Inside an RFID Industry Roundtable

At a gathering of some of the leading technology and service providers, there was optimism about the growth of the RFID industry.
Published: December 16, 2010

I recently attended an informal meeting with some RFID industry leaders. The meeting was hosted by Jack Farell, the VP and general manager of Avery Dennison’s RFID division. Present were several representatives from Avery’s partners, including Mike Poldino, the VP and general manager of Motorola’s RFID business; Tom Grant, ThingMagic‘s CEO; Mike Lowry, Lowry Computer Products‘ CEO; and Lance Stark, the CEO of Stark RFID.

Reik Read, an analyst at Robert W.Baird & Co. who covers RFID technologies and runs the RFID Monthly Web site, and Drew Nathanson and Chris Resendez, analysts from VDC Research, were there as well. Also present were John Sallay, Avery’s senior VP of new growth platforms, Maggie Bidlingmaier, Avery’s global director of sales and marketing, and several other Avery executives.

The point of the meeting was to share ideas about the current and future state of the industry. The mood was surprisingly upbeat, as RFID solutions providers said they’re seeing an uptick in business.

Nathanson presented some information on the market, based on VDC’s latest research. We’ll be writing more about that soon, but he basically said the 581 respondents to a VDC survey indicated they spend or are planning to spend significantly more on RFID. He also indicated that respondents see RFID as more of a strategic advantage than simply as a short-term tactical move to lower costs.

I injected a note of caution, noting that many respondents have been surveyed for several years because they are among the companies looking at, piloting or using RFID, and that the data, therefore, is skewed toward a segment of the population that is more educated about the technology. I also noted that the vast majority of people with whom I speak—readers of RFID Journal—are seeking solutions to specific business problems, such as lost tools or inaccurate inventory. And newcomers to our site have a lot to learn about what the technology can do for their companies.

Many people coming to our Web site, I told those at the meeting, are confused about which RFID system is right for their particular needs. Do they require a passive high-frequency (HF) or ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) system, or an active real-time location system (RTLS)? If the latter, do they choose Wi-Fi, ZigBee, UHF or ultra-wideband (UWB), or maybe even ultrasound or infrared?

Everyone in attendance agreed that RFID can be confusing. However, there was no consensus regarding what the industry could do to explain, to the vast majority of businesses not actively exploring RFID’s potential, what the technology is, what it does and how companies can benefit from it.

There was broad agreement that many more businesspeople accept that passive UHF systems perform well for most common applications, and that there is growing interest in the technology. Nathanson reported that a growing number of companies are spending more money on consulting, as they seek to understand how RFID can benefit them.

Lowry agreed, noting that his firm is getting more consulting engagements from businesses trying to understand how they should use RFID. Stark also said his company was getting more business from those companies employing the technology in a wide variety of ways. Among the industries that the group felt are adopting RFID at a faster pace are manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, retail, consumer packaged goods and the energy sector.

We discussed whether RFID could be an alternative to electronic article surveillance (EAS) tags. The group generally agreed that retailers are unlikely to rip out existing infrastructure to put radio frequency identification in place, but that over time, new stores (and those that need to replace outdated EAS equipment) will likely adopt the technology.

Finally, there was a discussion of some of the obstacles to adoption. Education is still considered a big one. Some, myself included, felt the lack of metrics about the benefits of RFID for different applications is a barrier. Poldino made the point that the technology needs to be more plug-and-play, and I agreed, suggesting that what end users want to buy is not tags and readers, but rather a complete system.

I found the meeting valuable. It was useful to understand what companies like Lowry are hearing from their customers, and to gain insights from hardware manufacturers and analysts. Sharing different points of view gives everyone a deeper understanding of industry trends, and can lead to better business decisions. I hope the group gets together again in a few months—perhaps at RFID Journal LIVE! 2011, being held on Apr. 12 14 in Orlando, Fla.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog or the Editor’s Note archive.