6 RFID Tech Trends on Display at RFID Journal LIVE!

Published: April 16, 2024

Retailer mandates, sustainability and AI are among the drivers this year for the RFID industry as it expands across industries and applications.

RFID and IoT technologies are evolving from a tracking tool, aimed at inventory or assets in key industries, to something much more universal. The vision for technology companies and some end users is coming into view, and it involves understanding the status of billions, or trillions of everyday items.

From broadening RFID use cases, to new technology achievements, the IoT and RFID industries are looking at a year of growth— and some challenges—based on conversations with attendees and exhibitors at RFID Journal LIVE! April 9 to 11.

A few highlights include UPS’ adoption of RFID to track its parcels, with long term plans to make all its packaging intelligent; mandates from companies like Walmart, bringing pressure on manufacturers of consumer goods, and the European Commission’s DPP, and other legislative initiatives, accelerating an effort around sustainability.

Engineering Wins

In the meantime, tech companies continue to engineer ways for the technology to accomplish tasks that weren’t available, or as affordable, in the past. Examples include reading passive UHF tags in near real time with a an overhead reader such as PervasID’s Trackmaster 2X, or narrowing the read distance of a tag with the touch of a glove in the case of Teijin Frontier and ASReader’s RecoHand.

Beyond passive UHF RAIN RFID, other technologies continue to expand both in capability and applications. That includes NFC technology for brand authentication and consumer engagement, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) for real-time location (RTLS) and sensor-based solutions, and even a transition of barcodes to 2D enabling unique identification and content linkage to a single product.

Among all technologies, the reality of machine learning and AI and what they can offer users when it comes to managing the data they are collecting, is significant.

Listed here are just a few of the notable trends found on the conference show floor.

Specialized Tags and Applications

Tageos is among the RFID tag companies that has pivoted to focusing on specialized tag solutions. That effort is a response to the broadening requirements from a wider range of customers that are adopting RFID for the first time.

The emphasis consists of an “engineering as a service” solution to provide software innovation or offer emerging technologies needed to enabled RFID use in a wider retail market.

An example of this is Tageos is creating a partnership with Sensthys, a specialized company that offers intelligence on mechanical strain via sensors used on outdoor infrastructure such as wind turbines.

And California tech company Acceliot is enhancing its edge platform and asset visibility platform to enable its customers to gain a more end-to-end solution with what the company calls a convergence of IoT, RFID, AI and 5G.

Consumer Product RFID Tagging

Companies that were unfamiliar with RFID in the recent past are now deploying the technology for a wide variety of products. There are numerous challenges related to that effort. For instance, tags are need to accommodate a wide variety of materials and form-factors far beyond the common paper hangtags attached to garments.

New labels are being engineered with unique application methods to ensure they can be read on the variety of products being tagged. FineLine is one example of label manufacturers who have been broadening services for RFID and NFC enabled labels. Metal objects are an example of goods that cause RF transmission challenges.

To enable UHF RFID tag use for products such as liquids, attachment above the fill level of a product is one of the efforts underway by manufacturers. A flag tag in which the RFID chip and antenna are separated from the container offers one option. Additionally, some tags that are being applied to a product lids need to be built and attached in a way that can be discreet as well as aesthetically pleasing.

Label Printing

Label printers are increasingly being tasked with accomplishing RFID functionality for the printed labels they provide for their customers. Many are taking that business to converters by sending printed labels to them for the RFID inlay to be inserted, then sent back. Others are acquiring the equipment to begin inserting RFID inlays themselves.

Companies like Mühlbauer are serving companies that must design, manufacture and integrate RFID tags in high volume.

Meanwhile, airlines continue their trajectory toward tagging RFID labels on luggage, led by Delta Airlines. Luggage that is checked at a Delta counter is being tagged with UHF RFID tags to ensure bags are properly loaded and unloaded. This process enables passengers to receive an update that their baggage is on its way to them. The RFID deployment process has been steady, but more airlines will need to join the effort to make it wide-scale.

Officials at Auburn Labs reported it has been receiving certification applications from product manufacturers and their RFID solution providers for certification of their product labels destined for Walmart. They are reportedly accomplishing the certification process with a relatively quick turnover.

Readers for Diverse Environments

Companies such as AsReader continue to innovate readers to capture tags in a variety of environments. The AsReader family of UHF tag readers enable tags to be isolated from the outside environment and read quickly in busy settings, such as a warehouses or stores. It offers readers in multiple sizes—including its jewelry tray, a tub for physical keys such as one used by maintenance personnel, and a tub designed for point of sale reading at stores.

Wearable RFID readers continue to be innovated as well, led by Feig Electronic’s hybrid barcode and RFID wearable reader known as HiWEAR for use by warehouse workers, baggage handlers and waste disposal employees.

Sustainability Options in NFC, RFID Hardware

UK flexible IC technology company Pragmatic Semiconductor has expanded its foundry capacity at its Pramatic Park in Durham, U.K, to serve a demand for 182 million FlexIC NFC semiconductor products.  The 300 millimeter-sized wafer fabrication site includes nine fabrication lines with room for expansion for up to eight additional fabrication lines.

The FlexICs are equivalent in price to standard tag IC’s said company CEO David Moore, but the financial cost of integration and deployment is less than it would be with other products. That’s in part because the chips are thin, flexible and robust with an aim to lower environmental impact and minimize costs for fast moving consumer goods, circular economies, healthcare and medical products as well as for authentication.

Pragmatic works with inlay manufacturers and converters to integrate FlexICs into their products.

RFID Alternatives Offer Real Time Location

Alternatives to RFID include BLE based technology such as a retailer solution by connected retail technology provider Nexite. The company pairs AI with its BLE IoT devices to provide retailers with a real time view into the location of BLE tagged goods as well as data analytics to build product displays and replenishments according to the requirements of shoppers in the specific store.

With Nexite tags applied to products, the system can detect the location of merchandise as it moves around the store or goes in and out of the dressing room. The solution then pairs that information with a sale or lack of sale. This enables the retailer to have a view into how products are performing, even when they are not sold.

Key Takeaways:

  • RFID technology adoption in retail is being driven by a perfect storm of sustainability requirements, retailer mandates and greater demand for omnichannel sales from consumers.
  • Healthcare, aviation, manufacturing and automotive demands are widening the field for technology, while demanding more innovation.