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10 Questions to Ask RFID Vendors
Before you begin an RFID pilot or rollout, there are some important questions you need to ask RFID tag and reader providers to guarantee the success of the project and future-proof your investment.
5. How will you help me minimize my maintenance costs?
The big benefit from an RFID system is that there is no additional cost for reading tags because you don't need to pay someone to scan tags at each point in the supply chain, as you would using a bar code system. But you do have to maintain the readers. In small systems, that's not a big issue. But once you begin deploying RFID technology more widely, making sure hundreds or even thousands of readers are functioning properly could become a massive, expensive headache.
Ask potential reader suppliers how their product can be maintained in a cost-effective way. Will your system administrator receive an alert if a reader is no longer detected on the network? Can readers be rebooted remotely? Do the readers have self-diagnostic systems? What kind of warranty do the readers come with? All of these issues should be considered, along with the cost, performance, frequency and protocol of the readers you are considering purchasing.
ISO has standards for testing conformance with protocol standards. However, there are currently are no standards for guaranteeing interoperability between EPC tags and readers produced by different manufacturers. That's not a big issue right now because only Alien Technology and Matrics produce EPC tags, and there are only a handful of vendors producing readers that can read EPC tags.
The first Class 1 tags using microchips made by ST Microelectronic hit the market this year. And more and more reader makers will begin to offer Class 1 and Class 0 EPC readers or multiprotocol readers that read both. As the number of EPC tag and reader makers expands, it will become increasingly important to ensure interoperability. EPCglobal is expected to certify EPC equipment that conforms to its standards, but until that happens, end users will need to make sure the readers they buy have been thoroughly tested with tags from different manufacturers. Ask the vendor you are seriously considering to demonstrate that it's readers work with Class 0 and Class 1 tags from different manufacturers.
7. Do you offer middleware?
Some companies simply sell you the tags and readers and you're on your own. Others provide software for managing and upgrading all the readers on a network. Still others provide "concentrators"—hardware and software that aggregates RFID data and converts it into XML or other formats that can be used by an enterprise software application. In general, having software that at least allows you to remotely configure RFID readers on the network is valuable. Middleware that manages some of the data may also be important, but companies that have all but the most modern enterprise applications will still need to do custom integration work to get RFID data flowing into their back-end systems.
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