Dec 21, 2012Packaging and label company r-pac International Corp. has begun selling labels made with Smartrac's new WebLite ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 RFID tag. The WebLite tag offers the read range of a standard UHF tag, the company reports, with a form factor of less than 2 inches in length and 0.75 inch wide. R-pac helped Smartrac develop the WebLite tag, with the goal of selling the finished labels—which contain built-in WebLite inlays, for use in tagging items that require very small tags, but that still must be readable not only at stores, but also within distribution centers when packed in boxes.
Paul Arguin, r-pac's senior director of RFID development, says his company's customers—global retailers and their suppliers—have reported that standard RFID labels, which typically measure 3 inches in length, are too big for some merchandise, such as delicate silk garments that might be damaged by the use of a large tag. Although there are smaller labels available that more typically measure 1.75 inches square, he notes, such labels have a compromised read performance. "The small tags don't always provide the performance of a standard tag," Arguin states. That was a problem for suppliers and retailers when it came to reading tags at DCs in which goods were packed in boxes and then loaded onto moving pallets.
Thus, Arguin says, Smartrac and r-pac combined their efforts to develop a smaller tag that would address these challenges. "We worked on something that would work in not only the retail environment, but also in the warehouse environment," he explains.
R-pac began taking orders for labels using the WebLite inlay last month, and currently has tens of millions of the tags in production, which are soon expected to be delivered. The inlay achieves a long read range—which varies according to the specific reader and software being used, Arguin says, but is equivalent to that of a standard tag—thanks to a combination of antenna design and Impinj's highly sensitive Monza 5 chip. The WebLite's antenna measures 1.8 inches by 0.6 inch, and features 128 bits of Electronic Product Code (EPC) memory and a 48-bit serialized tag identifier (TID).
The labels made with the WebLite tag have been tested by several major retailers, Arguin says, including Macy's, which tried using the tags on incoming denim products, as well as on cookware and kitchen electronics—all of which pose a challenge in terms of read range, he says—and found that the tags operated well. Macy's continues to test the RFID labels on new products, including women's intimate apparel. JC Penney has also tested the WebLite labels, which Arguin says have proved to meet the retailer's read requirements.
R-pac, which has been providing packaging, ticketing and labels for approximately 25 years, began developing an RFID solution when Wal-Mart gained its interest in using RFID technology at its stores and distribution centers. R-pac is one of two primary suppliers of price labels for Wal-Mart, along with Avery Dennison. The firm now provides RFID labels to Wal-Mart's product suppliers, as well as to those supplying goods to such retailers as Macy's, JC Penney, and Lord and Taylor. R-pac provides labels manufactured with a variety of RFID inlays. It sells RFID labels to suppliers (for use on their own merchandise to be sold to retailers) and also provides them directly to retailers (for attachment to private-label merchandise, or for special use cases). The company's customers can print and encode the labels, but r-pac also operates service bureaus within customers' geographic areas, at which it can quickly encode and print tags if necessary.
For end users looking to encode and print their own tags, r-pac offers its r-trac encoding software, while its service bureaus can encode the tags with unique EPC serial numbers that are then stored on a cloud-based r-pac server that its customers can access, via a portal, using a password. Users who print and encode RFID labels onsite, Arguin says, can also have those labels' EPC numbers stored on the cloud-based server via a simple Web interface, and the labels can be ordered at the same portal.
Goods suppliers sometimes prefer to print and encode their own labels in certain instances, including for exceptions at a DC (such as in the event of a missing tag), while they ask for service bureau support for the bulk of their tags. Because products are manufactured at factories worldwide that utilize r-pac labels, the company maintains services bureaus in all areas in which manufacturing takes place, including Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe.