Metalcraft On-Metal RFID Tags to Cut Price for Retailers such as Walmart

Published: December 15, 2023

The Eco Mini is designed for use on household or sporting goods sold in retail, while the Eco Mini-Plus targets work-in-progress tracking in manufacturing

Manufacturers and suppliers of household and sporting goods, trying to track products with low-cost RFID tags, have a challenge when it comes to metal.

Standard UHF RFID tags, priced around 5 cents, often don’t operate reliably when attached to metal. And while RFID-using retailers such as Walmart sell many metal-based goods, their suppliers can’t always find an affordable way to meet their RFID requirements.

Similarly, manufacturers tracking metal parts in production, for “work-in-progress” need a low cost, reliable RFID tag that operates in harsh conditions. That hasn’t been easy to find.

Metalcraft has released its Universal Eco Mini and Universal Eco Mini Plus tags as a potential solution. The tags are about half the price of existing on-metal RFID tags, while being easy to apply, and offering high performance, says Colynn Black, Metalcraft’s RFID business development director.

The Challenge of Tagging Metal Goods

The Universal Eco Mini “is especially targeted at an industry that Metalcraft hasn’t historically played in and that’s the retail space,” Black says.

Until now Metalcraft products have been designed for industrial or other sectors that require uniquely durable on-metal tags.

The company began engineering a new tag that could be applied to challenging retail products: golf clubs, baseball bats, grills and patio furniture, even pots and pans can pose challenges for the technology. Up to now, many such products were going untagged.

Auburn University’s RFID Lab offers its ARC Certification program to provide tag recommendations for such cases, but the tags available have struggled to meet price and performance requirements.

Demand is Up for Low-Cost RFID

At the same time, demand for RFID has been growing among suppliers. Many vendors are now utilizing their RFID tags internally to track the goods they produce. Leaving tags off metal items can be disruptive.

“They don’t like having 10 percent of their items not tagged with RFID, because then you have two separate systems you have to manage as opposed to just RFID for everything,” Black says.

The company is promoting Universal Eco Mini as a lower cost, lighter weight version of its standard Universal Mini tag. It accomplishes the high performance and low cost through its customized converting process and materials.

Walmart Testing

With the company producing its own RFID inlays, “we were able to bring that cost down especially with the help of our inlay manufacturing facility,” Black states.

The Eco Mini is the same size, form factor and offers the same performance as the Universal Mini. The “eco” nomenclature refers to its lower price and reduction in plastic material as it has 40 percent less plastic in the construction than the standard universal mini, according to Black.

Walmart suppliers and large service bureaus are now testing the new tags.

Tracking Work in Progress

The Universal Eco Mini Plus comes with a more adhesive construction for manufacturing or industrial environments that require a robust tag. That can include factories for tracking assets or equipment where goods are exposed to indoor and outdoor temperatures.

The tag can be applied directly to metal and used for inventory or asset management at production facilities.

These new tags for work-in-progress can be thermal transfer printable, onsite, without special features such as digital color printing. Metalcraft offers service bureau printing for customers if they don’t want to print the tags themselves onsite.

“Even though we are broaching into this more economical environment we still deliver a high-quality product,” Black says. “I think when [new users] test these products they are looking for a price point that’s low. When they see the quality of the parts that we’re sending them, at the price point that they’re seeing, they’re taken by surprise at how well they perform.”

The company is currently taking high volume orders for the tags.

Key Takeaways:
  • With a history in high-performance, specialized on-metal RFID tags—Metalcraft is forging into new territory with two low cost products.
  • The Universal Eco Mini and Universal Eco Mini Plus are aimed at suppliers of metal consumer goods, and manufacturers tracking work in progress.