R-pac Releases EPC UHF Label for Spirits, Wine, Cosmetics

By Claire Swedberg

The foil-CapTag, developed in partnership with ePix and Interactive Product Solutions, offers a 15-foot read range by leveraging a bottle's foil packaging and liquid contents.

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Global branded packaging company r-pac International Corp. has commercially released a new ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID cap tag for tracking inventory and authenticating bottled or foil-wrapped products. According to the company, the tag offers a long read range, and at a low price.

The tag was developed to take advantage of foil wrappers, as well as the fluid stored in a bottle, in order to extend the read range up to 15 feet or more, r-pac explains.

The foil-CapTag is designed to be applied over a bottle’s cap or cork, as well as its foil wrapping.

The foil-CapTag—the result of a partnership with Interactive Product Solutions (IPS)—is based on technology created and patented by a U.K. firm called ePix (see EPix Offers Passive Long-Range UHF Tag for Wine, Spirits). The tag is now being tested or deployed by several r-pac customers, including beverage companies, such as liquor and wine makers, as well as cosmetics brand owners and retailers. The tag is employed in conjunction with r-pac’s cloud-based software to manage and share RFID read data with authorized members of a supply chain.

The foil-CapTag is designed to solve two problems that have stymied those who have tried to use EPC UHF RFID tags on bottles of high-value liquid or small products with a great deal of foil packaging, the company reports: limited tag readability and high cost. The CapTag can fit on foil covering a bottle cap or a box, and can use the foil as an antenna to boost its transmission. The tag also uses the RF signal’s electrical field absorbed by wine, in order to boost the power of the backscatter signal that it sends back to an interrogator. And unlike other tags designed for such use cases, says Michael Teitelbaum, r-pac’s CEO, the foil-CapTag is fairly low-cost—between 15 and 19 cents apiece. Most other tags designed for foil caps operate at the 13.56 MHz high-frequency (HF) band, may cost as much 50 cents apiece and have a much shorter read range.

R-pac has been providing RFID labels for item-level tagging for many years, Teitelbaum says, including tags for denim tracking with Wal-Mart‘s 2009 initiative, and has sold more than 1.5 billion item-level EPC UHF labels. The company maintains a presence in 25 countries where its customers manufacture products.

One product sector in which there has not been much tagging, Teitelbaum says, has been bottled beverages, such as spirits and wine, since conventional passive UHF tags do not perform well when attached to foil, or on products containing a large amount of liquid. The foil-CapTag not only solves these challenges, he adds, but also uses the foil to improve performance. At the same time, however, brands, distributors and retailers all have a need for RFID tracking to better ensure that products are available on store shelves, as well as to quickly identify when goods are diverted, counterfeited or stolen from a warehouse or store.

In 2013, ePix patented a passive UHF RFID tag that used foil wrappers and liquid to act as an antenna, to lengthen the read range when interrogated by a reader. Since then, r-pac began working with ePix and IPS to develop the foil-CapTag, which r-pac commercially released this spring in multiple form factors. The tags are made with various types of chips, Teitelbaum says, and r-pac is not working exclusively with one chip manufacturer.

The foil-CapTag system consists of the tag itself, which fits over a bottle’s metal cap or foil capsule, and r-trac Retail Services (r-pac’s cloud-based software). The software can provide data to a brand owner, distributor or retailer, by storing RFID read events for specific individual products. That data can then be accessed by authorized members of a supply chain.

For instance, a brand owner could affix the foil-CapTag over the cork and foil wrapping of a product, such as a bottle of brandy, and achieve item-level visibility from manufacture through the point of sale at a store. Collected data—such as where and when it was bottled, and which company made the product—could then be input into the system, to be stored along with the bottle tag’s unique ID number.

Michael Teitelbaum

At each stage of a bottle’s journey to a store, the product’s tag ID could be read again, and its status could then be updated on the server, via RFID readers and the r-trac Retail Services software.

At a distribution center, the tags could be interrogated using either a handheld or fixed RFID reader from distances of about 15 feet or more, says Paul Arguin, r-pac’s senior director of RFID development. The tags are also “orientation-insensitive”—in other words, they can be interrogated equally well from any angle. Because the tags can be read easily and reliably from a distance, and at different orientations, warehouse workers could conduct periodic and frequent inventory checks, and thereby identify if a case or bottle of liquor or wine is missing. By accessing the foil-CapTag software via the Internet, a brand owner, DC or retailer could view a history of where the product has been and, potentially, where it ended up missing, based on where the tag was last read.

By reading the tags upon receiving the goods at the store, retailers can confirm a product’s authenticity and origination. According to Arguin, there are other interesting use cases that could boost sales based on improved inventory accuracy and a reduction in out-of-stock problems on store shelves. For instance, he says, stores could set up RFID-enabled shelves that would read the tags of all bottles placed on them, thereby allowing a store to determine, in real time, when shelves need to be restocked. If the store installed a kiosk with a built-in RFID reader on the sales floor, it could enable customers to place a bottle of liquor near the kiosk reader and view details about that product, such as where and when it was bottled, and (in the case of wine) the kinds of grapes used and the vineyard in which they originated. However, no company is yet trialing these options.

The tags are made in a variety of form factors for bottles of beer, champagne, wine, and spirits with either foil or plastic enclosures. They can also be used on foil boxes or other packaging—for instance, by being placed across the closed flaps of a box. Similarly to beverage caps, the packaging foil serves as an antenna to achieve the long read range. In addition, the foil-CapTags can be used in health-care applications, such as tracking packets or containers of blood. In all cases, Arguin says, the tag is paper-thin, and can thus be completely invisible when placed under a foil or paper wrapping.

“My vision is that RFID solves many of the problems in the retail supply chain today associated with inventory, out-of-stocks and omnichannel initiatives,” Teitelbaum states, as companies like r-pac continue to develop RFID-based solutions for challenging use cases.

R-pac will demonstrate the foil-CapTag in booth 212 at this week’s RFID Journal LIVE! conference and exhibition, taking place in San Diego, Calif. The company will also conduct private demonstrations at the event, in a reserved meeting room.