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The Right RFID Reader Strategy

Companies need to understand the reader requirements for each of their major RFID applications and the features of common types of readers—and then match them.
By Mary Catherine O’Connor
Apr 01, 2005—You’ve done your business case analysis and proved the applications will deliver a return through pilot tests of the technology. Now it’s time to roll out your company’s first RFID applications based on Electronic Product Code technologies. The big question: What type of readers should you purchase?

Of course, there’s no one right answer. Each company has to examine its position in the supply chain, the applications RFID will be used for and where readers will be installed within its facilities.

Choosing the right ultra-high frequency (UHF) readers—which range from $500 to $3,000 each, depending on their features—is critical to the success of any implementation, and having a reader strategy can help keep down the cost of a project. Ideally, placing one large order for readers that will work for all or most of your applications is more cost-effective than, say, buying a few readers for your dock doors, then others for your choke points and still others for your forklifts.

This special report gives companies that are ready to roll out UHF EPC technology insights into which readers to choose to meet current RFID deployments—with an eye toward saving money by investing in hardware that will also meet future RFID needs. The chart on the next page features 16 current readers and their specifications, all upgradable to the second-generation UHF EPC standard (Gen 2).

Intelligent or dumb
First, companies need to choose between “intelligent” readers—which can read tags using different protocols, filter data and execute commands—or simple, less expensive “dumb” readers, which have limited functionality. In manufacturing operations, many readers might be needed to read a single type of tag across a large area, such as on a conveyor system, so it makes sense to use less sophisticated readers that are networked together and feed into a large central server. But retailers that will be receiving goods from many suppliers will need intelligent readers that can read different types of tags.

End users might need more intelligent readers as deployments ramp up and the amount of data collected explodes. Most intelligent readers can filter and store data. If, for example, an item is sitting on a shelf and not moving, the reader might read the tag thousands of times per minute, but report to an inventory management application only the fact that the tag was not read after a certain time. Intelligent readers with more advanced filtering capabilities can be programmed to interpret data and pass on only data that is meaningful. Let’s say a tagged pallet is moved through an interrogation zone and then, due to congestion, is pushed back through it again. The reader would send its tag ID to the inventory management system only once.

Some intelligent readers also have the power to run software applications to execute filtering commands. For example, a retailer might want to set up a reader at a receiving bay to turn on a light or beep when it reads tags on newly delivered products that are out of stock, so staff can grab them and rush the items to the shelves.

When purchasing readers, it’s important to plan ahead. Buying a lot of dumb readers might be cost-effective today, but you don’t want to rip them out in 18 months and replace them with intelligent readers because your applications have evolved. Think about what data you might want to collect in the future and how the technology will be adopted by others in your supply chain. When do you expect your suppliers to begin sending you tagged shipments? Which protocols will those tags use? (Today, readers might need to read Gen 1 and Gen 2 tags. Tomorrow it could be Gen 2 and Gen 3.)
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