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Arkansas Radio Compliance Center Aims to Avert Clashing Requirements

The University of Arkansas' new facility is testing EPC Gen 2 passive RFID inlays submitted by tag makers, and hopes to harmonize item-level usage by providing results to retailers and goods suppliers free of charge.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 10, 2011The University of Arkansas' RFID Research Center has opened its Arkansas Radio Compliance (ARC) Center to measure how well passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) Gen 2 RFID inlays can be read when applied on or around different materials in various environments for item-level tracking purposes. Based on the results of those tests, as well as a retailer's particular use case, the center will provide a list of acceptable inlays for a specific consumer product and use case to companies that supply goods to that retailer. ARC's goal is to make RFID tagging compliance easier and more standard among retailers that employ item-level RFID tags, goods suppliers that apply those tags to products sold by those retailers and inlay manufacturers that provide those tags.

The ARC Center, located next to the university's RFID Research Center, in Fayetteville, Ark., began testing inlays last year, during the first week of December. The facility features an anechoic chamber (designed to prevent RF signals from leaking through its walls) and a custom-designed tag-testing system from Voyantic that includes RFID test hardware mounted outside the chamber, as well as four reader antennas installed within the chamber. The chamber is designed for testing inlays in a variety of simulated environments, such as tags attached to apparel on hangers or stacked products, as well as from a variety of antenna angles.

The ARC Center's testing chamber—a steel-clad structure measuring 12 feet on each side—has foam spikes that reduce the reflection of RF transmissions.

In addition to testing tags—which typically takes four to five days for a single inlay—ARC's staff can also assist a retailer by visiting stores to determine how it intends to use RFID, and then recommend the most appropriate inlays based on the benchmark testing as it would apply to that retailer's use case. Finally, the center offers the results of its testing on its Web site, including tag functionality under specific conditions, at no cost to goods suppliers. It will begin posting recommendations for specific use cases in spring 2011, according to Justin B. Patton, the RFID Research Center's managing director. In the meantime, he says, data regarding tag performance will be made available to participating inlay manufacturers upon request.

Initially, Patton says, the ARC program is being supported by nine leading inlay manufacturers, with each paying a $9,500 fee for the testing of several inlays of the same make and model. Those companies participating include UPM Raflatac, Avery Dennison and Invengo. Any further testing for new use cases conducted on the same inlay would be included in that fee—which may drop, Patton says, as additional inlay models are submitted for testing, and as new retailer use cases become available. Retailers and consumer goods suppliers will not be charged for access to the tag-performance data.

Currently, Patton notes, two retailers are participating in the ARC program, and several others plan to participate later this year, though he declines to name them. The initial use cases being tested on behalf of the retailers involve the tagging of denim jeans and undergarments. By March 2012, the number of use cases for tags being tested is expected to rise to about five and expand beyond apparel, though he declines to specify the details at this time.

Approximately three years ago, the RFID Research Center first began providing some testing services for retailers seeking the most effective RFID inlays for their item-level tagging use cases. Those tests, Patton says, gained the interest of inlay manufacturers seeking a better understanding as to the kinds of transponders retailers needed for item-level tagging with a variety of products. Since then, he adds, the RFID Research Center has been providing additional testing while preparing its new ARC Center.

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