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Jump-Start Your Deployment

The RFID Research Center at the University of Arkansas helps end users choose an RFID lab for research, testing or training.
By Justin Patton
Aug 01, 2008—Many end users looking to adopt RFID don't know where or how to begin. They don't have the personnel to dedicate to an RFID project to determine which technology can help them solve their business problem or satisfy a customer mandate. They don't have the resources to set up an internal lab to test different hardware or tagging procedures. They don't know which RFID vendors can best meet their needs. And they don't have a trained workforce to deploy the technology.

The good news is that RFID labs have popped up in every region of the world to help end users meet these challenges. Basically, three types of labs are open to the public: research, testing and training. Depending on the stage of your RFID project, you might take advantage of all three types, or use only a testing or training lab.

RFID labs have popped up in every region of the world to help end users meet the challenges they face.

End users also tend to fall into three main categories: companies such as retailers and third-party logistics providers that receive tagged goods in an open-loop supply chain; suppliers that have to tag goods for customers in an open-loop supply chain; and companies that deploy closed-loop systems within their own organizations to track, for example, parts, assets, work in process or employees.

To help you choose the RFID lab that can help you get your project off the ground, we'll look at the main features of each type of lab and match them with end users' needs. The RFID Research Center at the University of Arkansas is a nonprofit academic research center and a participant in a few lab consortia. We've collaborated with many different types of RFID labs and have visited all three types of labs mentioined above in North America, South America, Asia and Europe. The table on page 32 lists the labs with which we are familiar; there are likely other research, testing and training labs in your region that could meet your needs. Also, since these labs offer tours and/or informational demonstrations of different types of RFID technology and applications, we haven't included demonstration facilities.

Research Labs
Research labs, such as ours, tend to be associated with academic facilities; systems integrators, consultants and some vendors also run research labs. These labs can answer an end user's first concern: Which technology should I use (active, passive, UHF, HF) to solve my business problem, and how do I implement it? They can also help end users understand the required infrastructure, costs and training. Simple services such as connecting end users with vendors that have helped other companies with similar problems are sometimes offered at no charge, but projects that require lab resources are usually billed. If a technology vendor or implementation partner has been selected, generally it's best to use that outfit's facilities; otherwise, a neutral lab or one with several vendor partners will afford more solution options.

In addition, research labs can help end users determine the feasibility of a particular RFID technology for certain applications. Say, for instance, a retail chain wants to attach a mobile reader to a floor buffer to take store inventory at night. Before the retailer outfits 50 stores with untested equipment, the application can be tested in a lab facility.

Most research labs can also test simple reader network and infrastructure setups before they're rolled out to the user locations. And it's often possible for the lab staff to follow the technology out of the lab and into pilots.
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