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GCS Focuses on RFID
Globe Composite Soluions, a manufacturer of high-strength composite materials, is focusing on making RF-transparent conveyors, containers and other objects used in conjunction with RFID.
Apr 28, 2006—Globe Composite Solutions (GCS) has begun focusing on the creation of RFID-compatible nonmetallic conveyor rollers and frames in material-handling systems used at airports and distribution centers. GCS is a manufacturer of advanced composite materials designed to withstand extreme conditions, such as high heat or caustic chemicals.
Conventional conveyor systems are made of metal, which can reflect radio waves, thereby interfering with the RF transmissions of RFID interrogators and tags. GCS' nonmetallic conveyor sections, however, are composed entirely of the company's high-strength Brandonite family of RF-transparent polymers. These do not reflect the RF signals at all, thus improving an interrogator's ability to read and encode tags.
United States Postal Service. Its other customers include several top national companies, among them GE Healthcare and American Airlines.
"Our niche is developing metal-free conveyor systems that are RFID-transparent," says Carl W. Forsythe, president of GCS. In 2003, his firm received a patent for the use of its conveyor systems, preventing other U.S. companies from producing these nonmetallic, RFID-compatible conveyors.
"One of our first projects," Forsythe says, "was the self-lubricating conveyor system we developed in 2001." This system was designed for RFID to track and transport passenger baggage at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). However, he adds, the conveyor system was only piloted by the airport, never deployed, and SFO currently uses it in a very limited capacity, if at all.
Since this project, GCS has been the fundamental developer of RFID-transparent conveyor systems in several other airports, including those in Boston (Logan), Jacksonville, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Minneapolis. These systems also only reached the pilot stage, GCS says, and thus are of limited use (mainly for testing) in these airports.
In Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport, the company partnered with FKI Logistex, which installed more than a hundred GCS conveyor systems. Presently, McCarran continues to use the RFID-compatible conveyor systems to track and scan baggage throughout the entire airport (see McCarran Airport RFID System Takes Off.
"RFID conveyor roller systems can be used by any number of companies," says Brian Evans, GCS' vice president of product development and engineering. "These include airports, hardware and software companies—even somebody like Target."
"The nonmetallic rollers have seen a great increase in interest," Forsythe says, noting that one can either put them in the existing conveyor frames or use GCS' specially made nonmetallic frames, which reduce the likelihood of interfering with an RFID system's RF signals. "These rollers are still in their initial testing-and-acceptance phase," Forsythe admits, though he expects demand to grow as their benefits become known.
Currently, GCS has a new product in the works: a 32-inch-square RF-transparent tub with a resilient, transparent exterior. Designed for transporting loose articles that must be read by an RFID reader, the tub can be identified and tracked automatically, thanks to multiple built-in recesses on the tub's exterior that can accommodate both RFID chips and bar-code labels. According to Forsythe, "a large parcel delivery company" is presently testing the tub.
GCS doesn't manufacture RFID tags, but it can encapsulate them in nonmetallic materials for protection. This month, the firm hired Xiu J. Wang as director of polymer technologies in an effort to expand and commercialize their composite materials. "As the director of polymer technologies," explains Wang, "I will be responsible for leading teams in developing competitive products, delivering the company's technology leadership and driving substantial business growth.," Wang holds a doctorate in plastics engineering, a master's in chemical engineering and a B.S. in polymer science. The range of RFID-compatible products Wang will help develop will be more extensive than the company's current lineup.
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