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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.
By Bob Violino
8. Do you have a partner who can integrate the readers with backend systems?
Deploying RFID hardware properly is no simple matter. Antennas have to be tuned. Tags have to be put on product in a location where they can be read reliably. You'll need to find a system integrator who is familiar with the hardware you choose. If the RFID hardware vendor has an existing relationship with a skilled integrator, then using that integrator can make the deployment process a lot smoother. On the other hand, if you have a system integrator that you have been using for a while and trust, it's worth talking to that company to see if it has a relationship with an RFID hardware vendor. Either way, you want to make sure that the hardware you buy can be installed properly.

9. Will you work with me to customize tags if I need them?
For tracking cases of products that don't contain a lot of metal or liquid, you'll be able to use standard RFID tags. But many products—cans of soup, coffee and soft drinks and bottles of detergent, spring water and cooking oil—are not "RF friendly." Radio waves can't penetrate metal and can bounce off metal in ways that make it impossible to read tags. Water and other liquids absorb RF waves, which greatly reduces the read range.

These problems can be overcome by correctly positioning the tag on the case and sometimes through the design of the tag itself. If the right amount of space is left between the tag’s antenna and an item’s metal surface, the metal can be used as a mirror that actual increases the read distance. Many companies make "metal-mount tags," and these may work well in your situation. But metal-mount tags tend to be expensive and are usually designed to be attached to a reusable metal container.

If you are tagging canned goods, you might need to work with a vendor to create a custom metal-mount tag for your products. The design work can be expensive, and many RFID vendors won't create custom tags because it's not profitable (unless you plan to buy 100 million of them) or they don't have the capability. If your products contain a lot of metal or water, talk to your vendor about whether you might need a custom tag and if they would be willing to design one for you.

10. Can you deliver the volumes I need?
If you are launching a pilot, or starting your initial RFID rollout, you probably aren't too worried about vendors being able to supply enough tags. But if you are one of Wal-Mart’s or the U.S. Department of Defense's top 100 suppliers, you will likely be using millions of tags per year within 18 months and perhaps tens or hundred of millions within five years. Volume is going to be an issue in the near term. The RFID industry is still immature, and there isn't a great deal of capacity to churn out that many tags.

A number of companies have been investing in technology to mass-assemble RFID tags. Alien Technology has Fluidic Self Assembly technology that flows thousands of tiny chips into small bow-tie-shaped straps that can be attached to an antenna. Matrics has developed a system it called PICA. SmartCode of Israel has its own high-speed assembly machine. But given that many organizations are planning to deploy RFID in their supply chains—Metro, Target, Tesco, the U.S. Department of Defense and Wal-Mart—at roughly the same time means that these advances and others might not be enough to satisfy demand.


Shawn McMullen 2006-04-20 08:22:04 AM
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