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Automotive Project Shows a Single RFID Tag Can Carry Data Encoded by Multiple Users

Based on the results of tests involving General Motors and Grupo Antolin, the Automotive Industry Action Group says its members are moving closer to implementing RFID to track reusable containers.
By Claire Swedberg
May 07, 2010The Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) reports that a study it recently published proves the feasibility of encoding multiple types of data—that is, a unique item identifier (UII) and user information—on a single RFID tag, thereby enabling numerous players in the automotive supply chain to encode and then utilize the tags for their own purposes.

The study's findings are significant, says Fangming Gu, a staff researcher in General Motors' (GM) Research and Development division, because they indicate that automakers, parts suppliers, and logistics firms would not need to each invest in their own RFID tags to encode and store the data that matters to them. Instead, Gu says, the group found that an EPC Gen 2 tag with between 512 bits and 2 kilobits of user memory could be employed to store a UII, as well as other information, such as the container's sequence number at the start and end of the transportation, along with the ID number of the trailer in which the container was loaded.

An RFID tag was placed inside a container's clear plastic pouch used to hold the shipping label.

"The big problem for the automotive industry [related to implementing RFID tracking] is the cost is too high for tags," Gu explains. "Everyone wants their own customized tags," with data tailored to their needs. The study, he says, is the first to prove that a single tag can be encoded with all data required by the many participants in the supply chain.

Bill Hoffman, the project's leader, and the founder and managing director of RFID and bar-code software and integration company Hoffman Systems, says the study was inspired by a presentation at the 2005 AIAG AutoTech Conference, indicating that $750 million is lost by the industry annually due to misplaced pallets, boxes, barrels and other reusable containers. "We've known about this for quite some time," he states. "It's the 500-pound gorilla sitting in the corner." To maintain greater visibility in the supply chain, which could reduce that expense, the reusable containers need to have identifying labels that are read as they change hands. However, he adds, bar codes offer a limited solution, since new data can not be written to a bar code once it is printed.

The problem with RFID, on the other hand, has been tag cost. Therefore, the researchers began studying how a single tag could serve the various supply chain participants, thereby reducing the number of tags needed for each container.

"Our primary goal was to see if one physical RFID tag could carry two disparate pieces of data," Hoffman says. Specifically, the project's participants first programmed an EPCglobal-based serialized Global Returnable Asset Identifier (GRAI) into the tag's unique item identifier memory bank (UII-MB01), and then subsequently encoded ISO-based data identifier (DI) information to the tag's user memory bank (MB11), such as a trailer ID number (DI 4B), a product number (DI P), quantity (DI Q) and start/end sequence numbers (DIs 31S/32S).

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