Avery Dennison Targets Retail Deployments With Mobile Printer, Robomart Partnership

By Claire Swedberg

The company's new Pathfinder 6059 handheld RFID printer can create and apply RFID tags for retail goods and logistics within five seconds, while its EPC UHF RFID tags will be used on Robomart's products when the self-driving store system brings stores to customers wherever they are.

image_pdfimage_print

Avery Dennison has released a portable RFID label-printing device that enables retailers and logistics providers to encode, print and apply an EPC UHF RFID tag to a product, cargo or asset. The Pathfinder 6059, the company reports, was designed to make RFID tagging easier for retailers, shipping companies and grocery stores that might need to apply tags quickly on site, beyond the manufacturing environment.

The RFID label and solutions firm has also entered into a partnership with self-driving stores company Robomart. It will provide UHF RFID labels to be attached to each item of food stocked in the autonomous vehicle so that shoppers can simply hail the vehicle, remove a tagged item and be charged based on the price of the product removed. The solution is aimed at the retail market’s need for inventory and supply chain management, thereby keeping up with consumer expectations for fast, convenient access to goods.

The Pathfinder 6059 was built to enable the activation of RFID at such sites as warehouses, store fronts or back storage rooms, according to Avery Dennison. More than a dozen companies have been testing beta versions of the handheld printer for the past few months, says Ryan Yost, the general manager of Avery Dennison’s Printer Solutions Division, and the product is now commercially available.

Some of the company’s customers are likely to be retailers that have RFID tags coming from many suppliers but require tags for exceptional items, such as promotional or returned products. Additionally, some businesses receive goods from a variety of sources that are untagged, and they need a way to get the tags applied at a low cost. “As the use cases for RFID evolve and move forward, there have been some challenges,” Yost says. For instance, he explains, “As a retailer, ‘How do I start tagging within my own operation?’ Most solutions were built for high-speed, high-volume tagging at the source.”

There are some mobile devices intended for encoding and printing RFID tags, but they tend to come in two pieces: one to scan a barcode to create an RFID number, and the other to print the RFID tag, which a user then applies to a carton or product. That process can be cumbersome and offers the potential for errors, such as scanning a barcode of one product, and then—in the process of printing the label and removing it from the printer—causing the label to be mismatched and applied to the wrong item. “The is the first handheld device to scan a barcode, encode RFID, and print and apply an RFID label, all within less than five seconds,” Yost says.

The Android-based device comes with a barcode scanner and an EPC UHF RFID reader-encoder and printer. Users first scan the barcode on a product or box label, then the device creates a serial number linked to that barcode and encodes that number into the RFID inlay built into the label that is being printed and attached. The user can simply place the device’s nose against the item, and the printer will print and affix the label.

By using a wireless or Ethernet connection, the device forwards the data to the user’s software. The printer system can work with Avery Dennison’s software, or an application programming interface (API) can be employed to leverage the user’s own software. RFID adoption in the retail market has been growing to meet omnichannel demands in apparel, Yost notes, and increasingly in the food sector as well. Moreover, logistics providers are under pressure to get products delivered faster than ever before.

In most RFID retail applications, tags are applied at the source of manufacture, but that creates a gap for smaller stores and companies that may want to employ RFID but need to attach tags to products after they are received. Many large retailers have a need for a portable label printer as well, Yost notes, since about 10 to 15 percent of their merchandise typically still arrives without RFID tags. Existing RFID printers weren’t designed for the smaller number of tags that might need to be applied where the goods are located—on a store shelf or at a warehouse dock door.

Grocers are moving toward RFID technology for use in self-checkout applications. By applying an RFID label to each product, they can enable shoppers to scan a credit card or a loyalty card at a self-checkout station, and RFID reader antennas at the exit will capture the items being removed and charge the customer’s credit card accordingly.

Another category is logistics. A parcel delivery company is testing the Pathfinder 6059 for use on irregular packages to better track them through the distribution center. Workers scan a parcel’s barcode, then create and affix an RFID label to that package, which is encoded with an RFID number that is also printed on the front. It is then read as the parcel is sorted to a specific van for delivery. In that way, the company can ensure that all parcels are loaded onto the correct van, and that none end up missing.

Approximately five retailers are testing the device in their stores to print RFID labels for goods, either when they are already in the store front or as they are received. Avery Dennison has been developing the device throughout the past two years, Yost says. The Pathfinder 6059 can create RFID tags about 35 percent faster than any other solution can do so, he adds, and has been found to be 97 percent more accurate than the tagging of products with two devices. The piloting companies are based in Australia, the United States and Europe so far. The device is certified for use in the U.S., Canada, the European Union, Australia and New Zealand. The official launch was on Aug. 26.

In a separate announcement, Avery Dennison joined in an agreement this month with mobile store company Robomart to provide its microwaveable and on-metal RFID labels for use with retail food sales out of the vehicle (see Driverless Mobile Store Leverages RFID to Bring Food to Customers). Robomart is preparing to release an autonomous vehicle solution that allows grocery stores to deliver food to consumers. The company is working with supermarket chain Stop and Shop, and it intends to deploy the vehicles in urban and suburban areas on the U.S. East Coast. The specific date on which the vehicles will hit the road has not yet been determined, according to Ali Ahmed, Robomart’s cofounder.

“We’re excited to work with Avery Dennison,” Ahmed says, adding that every product in the autonomous vehicles will have an Avery label applied to it. “We’ve been testing labels,” he says, and the company selected Avery Dennison because of its labels’ effective read rate, their ability to be applied to food and the fact that they can be microwaved. “Our entire checkout-free system is enabled with RFID,” he states, with a vision system as backup, so the solution requires 100 percent reliability. “We’ve been looking for a really great supplier that can work at volume with us. Avery Dennison came to the top of the list.”

With an RFID reader and antennas in each vehicle, and with tags on all products, Ahmed says, “We offer a frictionless experience.” The system, known as “store hailing,” allows users to leverage a Robomart app to view what inventory is stocked in a mobile store, then hail that store and watch it on their phone screen as it approaches (similarly to an Uber or Lyft app). Once it arrives, customers can use the app—which is linked to their payment account information—to unlock the store with their app. They can then simply take an item, and the system will no longer read the tag on that product and can thus charge the customer for it, once the store door is closed and the transaction has been completed.

“We’re solving problems in traditional delivery in which consumers don’t trust delivery people to select the produce they buy,” Ahmed states. With RFID, he add, the company gives those consumers the option to choose their own products themselves.