian Pilot, Fashion Group Expects Positive ROI Within 3 Years and Italian RFID Lab Gets Fashion-Forward). Over that span of time, says Antonio Rizzi, the lab's head and founder, many questions that companies have asked of the lab's researchers have pertained to how a specific piece of hardware—such as an inlay, reader or printer—performed, or which hardware would be the best choice for a company's specific application, such as logistics, inventory checking or store security.

The University of Arkansas' RFID Research Center has also been testing RFID hardware performance, at its Arkansas Radio Compliance Center (see Arkansas Radio Compliance Center Aims to Avert Clashing Requirements), and has been providing the results to end users. The testing conducted at the Arkansas lab includes UHF RFID inlays operating somewhere in the range 800 to 1,000 MHz while the UHF RFID spectrum in Europe is centered on 865 MHz. The University of Parma's testing will be performed in a simulated real-world environment, such as reading tags through boxes of apparel passing through a portal, or on items placed on smart shelves, While The Arkansas RFID Research Center, on the other hand, carries out its testing both at retailer’s own stores to establish use cases and conduct audits, and inside an anechoic chamber to compare those real-world results with a chamber-based inlay performance benchmark.

The Parma laboratory will issue a certificate to any RFID technology provider that submits products that have completed the program, and will be provide a report indicating the testing results. Those results could then be used by the vendor to promote its products to end users.

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