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Hybrid RFID and Bar-Code Reader Aims to Smooth IATA Resolution Transition for Airlines

With IATA Resolution 753 for tagged baggage on all flights, airlines globally are making the move to incorporate RFID into their baggage-handling systems, while still using the existing bar-coding systems, and FEIG Electronic is selling its ECCO+ as an enabling technology.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 27, 2018

Several European airlines are piloting the same hybrid RFID- and bar-code-based baggage-handling label technology that Delta Air Lines has deployed across its check-in counters worldwide. The handheld RFID reader-encoder and bar-code scanner serves as an affordable point of entry for airlines wishing to introduce radio frequency identification to their baggage labels, at a lower cost than that of replacing bar-code printers throughout numerous airports.

FEIG Electronic's hybrid ECCO+ RFID/Barcode Scanner offers airlines a way to use their existing baggage label printers, and to link a passive UHF RFID tag ID number to a bar code so that they can automate the tracking of bags and comply with the International Air Transport Association (IATA)'s Resolution 753. With the hybrid scanner and reader, the movement toward RFID deployment is made more affordable and enables the continued use of bar codes for those not yet utilizing RFID, according to Andreas Binder, FEIG Electronic's sales manager of Panmobil products.

Andreas Binder
The ECCO+ is a Panmobil product acquired by German electronics manufacturer FEIG in February 2018. Its built-in UHF RFID reader can both read data from and write data to RFID tags, and offers Bluetooth and Wi-Fi interfaces to link information to a server.

Delta was the first airline to adopt a company-wide RFID system that tracks the receipt of baggage from passengers, as well as the point at which bags are loaded onto a plane, moved through transfer points and then offloaded at a destination airport (see Delta Gives Green Light to RFID Baggage Tracking). However, some luggage will still originate and end up in the care of other airlines, and the global transition from bar codes to RFID is expected to be a gradual one. That makes it difficult to replace existing bar-code-based systems altogether.

For one thing, Binder says, bar-code printers are already in use throughout the world for baggage label printing, and replacing them all with RFID-encoding printers would be expensive. However, he adds, airlines need to make the transition to RFID labels as the 2020 deadline looms.

Delta is using the ECCO+ solution as an add-on product, so that the existing bar-code printers can continue producing the same bar-code labels that are attached to bags before they are loaded onto planes. The difference with the labels Delta is using, however, is that they have a passive UHF RFID tag built into them. The labels can be printed on the bar-code printer as passengers provide their luggage to the check-in counter at a Delta station.

In this case, however, once the label is printed, the ECCO+ scanner, in kiosk mode at the check-in counter, automatically scans the 1D bar code generated by the printer and immediately encodes the data into the RFID tag inside the label. The collected bar code and RFID tag are then linked in Delta's baggage-management software. From that point forward, if luggage passes to a carrier that does not use RFID, that carrier can simply scan the bar code to access information about the bag and ensure it is being properly routed. For airline personnel using the hybrid reader, Binder explains, "There is no action to take other than taking the label out of the printer and presenting it to our device, and the rest of the process is automatic."

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