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Apparel & Footwear Summit Attracts Wide Audience
Retailers and manufacturers from around the world shared experiences and discussed challenges at RFID Journal's Apparel & Footwear Summit.
Tag Cost and Standards
Apparel and footwear companies that are deploying UHF tags agree that the EPCglobal Gen 2 tag standard far outperforms the earlier Gen 1 tags. The materials used in apparel and footwear do not tend to cause RF interference problems, so reading these products at the pallet, case and item level is considerably easier than reading consumer goods such as groceries, electronics or healthcare products that contain water or metal. But Gen 2 has enabled faster throughout than Gen 1 because more Gen 2 tags can be read more quickly, and often from a greater distance, than Gen 1 tags.
However, many of the speakers and attendees at the summit say that tag cost is still a major barrier to adoption of RFID technology. Stafford noted that for applications such as Marks & Spencer's that do not require all of the extra user memory or advanced tag features that are written into the Gen 2 specification, a scaled-down and lower-priced version of the Gen 2 tag would be a way to address tag cost. No such tags, however, exist today. What's more, chipmakers seem set on advancing chip technology rather than scaling it down.
Vince Moretti, vice president of RFID systems with RFID chipmaker Impinj, explained that future RFID tags will incorporate more technology, rather than less. Impinj last week announced two new Gen 2 chips that will allow end users to use tags not only to track items but also to ensure they are authentic or to record supplemental data (see Impinj Introduces Two New Gen 2 Chips
With the current cost of passive UHF RFID tags (as finished labels or hangtags) approximately at 15 to 20 cents each, or lower in very high quantities, Avery's Reis says apparel and footwear companies are not likely to reap financial benefits from item-level tagging of goods priced lower than $30 (retail price). At the $30 price point, however, Reis' pilot program showed that RFID could provide a return of 15 to 25 cents per garment.
The companies in attendance also talked about two other overarching issues. One involved the need for the industry to define a single frequency band for item-level tags. While Wal-Mart requires EPC Gen 2 UHF tags, HF tags are more widely used in Europe, where regulations make UHF technology more difficult to widely deploy. Attendees, both retailers and manufacturers, wonder if and when companies across the supply chain will adopt RFID. Such industry-wide buy-in is needed, they say, in order to reap as much benefit from RFID as possible - and to share its costs. "We don't want to throw a 20-cent tag on every box of shoes without our retailers also using the tag," said Frank Cornelius, senior advanced manufacturing engineer for New Balance shoes.
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