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SimCity for the RFID Crowd

With RFID network simulation software, you can design and test your RFID infrastructure from the comfort of your computer.
Oct 01, 2007—Mary Catherine O'Connor

There's nothing fun about deploying an RFID system based on EPC Gen 2 technology. It can take weeks—even months—and a lot of trial and error before you find the best way to set up and install your hardware, configure the settings on even standardized RFID interrogators, encode and apply tags, and integrate the RFID system into your existing business processes.

Now there's a better way. While we won't go as far as calling it a strategic video game, RFID network simulation software does let you create a virtual manufacturing facility, warehouse or distribution center, then design and build an RFID infrastructure in it. You can develop and test various business processes, such as how and where tags will be read and how the collected data will be integrated into existing applications. (Simulation software won't tell you where to place tags on products or how to address sources of RF interference inside your facility, but there's RF signal analysis software to do that job.) The software can even be used before you decide which hardware to buy.

Some middleware providers, such as BEA Systems, iAnywhere and GlobeRanger, offer simulators that are integrated into their products, used to manage RFID hardware. Companies that have used simulation software say it saves time and money.

Daisy Brand, a Texas-based manufacturer of sour cream products, uses the iMotion Visual Device Emulator, simulation software built into GlobeRanger's middleware, to test workflows without interrupting warehouse operations. The simulation software also allows Daisy Brand to test changes to its RFID equipment, such as reader configurations, without interrupting live dock operations.

"We use the simulation software to test various workflows to see if things would work or not in the production environment," says Kevin Brown, director of information systems for Daisy Brand. "What happens, for example, if someone put the wrong pallet on the wrong truck? It's the abnormal things that catch you off guard. We went through some of those scenarios using the simulation software, because it's hard to go on the floor and simulate something like that. You would need to eat up two dock doors, two trucks, etc."

Other companies and organizations offer standalone RFID testing and development software. Rifidi, from RFID consultancy Pramari, is a free open-source tool that uses virtual tags and readers—you select the frequency and air-interface protocol for the tags and readers, the reader antenna quantity and configuration, and all of the readers' configurable settings—to build and test RFID applications. Once configured, the software generates various tagging scenarios and workflows in 3D.
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