Rug Company Tracks Its Wares Via New UHF Seal

By Claire Swedberg

A U.S. importer of fine rugs is using Cybra's new Lock & EnCode passive UHF RFID seal to identify, authenticate and locate its high-value merchandise.

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RFID technology provider Cybra has developed a seal that locks onto an item or container, and includes an EPC Gen 2 RFID inlay that can be used to track that item and verify its authenticity. The company initially developed the Lock & EnCode RFID seal for a rug importer based in New Jersey, and is now commercializing the solution for other businesses that want to not only track or locate their goods, but also verify that a given container was not opened.

The solution came about, according to Sheldon Reich, Cybra’s VP of solutions, at the request of the rug importer, which was implementing RFID to track its high-value rugs but found that standard RFID labels could be too easily removed. A label or tag is what links the rug to its history, Reich explains, including its origin and value, and losing that label or tag can affect the value. If someone removes a tag, or replaces it with another, a customer has no assurance that the rug is actually, for example, of the origins and made with the types of fibers being paid for. To address this problem, Cybra developed a single-use locking RFID seal that cannot be removed from a product without employing wire cutters, thereby allowing the company to assure customers that the tag attached to the rug at the time of purchase follows that product to the consumer.

The Lock & EnCode seal is made with Alien Technology’s Higgs-3 passive UHF RFID chip.

The rug importer’s buyers travel the world searching for unique, handmade rugs, often of very high value, which leads them to such locations as Middle Eastern bazaars, where they can negotiate a price with the actual craftsman who made the rug. The company then wants to ensure that the information regarding that rug remains secured, and that the rug can be easily identified when it arrives at the firm’s large warehouse in New Jersey. With the new solution in place, the company’s rug buyers attach a Lock & EnCode seal to each item they purchase. Cybra’s seal attaches to an object by means of a metal wire loop. The wire’s free end is inserted into a metal locking mechanism, enclosed by protective chromed steel and encased in high-grade polypropylene. The seal, which measures 1.5 inches by 1.5 inches, comes with a built-in Alien Technology Higgs-3 RFID chip. When purchasing a rug, a buyer attaches the seal to it and inputs the seal’s printed ID number, along with details about that rug, into a laptop. That information is then stored in Cybra’s EdgeMagic RFID Control software, residing on the rug company’s own database.

When the rug arrives at the warehouse, a fixed Motorola FX9500 reader with Motorola AN400 antennas, mounted by Cybra at the dock door, captures the Lock & EnCode seal’s unique ID number and updates the software to indicate that the item was received. When a retailer—or a store’s customer—orders a rug, workers utilize a Motorola MC3090-Z handheld interrogator to locate the appropriate rug within the warehouse. The rug is then moved through the dock doors, where the tag is read once more, and shipped to the store. The rugs are sold on a vendor-managed inventory (VMI) basis. Therefore, the company’s own sales staff visit the store to manage inventory, and bring handhelds with them to read each tag and store data indicating what is on hand at each location. If the rug is sent back to the warehouse, it is again read at the dock doors, thereby signifying its return.

In some cases, customers visit the rug importer’s facility to purchase a rug directly. Because there are thousands of rugs onsite, stacked in large piles, identifying a particular rug has been time-consuming, the company reports. With the RFID system, however, workers can use a handheld reader on Geiger counter mode to quickly locate a specific rug; upon finding it, they can simply inform the customer that the rug will be ready in, for example, an hour, and then remove it from the warehouse. Without RFID, Reich notes, that process could take many more hours just to locate that rug.

With regard to retailers, Reich says, the Lock & EnCode seal would be used not to clasp the tag to an item itself, but rather to seal a reusable container shut. In this case, the seal tag would be placed on a closed tote or other such container of products that a company wishes to secure. For example, many chain drug stores utilize totes to ship goods to specific stores, rather than cartons of goods delivered directly from a manufacturer. In that way, a store will receive the plastic totes—which come in a variety of sizes—filled with multiple items that could include anything from medical devices and toiletries to food.

Once a tote is filled at a distribution center, a worker could scan the bar-coded labels of all items loaded within. He or she would then attach the RFID seal and encode and read the tag ID, thereby storing a record of which items are in that sealed container. If anyone attempted to open the container, that person would need to cut through the seal’s wire, and users would thus know that it had been tampered with. Because an RFID inlay is embedded in each seal, a retailer’s staff could employ a handheld reader to quickly identify which tote held which products, and thereby locate the totes that needed to be unpacked first.

Cybra’s Sheldon Reich

According to Reich, the Lock & EnCode seal is being released now, and already has multiple end users, though he declines to name any. The company is selling two versions of the solution: the custom seal, for end users such as the rug company—for which Cybra will encode the RFID tags in advance, specific to that firm’s needs—and a basic seal that comes without encoding, and which customers can encode as needed, linking data to a bar-code scan, and enabling them to use the identifier of their choice. Cybra is also marketing the solution for use by the tobacco industry. In this case, bundles of tobacco leaves would be tagged and tracked as the product moves through a grading process, by which the tobacco’s characteristics are identified and a grade is assigned to each bundle.

“This is the merging of two technologies,” Reich states: locking seals and RFID technology. The devices could enable users to not only ensure that the containers arrive with the goods initially packed within, but also reduce the amount of time workers spend locating specific totes or items packed inside them.

The seals can be read at a distance of up to 19 feet, Reich says, depending on the RFID reader deployed. Users can also purchase the EdgeMagic software and readers for a full solution, he adds.