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Walk Before You Run with RFID

ARC Advisory Group's Chantal Polsonetti argues that technological progress and ISO standardization will bring increased benefits for manufacturers implementing RFID, but she stresses the need for careful planning with an eye toward long-term scalability.
Feb 15, 2006This article was originally published by RFID Update.

February 15, 2006—A quick look at the RFID presentations made by enterprise hardware and software suppliers would lead you to believe that we are rapidly entering the era of ubiquitous computing and the "Internet of Things." In reality, few if any implementations to date approach this level of actualization, and a significant amount of the data generated from EPC RFID implementations sits offline, waiting to generate ROI. Many manufacturers, however, remain intrigued by what can be done when RFID is used as a sensing, identification, and/or automation technology enabler in supply chain, logistics, asset management, manufacturing, and other applications. As evidenced by the experience with EPC RFID adoption, manufacturers must first form sound strategies at the physical layer in order for these higher-level aspirations to be met.

In a few short years, manufacturers could easily find themselves hosting a number of RFID applications to support customer/retailer mandates, regulatory compliance, and/or ROI-driven applications. While some of these applications will continue to be served by differing technologies, e.g., LF or HF vs. UHF, there is tremendous opportunity to leverage emerging RFID standards and achieve commonality across applications. Manufacturers should similarly prepare themselves by specifying scalable, upgradeable systems that can expand with further application and penetration of the technology.

Key elements of today's RFID infrastructure at both the plant and distribution center include the tags, readers/antennas, and network architecture, plus label printers and applicators. While EPCglobal Gen2 tags are still not widely available, the market is coalescing around this emerging standard. Any manufacturer who is just starting out with RFID should go straight to the higher-performance Gen2 offerings, bypassing the proprietary Gen1 products and saving you the pain endured by early adopters. Be prepared for the need for continual updates of your Gen2 equipment by purchasing products capable of remote, online administration, as this year is likely to be plagued with technology refinements and frequent updates.

The air interface protocol portion of the EPCglobal Gen2 standard is scheduled to be ratified as ISO standard 18000-6c early this year, and ARC recommends that manufacturers looking to adopt passive UHF RFID include this standard in your RFP. We expect that availability of the ISO version of Gen2 will provide a significant catalyst to RFID implementations in both the supply chain and beyond due to its global capabilities, higher technical performance, and international standardization. This migration has already begun as evidenced by the myriad applications considering use of the technology. The Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG), for example, is considering using the technology in their B-11 auto ID standard to achieve mass serialization of automotive tires. Having a single, global, universal standard protocol for UHF RFID will benefit manufacturers who will not have to serve each customer with different technology.

Availability of the ISO 18000-6c/EPCglobal Gen2 standard air interface protocol makes decision-making easier for manufacturers, and removes reliance on proprietary solutions, but the burgeoning capabilities of the technology add complexity to your options. For example, should the tag be used as a license plate carrying a serial number that is associated with a higher level database, or should the tag itself be a data carrier? Availability of a second page of memory on the standard Gen2 tags, use of extended tags such as those proposed by Boeing, and more capable active tags all make this a question of note. Availability of standard WiFi-based active tags will similarly compound your options. On the application side, the question of whether to affix the tag to the product or to a reusable asset, such as a container, is just one of many other architectural options for manufacturers to consider.
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