European EPC Competence Center Expanding Its Services

By Rhea Wessel

Housed within the Metro Group RFID Innovation Center, the EPCglobal-accredited test facility is launching new training courses and consulting on RFID pilots.

Europe's first accredited EPCglobal test center, the European EPC Competence Center (EECC), is expanding its services this year to include consulting for companies looking to implement a UHF RFID system based on EPCglobal standards.

The center opened in late 2005 to support the implementation of RFID and EPCglobal standards (see Europe's First EPCglobal Test Center Gears Up). It began offering equipment testing and training courses in 2006.

A tagged product is placed on a turntable in the anechoic chamber.

EECC, a for-profit company offering services to any parties interested in RFID, is housed within the Metro Group RFID Innovation Center, located in Neuss, Germany (see Europe's First EPCglobal Test Center Gears Up). The RFID Innovation Center, a five-room showcase for RFID technology, features a simulated warehouse, a grocery store, a home kitchen, a department store and a retailer's order-picking operation.

The EECC was founded by lead partner GS1 Germany. Other partners in the group include Deutsche Post World Net, Metro and Karstadt Warenhaus.

The highlight of the EECC is a futuristic, 50-cubic-meter testing room known as the anechoic chamber. Its walls, ceiling and floor are covered with bright blue, pyramid-shaped RF absorbers designed to eliminate unwanted signal reflection and interference. This enables a uniform electromagnetic field over a broad RF bandwidth. The chamber also features a remote-controlled turntable and antenna mast linked with the EECC's automated test system. Other equipment in the chamber includes an RF spectrum analyzer, a vector signal generator, an automated test system and a range of EPC UHF RFID tags, interrogators and antennas. This setup allows for testing of any type of tagged item at the item, case or pallet level.

The tests use standardized profiles to simulate real-world conditions to determine the readability of end-user tagged products. Each customer can define its own parameters, such as RF frequency and the angle of the reading. Taken in the ideal situation, these readings can form the basis of an RFID implementation.

"You must have a controlled environment. Small changes make a big difference," explains Gerd Wolfram, head of both the EECC and Metro Group Information Technology GmbH, a Metro subsidiary. He adds, "We want to give companies the possibility to do RFID right."

The highlight of the EECC is a futuristic, 50-cubic-meter testing room known as the anechoic chamber.

The EECC performs primarily static tests in an ideal environment, under the belief that companies need this basic information to set up a quality RFID application. It tests transponder placement, read range and tag orientation—and, if a customer wishes, the organization can verify the results in a real-life warehouse environment.

"A lot of people will try to skip the tests, but if they have a problem with their application, they can't know why unless they performed the tests," says Philipp Blome, who handles business development for the EECC.

Since the tests are highly complex, the EECC spent time last year developing standard forms of the tests that will produce results every manager can understand. It won't reveal its price list, but says companies can test one tag on one product for significantly less than €500 ($651). The final cost will depend on how long the tests ultimately take.

Before visitors approach the chamber, they can view a large chart on the wall, displaying results from a test of eight different tag placements on a six-pack of Rexona deodorant in metal aerosol cans. With each tag placement, reader success rates varied dramatically.

Gerd Wolfram

The EECC trained 150 people from a variety of companies and industries last year, and plans to expand this offer by adding two additional workshop series in 2007. The curriculum, offered in both German and English, is tailored for those with a beginning, intermediate or advanced understanding of RFID. Fees range from roughly €600 ($782) to €700 ($912) per day. The beginning RFID class covers the technology basics, standards, business cases and an overview of lessons learned from various pilots.

The intermediate class, offered on the second day in the course series, focuses on the impact of different transponders on the performance of RFID systems, RFID system optimization, EPC data exchange and communication (e.g., EPCIS and ONS) and software architecture. It also provides practical workshops about EPCIS, transponders and Applied Tag Performance (ATP) tests, such as those performed by the EECC.

The third day of training covers such RFID air-interface protocols as EPCglobal Gen 2 and ISO 18000-6c. It also covers ETSI standards and rules, UHF RFID applications and application design, and practical demonstrations.

Along with equipment testing and training courses, the EECC plans to offer on-site and off-site consulting on RFID pilots starting this year. It says it will provide technical feasibility studies that include independent recommendations about the best RFID hardware and software for a specific application, since the center does not sell or endorse any particular hardware or software.