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University of Parma's RFID Lab Launches Test Program for Apparel

The "RFID 4 fashion certified" initiative is intended to determine how well EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID readers, tags and printer-encoders perform in real-world use cases for Europe's garment industry.
By Claire Swedberg
The Parma RFID Lab has developed a strict set of protocols for approximately 10 use cases for which fixed and handheld readers, desktop interrogators, printers and tags will be tested. Use cases include tag encoding; scenarios to simulate the handling, packing and shipping of tagged products within a distribution center; and such store use cases as receiving, counting inventory and electronic article surveillance (EAS) operations. Tags and inlays will be tested for all use cases, while readers and printer-encoders will be tested in a subset of use cases relevant to the type of hardware being tested, such as fixed readers in the simulated logistics setting, and handhelds for inventory purposes within a store.

Every inlay, tag, reader or printer will be put through 50 replications, Rizzi says, to be tested in each use case, "in order to have enough data for statistical significance." Printer-encoders, he notes, will be tested for the accuracy and speed at which they print and encode tags. He declines to specify which makes and models of RFID hardware will be used to carry out the testing, explaining that to do so may be perceived as an endorsement regarding the performance of particular tags or readers.

The laboratory researchers and advisory board members, Rizzi says, have opted not to dictate thresholds regarding the hardware being tested—such as requiring a specific rate of accurate reads, or speed of reading—to achieve certification. "We'd rather leave it to the end user to decide if the results are good enough," he states.

Initially, the RFID Lab has contacted the approximately 30 RFID vendors with which it had previously partnered on other projects, and has invited them to submit their products for testing. However, Rizzi notes, any RFID firm is welcome to provide its hardware for testing. To have its hardware tested, a company will be asked to pay a fee to the lab, equivalent to the testing cost. The lab will then make the results available to end users at no cost.

To date, two RFID device manufacturers have already indicated their intention to submit hardware for testing: ADT Tyco and Motorola Solutions. ADT Tyco will submit a tag and a reader, while Motorola is submitting four reader models: the FX9500, FX7400, MC3190-Z and MC9090-Z.

At a workshop for RFID technology end users, scheduled to be held in spring 2012, the lab plans to present certificates to the hardware vendors whose products have been tested, and to also offer educational programs to end users, as well as to members of the lab's Board of Fashion Advisors.

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