May 04, 2016Kathrein Group, a provider of telecommunication and RFID hardware, has acquired automatic identification software company NoFilis. Kathrein's RFID division—Kathrein RFID—already sells ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) readers and reader antennas to the automotive, industrial and logistics sectors, as well as other markets. During the months following the acquisition, which took place on May 1, Kathrein RFID and noFilis will each continue to sell their technology independently, while both companies will also provide full turnkey solutions consisting of Kathrein's hardware and noFilis' CrossTalk software.
Kathrein RFID develops and manufactures UHF stationary readers, UHF and bar-code handheld devices, reader modules and reader antennas. The company often customizes these devices for specific use cases, and also provides a software tool featuring 3D simulation of antennas, transponders and applications.
The software can simulate and display the RFID radiation field of complete RFID application scenarios, such as four RFID antennas in a specific gate environment interacting with a driving forklift vehicle.
Parent company Kathrein Group has been offering radio antennas and other communication products for nearly a century, according to Thomas Brunner, Kathrein RFID's business unit head. In 2007, he says, the firm opened its Kathrein RFID division, which is focused on passive UHF RFID technology for the industrial market. Kathrein has approximately 7,700 employees, including 170 who work for its RFID division.
NoFilis launched in 2005 as an RFID software provider, initially providing a solution for Metro Group's early RFID testing efforts, to help the retailer manage data collected from the multiple makes and models of readers it was testing. The device-management system that noFilis developed for Metro eventually led to the creation of its CrossTalk software (see To Future-Proof Its Future Store, Metro Group Opted for EPCglobal Standards).
Because Kathrein RFID focused solely on hardware, it began partnering with noFilis—a company in the same region of Germany, near Munich—in 2008. The two companies developed what they call "intelligent reader solutions," using CrossTalk software to provide read data management on each individual Kathrein reader, instead of employing a separate appliance that would otherwise need to manage the data coming from a multitude of readers, as well as filtering and interpreting that information before forwarding it to software residing on a user's back-end server. With the CrossTalk software and Kathrein reader, the companies report, much of that filtering and other data management is performed on the reader itself.
The companies continued to partner to create a variety of customized solutions for customers, many of whom were interested in full solutions that could be provided as a single turnkey product.
Throughout the past few years, says Patrick Hartman, noFilis' global sales director, his firm had been receiving requests from venture capitalists and other businesses interested in acquiring the company. "We've seen tremendous growth in auto-ID," he states. NoFilis began considering how it might grow with the market, including whether an acquisition was the best solution. Since Kathrein RFID and noFilis had been partnering since 2008, Hartman explains, being acquired by Kathrein "seemed like a good fit and a strategic and sensible next step."
What's more, Hartman says, Kathrein maintains a worldwide presence and has many large customers on most continents, providing noFilis with access to more customers for its software, either as solutions with Kathrein RFID's readers or with other hardware from outside vendors. "The very strong Kathrein sales and service network," he states, "can be used to sell, implement and service the joint solution bundle."
For Kathrein, Brunner notes, the benefit is the ability to offer a turnkey solution. "We are transforming from a hardware provider to a solution provider," he says.
Both Kathrein RFID and noFilis have sold their products primarily in the industrial and manufacturing logistics markets, though they also offer readers and software for the health-care and retail sectors. The two partners have no immediate plans to target different markets, Brunner reports.
The two companies will now work to add new innovative features to the CrossTalk software platform, as well as readers. Though they say that it is too soon to reveal what those innovations might be, they do indicate that those innovations would involve deeper integration between hardware and software.
Last year, Kathrein released the ARU-CSB antenna-integrated reader, which provides what the firm calls "out of the box" direction detection, based on its internal antenna array. The device is intended for use in such applications as dock doors, where the direction in which a tagged item is moving can be determined within three reading zones.
During the past year, noFilis has implemented an EPCIS-compliant repository that stores CrossTalk-collected data, according to Martin Dobler, noFilis' CTO. In that way, he says, details such as a product's movement from one location to another can be shared with the appropriate parties.