Apr 15, 2014RFID Journal LIVE!, our annual conference and exhibition, has always been something of a barometer for the radio frequency identification industry. Last year, we saw attendance jump by more than 10 percent, following several years of attendance remaining relatively flat. After that event, I wrote, "From here, the industry will continue gathering strength, and I expect next year to see more speakers with great case studies to share, as well as another rise in attendance" (see Reflections on RFID Journal LIVE! 2013). Both of those predictions proved accurate.
At this year's event—which took place last week in Orlando, Fla.—many speakers were not just discussing small implementations to solve specific business problems, but rather major deployments. During our opening keynote, Kim Philips and Richard Jenkins of Marks & Spencer (M&S) said the British retailer would consume more than 400 million passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags this year on items at its stores. M&S plans to tag all non-food items at all its locations, in an effort to boost inventory accuracy and ensure that products are always on the shelf when customers want to buy them (see Marks & Spencer Leads the Way and Marks & Spencer Rolls Out RFID to All Its Stores).
Edward Koch of Bechtel spoke next. He described a project in which the huge construction and engineering company is employing RFID to track deliveries to two liquefied natural gas plants being constructed on an island in eastern Australia. The project is currently using 60,000 active RFID tags, making it one of the largest active RFID deployments in the world.
During the three other general sessions, we heard about major rollouts at Airbus (see Airbus Leads the Way and Profits in Motion), the Veterans Health Administration (see U.S. Veterans Department Announces RFP for Nationwide RTLS Solution and How RFID Is Transforming VA Hospital Operations) and the U.S. Department of Defense (see DOD's RFID Efforts Are Winning the War on Inefficiencies and The Ongoing War Against Inefficiencies). But it wasn't just the sessions on the big stage that impressed. There were great projects discussed during the conference tracks as well, including case studies by Daimler, Delta Air Lines, Detroit Diesel, Ingersoll Rand, Rehrig Pacific, Saks Fifth Avenue and the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. These projects cut across a variety of industries and applications.
The large scope of these projects highlights the fact that RFID technology is now mature, and that companies are comfortable using it in mission-critical applications. It's also clear that the perception among businesspeople is changing, with skepticism toward the technology on the decline. I spoke to dozens of attendees, not one of whom questioned whether RFID would work for their application. They knew it would, and simply wanted to know which exhibitors had the right solutions for their business issues.
I predicted an uptick in attendance at the end of last year, because my sense was that perceptions of RFID were catching up with reality. For several years, many companies believed there were no tags that worked around water or metal, or that the technology was too costly or could not survive within their operating environments. The reality was quite different, though, and now people are realizing that—they perceive RFID as being less risky. More people attended the event to learn how to use RFID to solve their business problems.
Overall attendance rose by roughly 5 percent to about 2,800 (the final numbers from onsite registrations are still being gathered), but there was a significant shift in demographics. There were fewer exhibit staff members, perhaps due to cost-saving efforts, and fewer consultants in the exhibit hall. So overall, the number of companies looking to purchase RFID systems was up by more than 10 percent.
A few noticeable trends:
• More retailers attended this year than during previous events.
• There was a jump in attendees from large manufacturing firms, which already comprised the largest portion of our audience.
• There were more state and local government officials.
• There were more attendees that we group in the "other" category (laundries, rental equipment, security and so forth), indicating RFID is spreading to a growing number of sectors.
• There were attendees from 56 countries this year, up from an average of 45 in previous years, suggesting RFID adoption is picking up globally.
• And more attendees said they planned to invest within the next 12 months—a trend supported by recent RFID Journal research indicating that the purchasing cycle is becoming shorter.
So what lies ahead? The two trends I described after LIVE! 2013 will continue to gather strength. Companies that have deployed systems will continue to expand their use of RFID to new areas in which the technology can deliver business value, and more firms with a compelling business problem will seek out RFID solutions. In addition, the trends from this year's conference will gather momentum. If there is no external shock to the industry, such as a recession or a war, I believe we will see another rise in attendance next year, and the year after that, and so on until we finally reach the tipping point.
Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor's Note archive or RFID Connect.