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SML Group Adding New RFID Test Centers, Tag Manufacturing Capacity

The company will expand its RFID tag development capabilities and tag manufacturing capacity in Europe, the United States and Asia, as it predicts strong growth in item-level tagging for food, jewelry, cosmetics and garments.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 21, 2014

Within the coming months, SML Group expects to open two new RFID testing and innovation centers, as well as expand its tag manufacturing capacity, in Europe, the United States and Asia. This follows the creation of SML's first RFID Technology and Innovation Center, which opened in the United Kingdom in December 2013.

The U.K. center is designed for the development of new solutions, explains Philip Calderbank, SML's VP of global RFID, as well as the production of passive EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID inlays and conversion to labels, and will feed the growing European market for RFID technology. The company plans to open another RFID Technology and Innovation Center in Clayton, N.C., in May of this year, followed by a third in Hong Kong during the first quarter of 2015. Both the U.K. and North Carolina centers will include label manufacturing and conversion, while the company is also in the process of opening three additional manufacturing facilities—one in Shanghai, China, and the others in Vietnam and Indonesia.

SML's U.K. RFID Technology and Innovation Center includes simulated store environments for testing RFID in applications such as hanging or stacked garments.
The new facilities are being constructed in response to recent and expected growth in demand by SML's customers for item-level tags not only for garments, but also for jewelry, cosmetics and food. SML enjoyed a 50 percent growth in revenue last year from its sales of RFID-based products, and expects to see continued growth thanks to a boost in RFID deployments in the retail sector. That growth, Calderbank says, is due to the technology's deployment for inventory tracking and supply chain visibility by a handful of large-scale retailers globally, as well as a result of the signing of patent agreements between most RFID technology vendors and Round Rock Research. The lack of such agreements in the past had put a damper on RFID deployments within the United States (see Round Rock Completes Licensing Deals With Majority of RFID Vendors).

In addition, Calderbank says, technology gains this year in the sensitivity of EPC Gen 2 passive UHF RFID tag chips and reader antennas are expected to make electronic article surveillance (EAS) functionality a desirable option for retailers. In 2014, he predicts, retailers can begin installing RFID readers at doorways to extend the use of an RFID tag—previously used primarily for in-store product visibility—to also identify if an item is removed from the store without being sold, and issue an alert to the appropriate personnel.

In Europe, SML has three large retail-sector customers that will benefit from its new U.K. RFID Technology and Innovation Center, located in Leicestershire. One has been an SML customer for about a year, while another has just begun employing RFID. Both companies have asked not to be named. The third large customer is British grocer and general merchandise retailer Tesco, which will expand its use of the technology throughout the next 12 months to two years. Tesco's deployment consists of applying tags to garments at the point of manufacture. The retailer will also tag food items, according to media reports. A Tesco spokesperson declined to elaborate on the company's plans.

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