Designing an RFID Lab

There are many aspects to consider when embarking on the design of an RFID laboratory.
Published: April 26, 2007

Too many RFID labs in the market today have been designed with no other purpose in mind than to show off the really cool toys—I mean, tools—that a company has designed. While that’s great for bragging rights, it doesn’t meet a solid business need.

The overwhelming feedback I’ve received from the most recent RFID lab I helped design was that it tells a story—clients can see how to use the technology in meaningful simulations. The “lab tour” in this facility follows a package from either creation during manufacturing or receiving at the dock door, through sortation, handling, storage, picking, wrapping, staging and shipping. This allows customers to see things they readily identify with from their own operations, regardless of their industry.

An RFID lab represents a significant investment of time and energy, not to mention recurring revenue. A lack of planning is like a trip to the casino—maybe you’ll get it right, maybe you don’t. Proper planning can make it very successful—demonstrations of the equipment, services or processes, targeted to your audience, will keep them coming back for more. And they’ll bring their friends! Here’s what you need to think about before you begin designing an RFID lab.

If you’re an RFID middleware vendor designing a product-specific lab, it should show the power of the platform. Identify your specific client base and create demonstrations that will simulate the processes they perform in their day-to-day businesses. Your goal is to show how your RF-enabled software can make their lives easier or, perhaps, generate sales. By demonstrating your concepts, you not only help prospective clients understand your product—you also differentiate your lab from others that merely show off the latest interrogators in a slap-and-ship or dock portal simulation, with no other visible goal at hand. A visible demonstration that clearly shows your product’s abilities and highlights its strengths is a clear winner.

If you’re an RFID hardware vendor, consider the environment you create. Are you demonstrating stand-alone interrogators or placing them in real-world scenarios, showing how they can be integrated into manufacturing facilities or distribution centers?

Many hardware vendors partner with systems integrators that have labs, so they can marry their technology to one of the solutions already being demonstrated in the lab. If you’re considering this approach, first see if the lab can weave in your specific story and isn’t just a general scientific demonstration that says, “Look what we can do!” Remember, the whole idea behind demonstrating hardware in labs is to generate sales, not bragging rights.

If you’re designing a service lab, such as those that provide product testing for the Wal-Mart crowd, make sure your customers know where the value you add fits in their business. For example, if you offer full-service capabilities—hot-spot, portal, environmental, static, dynamic, application-specific and device-specific testing—create a-day-in-the-life-of-a-product demo that shows the usefulness of your services throughout the manufacturing and distribution process.

The market is growing more into value-added solutions. Solutions providers need to unite and make the products and services they offer address the holistic needs the market is facing. Slap and ship is dying away, and consumers of RFID technology want to see ways they can meet mandates and drive a significant return on the investment they are making.

The bottom line: Your lab needs to engage clients on comfortable ground. Make demonstrations that look and work the way theirs do, with similar hardware, only now made easier through the use of RFID.

Have you seen a lab recently that made you really sit back and say, “Wow, I haven’t seen that before?” If yes, tell us about it! If not, will your company be the one that dares to be different? In the coming months we will discuss how to build a lab on a budget.

Mark Brown is VP of professional services at RFID4U, a global provider of RFID education and advisory services with RFID design, construction and integration projects throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. Mark is leading cutting-edge RFID deployments. He and the team of experienced consultants he leads are industry-recognized and trusted subject-matter experts known for their participation in major industry initiatives, such as Auto-ID Labs and EPCglobal workgroups. They have each authored well-publicized white papers and three best-selling RFID certification books, and they speak at major trade shows and industry events. RFID4U partners with the best RFID manufacturers, service providers and laboratories throughout the world, demonstrating cutting-edge technology to solve challenges throughout diverse organizations in all industry verticals.