RFID on your package: No pain, no gain?
Here are the critical considerations before implementing this technology ... and some available outside help.
Current passive tag technology has some limitations in terms of readability and durability. But active tags are more expensive.
So why not a little of both? One company championing hybrid implementation of passive tags, active tags and other forms of auto-ID is RF Code Inc. (www.rfcode.com
), Mesa, Ariz. The company is the developer and supplier of Tavis data management software platforms and Mantis active RFID tags and readers.
“Cumulatively measured, passive RFID is quite limited in its physical durability,” says president Armando Viteri. “To get effective range, these tags are quite large, thus making them a very big target for the tines of a fork lift. Passive labels are better suited for case-level applications.”
RF Code has been pioneering the integration of tracking technologies to optimize their combined performance in the supply chain. One successful project involved placing active RFID tags on intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) filled with products such as industrial food ingredients, and then reinforcing that tracking method with global positioning systems (GPS) on transport trucks. UK-based IBC rental company pH Europe began using this system to transport and track an array of products in the summer of 2004, and has been honored with several European supply chain and information management awards for the innovation.
“There are four key elements of RFID: the tags themselves, tag readers, data monitoring/collection systems, and business applications software,” says Royanna Chappell, vice president of emerging applications at RedPrairie Corp. (www.redprairie.com
), a Waukesha, Wis., RFID system architect. “To successfully implement RFID, users need to evaluate how all these technology elements integrate and operate across their entire corporate network and information sharing systems. It’s a mistake to get too focused on one element at the expense of the other three.”
RedPrairie works with food and beverage companies building custom RFID solutions to meet the needs of a range of clients, including processors of breakfast cereals, snack foods, spreads and drink products. The integrator then works with various wireless data collection system suppliers (such as RF Code) and labeling systems suppliers (such as Avery Dennison).
Chappell also points out users need to determine what and how much data they want to encode on the tags, in addition to EPC elements. “Right now, the options are 64-bit or 96-bit tags, but in the future 256-bit tags will be available,” she says. “Regardless of the tagging solution selected, for the foreseeable future, bar codes will continue to play a significant role, working in tandem with RFID tags.
“The industry is on a learning curve about RFID technology,” she continues. “Companies are still seeking greater understanding regarding the benefits and pitfalls. This learning curve is going to continue through 2005 and 2006. Widespread, real-world knowledge about the application of RFID in the food industry and other industries probably won’t mature and solidify until 2007 or 2008. New technologies do not come without certain complications.”Click the "Download Now" button below to download a diagram (PDF format) detailing how RFID works.