The RFID market has surely felt some renewal in the last year. And at the RFID Live Conference there were a few stars that shone more brightly—not only to renewed market interest—but in terms of the innovation that continues by these diverse players.
Differentiated product development is clearly needed, since the industries that RFID is going after are huge and diverse (Figure 1).
Figure 1 - RFID Product Differentiation
Many obstacles have kept RFID from rapid mass adoption as envisioned at the outset. Besides the mega influences such as Walmart announcements, overcoming those obstacles has been the key to market growth.
Key areas that needed to be addressed were:
Supply chain instrumentation
Product differentiation to support solution creation
Technology performance—at the right price point has always been a goal, and the passive market has been making great strides in this area. This is a big contributor to the current market lift. Finessing environments, readers, and packing to get reads have plagued the industry. But many excellent products from Omni-ID (for challenging environments), Alien, and Impinj have made a dent over the years.
In fact, Impinj’s latest announcement, the Monza 5, takes the performance mantra to a new level. Their target here is both read and write speed. Those who have worked in or seen consumer’s packing and shipping environments have witnessed the millions of products and cartons whizzing by on conveyors. Monza 5 will encode up to 1,750 tags per minute, ample enough speed, for sure, to keep up with packing lines. But assurance of readability is just as critical.
The tags’ firmware has been optimized specifically for these environments. Their TagFocus™ mode minimizes redundant reads of strong tag signals and seeks out harder-to-find tags with weaker signals. Interesting.
Supply Chain instrumentation—The fact is, the best of tags can’t be read without a reader network. A great pitch needs a great catch! Regardless of the tag, the pursuit of standardization by industry-users and interoperability by the tech providers has enabled a supply chain—from factory to store flow—with the needed network. And that seems to be getting in place.
Product differentiation to support solution creation—We recently talked about the need for solutions in the industry (RFID Users Want Solutions) which has really helped the Omnitrol, Tyco and Intelligent Insights grow in presence. But the RFID product sets developed, such as specialized packaging, antennas, etc., have also helped here.
An interesting announcement in this area is Tego’s latest product, Tego Radion™ tag, the first Gen 2 UHF tag capable of surviving repeated gamma-sterilization and other intense radiation exposure. This not only helps with sterilization, but ‘where and when’ the tag gets used. We did several FDA approval walkthroughs for medical device companies. Most of their equipment needs to perform in radiology diagnostic centers and endure repeated exposures. The tag needs to keep performing without being impacted by the environment, and without having an impact on other devices that might be operating within that environment. Tego's Radion tag is designed for purposes such as this.
Medical devices are developed, manufactured, and used in a highly regulated environment. Strict compliance and reporting accompanies the life cycle of each product. The backdrop is a myriad of reports—at every touch point. Tego’s memory/read/write, coupled with the ability to survive gamma radiation exposure, fits the application. This can open the door for wide usage of RFID in this industry.
Recent product developments in the industry now support large but unique end solution markets. Continuing developments such as these will remove obstacles to mass deployment of standards-based technology. Firms like Impinj, Tyco, Tego, Checkpoint and Omnitrol, to name a few, are responding to these needs.
The key takeaway at RFID Live was that users are requesting, and technology providers are now talking about (and often delivering) solutions. To really deliver on the solution promise, though, requires a robust ecosystem of partners who have honed their contributions to the solution. That is, the methodology and (software and hardware) tchnology provide the customer with technology, ROI and implementation guidance to succeed.
We saw some strong partnerships, but this needs more attention. I am sure that the positive undercurrent at RFID Live was working on this very issue. Along with a great crowd of end-users, there was a lot of co-sharing of booth space, as well as new relationship exploration.
In Part Two we will explore more of the highlights about the RFID industry.
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