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Easing the Way for Tagging Items

The University of Arkansas' RFID Research Center's compliance program aims to ensure that RFID transponders will work in retail stores.
By Mark Roberti
Feb 19, 2013—Back in 2003, when Walmart first asked its top suppliers to tag pallets and cases, consumer packaged goods companies had a lot of questions. What tags do we use? Where do we place them? How do we know the tags will be read in a Walmart facility? This gave rise to a considerable amount of testing in labs worldwide. The tests typically involved putting tags on cases of tomato soup, and reading the tags as they traveled along a conveyor.

The quality of passive ultrahigh-frequency tags and readers based on GS1's Electronic Product Code standard have improved a great deal—and so have testing procedures. Now, as more retailers are moving RFID-tagging of apparel and other items to the point of manufacture, suppliers are once again asking these questions. And the University of Arkansas' RFID Research Center is prepared to answer them. But instead of testing tags for each supplier, the center has created the Arkansas Radio Compliance (ARC) program, which aims to qualify tags that will work in a specific retailer's environment.

The RFID Research Center's anechoic chamber for testing RFID tags. (Photo: University of Arkansas' RFID Research Center)

RFID Journal recently visited the center's new 20,000-square-foot lab in Fayetteville, Ark., to view the testing being conducted for the ARC program. The program was launched in January 2011, at the request of retailers that wanted suppliers to be able to choose tags from a variety of approved vendors. The program qualifies tags that can be used by suppliers of a particular product category, so every supplier doesn't have to recreate each retail partner's store environment and test the tags.

The RFID Research Center set up a three-step process to qualify tags. First, the center's researchers visit one or more of a retail chain's stores to observe the environment in which the tags will be read. They tag a variety of products within a category the retailer wants to track with RFID, and they read those tags to understand the variables that affect RFID performance in that environment.
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