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RFID Goes Vertical

In 2006, end user companies will focus on technological solutions that can solve problems within their specific vertical industry.
By Andrew Price
Feb 01, 2006—For most of the past few years, radio frequency identification has been something of a generic technology. Vendors of tags, interrogators and software have offered generic products and left it to end users or systems integrators to figure out how to make these work for specific applications. Even those vendors that have offered solutions have targeted broad horizontal markets, such as inventory management or asset control. But as RFID technology matures, end users are increasingly looking for solutions that solve specific business problems in their particular vertical industry, and vendors are starting to respond.

Within the consumer product goods industry, the end users' shift toward vertical industry applications is being driven by their need to achieve a return on investment. Many early adopters of Electronic Product Code technologies have found that tagging cases and pallets for a retail customer simply doesn't deliver enough improvement in supply chain efficiency to justify the cost of the tags. Thus, they have begun exploring applications that solve a specific problem, such as out-of-stocks.

Hardware providers, software companies and systems integrators are teaming up to create complete solutions.
In other industries, different factors are also at work. Pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors and retailers in the United States, for instance, are being required by the introduction of legislation in Florida and California to record the movement of pharmaceutical drugs through the supply chain. This is a costly and time-consuming exercise to do manually, so many companies would like to find ways to do it electronically using RFID.

Hardware vendors are responding to the changing marketplace by introducing tags and interrogators that can be used in specific industries. Intermec and Symbol, for instance, have announced plans to introduce new form factors for interrogators, and a number of RFID label makers are introducing labels designed for specific applications, such as tagging individual bottles of prescription drugs or metal airplane parts.

Software vendors are also shifting their tactics to focus on vertical industries. A number are targeting hospitals and clinics, which are using RFID asset tracking systems to find expensive equipment. Systems designed specifically for hospitals could also help them better service and maintain equipment. This is one reason why the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass., is looking to upgrade its active RFID system from GE Healthcare.

GE Healthcare resells active RFID transmitters, interrogators and locating software from WhereNet under its own IntelliMotion brand. The latest tags are smaller and thinner and can be used on more equipment. And GE Healthcare has recently integrated that locating capability with its own AssetPlus enterprise application, which was designed specifically to help health-care providers manage inventories, service histories and compliance requirements. So the new system will let the Lahey Clinic not only determine the location of assets but also alert engineers when those assets need routine or preventative maintenance.
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