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Outdoor Clothing and Equipment Retailer Tests RFID-EAS Tags

At one of Northland's stores in Graz, Austria, items are fitted with EPC Gen 2 tags that allow the company not only to manage its inventory but also to know if goods are leaving the store without being purchased.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Aug 12, 2008Northland, an Austrian outdoor apparel and equipment retailer, has revealed that it is currently testing a dual-function tag that enables the company not only to manage its inventory but also to deter theft. The tag, which UPM Raflatac unveiled in 2007, functions as a passive EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID tag, as well as a security tag that alerts retail store employees that an item is being stolen—much like the RF-based electronic article surveillance (EAS) tags widely used by retailers today (see Raflatac Releases RFID Tags With Built-In EAS).

The EAS function is made possible by an extra bit of memory within the tag's Ucode G2XL RFID chip, supplied by NXP Semiconductors. That extra bit can be toggled between 1 and 0, to indicate whether or not an item to which it is attached has been purchased. Based on the reading of this bit, the software controlling the interrogators will issue an alarm when unsold merchandise is detected moving through a store's exit.

At the store's entrance, RFID antennas suspended from the ceiling create a narrow read zone that senses when unpurchased goods leave the premises.

The creation of this toggle bit, however, is only part of the EAS function. In 2007, Rainer Lutz, NXP Semiconductors' marketing manager, told RFID Journal that the other vital element to making the tags work as a security device would be an RFID reader that could generate a very defined, narrow read zone along a retail store's exit, to ensure that only unpurchased items being brought out of the store would trigger an alarm, and not merchandise on display near the exit. To meet this goal, engineers at the NXP RFID Reference Design Center—a testing and systems development laboratory near Graz, Austria—have developed a reader antenna configuration that creates a thin, electronic curtain along a store portal.

Lutz says the Northland test site, a newly erected store in Graz, is employing this antenna configuration in conjunction with a ThingMagic EPC Gen 2 interrogator. RFID middleware provider RF-iT has helped deploy the test and is providing its You-R Open RFID software, used both to conduct product inventory and to alert the store's staff if an item is stolen.

The tag contains a UPM Raflatac EPC Gen 2 Web inlay, which utilizes an antenna design optimized for omnidirectional reading, as well as for use in environments with dense tag populations, which make it well suited for retail applications.

For the technology test, Lutz says, roughly 1,600 products are tagged. This represents virtually all of the merchandise within the store, he explains, except for small, low-priced high-volume accessories. As each new shipment of goods is received into inventory, workers use a Toshiba RFID label printer-encoder to encode Electronic Product Codes (EPCs) to labels that are then attached to the items' hangtags. The toggle bit in each inlay is set to 1, indicating that the item, associated with that label's EPC in the You-R Open software, has not been purchased.

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