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Intermec: Practical RFID Solutions

Intermec Technologies has partnered with IBM Global Services and other systems integrators to provide wireless networking equipment and RFID systems that aim to solve companies' real-world problems.
By Bob Violino
May 17, 2003—May 19, 2003 -- It's about 8:30 on a humid Florida evening when Larry Brady strides into the elegant restaurant at the Doral Country Club. Brady is chairman and CEO of Unova, and president of its Intermec Technologies Corp. unit. He's clearly relaxed and wears a broad smile as he goes from table to table, greeting some of the journalists and analysts attending his company's annual user conference. Unlike the heads of most technology companies, Brady actually has good reason to smile: Intermec's revenue has grown by more than 10 percent for each of the past three quarters.
Prototype of the new 700 Series grip reader

"Companies have paid down their debt, and they're now investing in technologies that make them more efficient," he says. "We're benefiting from that."

Intermec makes bar code scanners, label printers, wireless local area networking equipment, and handheld computers -- products that make it possible to capture data virtually anywhere. The Everett, Wash.-based company is also poised to take advantage of the growing interest in RFID. It has established alliances with major players like IBM Global Services, which is the company's global systems integrator, and Oracle, which is working with Intermec to RFID-enable it's warehouse management software (see Oracle, Intermec Team on RFID App).

"We're seeing tremendous interest in RFID," says Brady. "It hasn't translated into a big increase in sales yet, but the interest is clearly growing."

Intermec was founded in 1966 and introduced the first portable bar code scanner five years later. Since then, it has been a leader in data-capture technology and related infrastructure. The company was acquired by Litton Industries in the early 1990's and remained under Unova when Unova was spun out of Litton in July 1997. That same year, Intermec purchased United Barcode Industries in Europe and nearly doubled in size.

In 1997, Intermec made another acquisition that was less publicized but which may turn out to have huge significance: It purchased IBM's portfolio of RFID technology and intellectual property. Intellitag RFID tags and readers operate in the UHF frequency range (915 MHz), as well as at 2.45 GHz. You can read the tags or write data to them from 15 feet (3 meters) away. The tags carry 1,024 kilobits of data, so you can store not just a serial number on them, but also application information related to the tagged object.
The ITRF reader can control industrial devices

Intermec sells two fixed readers, the 2100 UAP, and the newer ITRF, which comes with four addressable antenna ports and RS232 and RS422 serial ports. The serial ports make it easy to connect the reader to industrial equipment, such as a conveyor belt PLC, to identify and control the movement of work-in-process items, containers, totes, pallets and other objects, based on information stored in an RFID tag.

The company's handheld reader, called the Sabre 1555 Laser Scanner, reads bar codes, as well as RFID tags. It has a read range of more than 6 feet (two meters) and can write to all Intellitags. Intermec is also developing 915 MHz and 2.45 GHz readers in PCMCIA cards, so companies can add RFID readers to existing handheld computers for light industrial use. For the heavy lifting, the company is working on a grip for its 700 Series mobile computer, with a built-in RFID antenna. The 700 Series is a Windows CE/Pocket PC device that can transmit data over a wireless LAN using the 802.11b standard.
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