Update from NRF’s Big Show

By Mark Roberti

Several RFID companies exhibited new solutions at the event that were aimed at retailers.

While attending the National Retail Federation's Big Show 2018 this month, I had a chance to visit some of the radio frequency identification companies that were exhibiting at the event. Here are some highlights.

SML Group: The branding, technology and solutions company released a small new ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID inlay that, according to the company, delivers 30 percent greater performance than other tags of its size. The high-performance tag is intended to make the RFID tagging of apparel easier by requiring less space on hang tickets, or it can be sewn into care labels. The GB4U8 inlay measures 42 millimeters by 16 millimeters (1.7 inches by 0.6 inch). It leverages NXP Semiconductors' UCODE 8 chip, along with SML's own antenna design, to accomplish high read sensitivity and improved read rates. SML also announced plans to expand its RFID solutions into other industries besides retail.

Avery Dennison: The RFID inlay and solution provider had RFID printers, software and other solutions on display. What caught my eye was a new tag that is microwave-safe. Normally, an RFID tag will heat up in a microwave and be destroyed, and it can also damage the container to which it is affixed. This innovative new tag dissipates the heat so the tag doesn't catch fire and will continue to function after microwaving, enabling RFID to be used on microwavable products without fear. Avery has not yet established pricing, but says the cost will not be much more than that of a standard RFID label.

Zebra Technologies: The company best known for its bar-code and RFID label printers showed off its new TC20 rugged Android mobile device, with its RFD2000 handheld UHF RFID sled. The products are aimed at retailers who want something light, ergonomic and easy to use. Most associates will quickly pick up how to use apps, which run on the Android operating system. The TC20 connects via a physical port to the RFID sled reader, which cuts down on battery use by eliminating the need to send data to the unit via a Bluetooth connection. Zebra was also promoting its Savanna data platform, which collects data from bar-code scanners, RFID readers and other sources, and allows users to analyze the data to make better decisions.

Smartrac Technologies: The RFID inlay and solution provider showed off the Telstar 18, the world's first soccer ball with a Near Field Communication (NFC) transponder in it. The transponder allows consumers to interact with the soccer ball. When someone taps his or her mobile device against the NFC touch-point on the soccer ball, the ball generates a unique identifier, unlocking exclusive content and information for the user. Smartrac had a variety of inlays on display, as well as its software that enables companies to leverage NFC-enabled products.

Impinj: The RFID tag and reader chip provider announced that it shipped its 25 billionth chip in 2017, and that it shipped 7 billion chips last year alone. That's a fraction of what it will be shipping in five years, but 7 billion a year is a long way from where we were five years ago. The company put together a nice video from the event, which you can watch on YouTube.

Tyco Retail Solutions, Checkpoint Systems, Mojix, Alien Technology, Cellotape and Vanguard ID Systems also demonstrated their RFID solutions for retail, and Lexmark showed its new color RFID laser printer at its booth, which seemed to get a lot of attention. Overall, everyone I spoke to was upbeat about the state of the market and the acceleration of adoption. That's good news for retail—and for the RFID industry.

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 or the Editor's Note archive.