Two Middleware Providers Release Upgrades

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

Manhattan Associates and ConnecTerra announce updates to help users integrate RFID data with enterprise applications and systems.

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By now, many early adopters of RFID technology in the retail or Department of Defense supply chains are up and running with the basics: tagging cases and pallets. Now they've got their eyes on achieving an ROI by integrating RFID data into enterprise-wide applications and systems. With this in mind, Atlanta-based systems integrator Manhattan Associates and Cambridge, Mass.-based enterprise software developers ConnecTerra developed upgrades to their middleware products. Both companies announced their upgrades at this week's RFID Journal LIVE! conference in Chicago.

In Manhattan Associate's case, the upgrade involves EPC Manager, part of the company's middleware platform—Integration Platform for RFID. EPC Manager is an application layer that gives users a bridge between the physical RFID layer in the user's facility and existing corporate applications, according to Greg Gilbert, Manhattan Associates' director of RFID systems and strategy.

The EPC Manager upgrade includes three main tools: validation; enterprise trace and trace; and enterprise serial number management (for suppliers with multiple facilities that require a central server for serial number allocation). The validation tool can be used in picking, shipping and receiving, to ensure that the correct cases or items are pulled, shipped and received. The validation tool links the original shipment order sent from the user's enterprise system to the EPC Manager software so that at each step in the process the operator can verify the pulled cases against the original order. However, in order for a retailer to use the validation tool to ensure that the correct shipment was received to fulfill an order, it has to be running the EPC Manager middleware software locally.

The enterprise track-and-trace tool is designed for users with multiple facilities where all of those facilities have deployed the EPC Manager software. It gathers tag data and sends it to a predefined list of users within the multiple facilities based on predetermined criteria. "Say your company has 10 facilities," says Gilbert, "the track-and-trace tool gives you the capability to gather all the relevant data needed based on an 'event' [a tag being read] at all of the 10 locations, and then incorporates that data into the enterprise software level and distributes it to those parties who need the information."

For example, a worker at a dock is reading tags against an outgoing order. Every read is an event (e.g., tag 123 was shipped) that is dropped into the local EPC Manager's event log and then pulled by the track-and-trace software through to the enterprise level. The track-and-trace application has two tiers: one at the corporate level, where the managers receive shipping event information from all of the regional warehouses or shipping facilities, and a second tier consisting of select regional facilities, where supervisors might receive shipping event data from local warehouses or shipping facilities.

The enterprise serial number management tool, which is part of the EPC Manager's enterprise module, provides a clearinghouse for the distribution of serialized EPC numbers. Local facilities use the tool to request a range of numbers from the enterprise module, which distributes them in chunks of numbers to those local offices. This tool ensures that unique EPC numbers are not duplicated. The validation and track and trace tool upgrades can be deployed remotely but installation of the enterprise serial number management tool requires a visit from a professional services firm contracted by Manhattan Associates.

ConnecTerra's upgrade focuses on RFTagAware, the middleware application the company originally released in March 2004. The upgraded RFTagAware fully complies with the proposed EPCglobal ALE (Application-Level Events) 1.0 Specification, which EPCglobal is currently putting through its standardization process and which ConnecTerra's CTO, Kenneth Traub coauthored. The ALE provides an interface for filtering and consolidating EPC-related data from a variety of sources based on the needs of specific enterprise applications. RFTagAware implementation of the ALE API remains backward compatible with prior releases of RFTagAware.

The upgraded RFTagAware adds support for RFID readers from Alien Technology, AWID, SAMSys and ThingMagic and RFID printers from Avery, Printronix and Zebra Technologies. The upgrade also supports .NET development, including C# samples for reading and writing tags and sample software for VB.NET and Biztalk.

In addition, ConnecTerra added support for 96-bit reads to its RFTagAware Reader Simulator, a standalone application that simulates an installed reader with an antenna in order to provide developers with a tool for developing and debugging applications. Support for 96-bit reads is important because the Gen 2 specification calls for RFID tags that carry a 96-bit Electronic Product Code.

The upgraded RFTagAware platform is available now. Current users of RFTagAware might be required to pay an upgrade fee to upload the new applications, depending on their service contracts.