LONDON Not surprisingly the retail and consumer sector provides the most case studies in the expanding IDTechEx RFID Knowledgebase, but there are significant entries from a wide variety of markets that are, or are looking to, use the technology.
The largest searchable database of RFID in action, has reached 2000 cases, with most uses in pallet/case tagging largely due to orders from consumer goods companies that are required to fit them by major retailers. However, item level tagging is now responsible for almost as many case studies with customers seeing a strong payback.
Roughly equal to these two categories is the number of card, payment key fob and passport case studies. These can be lumped together because they do not use Electronic Product Codes (EPC) and are based on similar card-type specifications. The cards and passport RFID command at least ten times the unit price of pallet/case tags and suppliers are generally making money according to Dr Peter Harrop, chairman of IDTechEx Ltd.
“For a little longer, RFID therefore remains basically a card business by value of tags and systems, with lots of new case studies in financial, access and other cards being added all the time as the world’s credit, debit, account and identification cards gradually move over to RFID for convenience, reliability and reduced cost of ownership by the issuer/ operator. Next in order from the top three is vehicle tagging, again lucrative, with high prices for the tags and, more important in this case, the systems.” Far from being a story of pallet and case tagging just in the U.S., the IDTechEx RFID Knowledgebase shows the EPC being used in RFID labels in a number of countries including Colombia, Brazil, the Netherlands and Japan. EPC is used for pallets, cases, airline baggage and item level from retail to aircraft parts and books in bookstores. There is potential for EPC to be used in at least one third of the future RFID market by value according to Dr Harrop.
IDTechEx has found RFID in action in 76 countries, up from 49 countries eighteen months ago when there were only 1000 case studies.
“The big initiatives come from many sectors, some of them neglected by the press. The largest RFID project remains the China ID card but the largest single RFID order that has ever been landed, by value, is now the recent order given to Savi Technology for military applications at $425 million,” said Dr Harrop. Savi Technology has been recently acquired by Lockheed Martin.
Although Japan, with the third largest number of case studies, was expected to grow in importance, it has just held its percentage share of the cases. Japan’s trials of RFID in bookshops did not lead to rollouts: the leading bookshop chain in the Netherlands – BGN has independently taken that idea to market.
It is China and Korea that have increased their share of case studies by about one percentage point in the last eighteen months to become respectively fifth and eighth in importance. For example, they have been rolling out air baggage tagging, while Europe and Japan have been mired in problems with UHF radio regulations. China and Korea have become strong in city cards, ID cards and tagging vehicles.
“Continental Europe, having been surprisingly sleepy in the adoption of RFID given its many world class RFID suppliers, is now waking up. Germany at number four and the Netherlands at number seven are strong in RFID card applications,” says Dr Harrop. “France at number six is active with RFID in healthcare, the postal service and elsewhere.” “No one predicted that the largest item level user of RFID in retailing would not employ EPC (Marks & Spencer in the U.K., with everything own brand, uses simpler, cheaper RFID) and no one expected the best selling RFID transport/cash replacement cards (from Sony) would not conform to ISO specifications but that is what has happened. A temporary aberration? Time will tell,” asks Dr Harrop.
“For all the talk of smart active labels (SALs), including time temperature recording (TTR) labels, the cases of their use are few and far between as yet. However, about ten companies are now offering such products, so we may hope to see many cases of them in action soon. Near Field UHF is talked about as an alternative to HF for item level tagging but its use is minimal as yet.”
“Printed transistor circuits were promised for this year but they did not arrive on the market. Meanwhile, good old HF tagging using a silicon chip is steadily appearing in more and more applications, industries and countries. However, to confuse us all, a new concept of simple printed conductive stripes has appeared as an RFID solution in several trials in Scandinavia and the U.S. Most of the developers of vacuum deposited chipless RFID went belly up and radically new methods of assembling chips into tags have yet to come on stream. No one forecasted that mix of success and failure.”
The 2000th case study just posted on the RFID knowledgebase covers how a Dallas Hospital is tagging refrigerated drug vials to automate confirmation and provide real time stock information. RFID interrogators are embedded into a fridge which record when tagged vials are brought in. When a vial is removed this is also logged with the supplier, and when the supply of vials reaches a pre-determined level an order for more vials is sent.
George Clopp, CTO, Scopra Inc., who provided the software integration, said of the system, “Having RFID running in real-time with a network managed solution eliminates data error opportunities. Data is accurate, current, and usable with no need for human intervention.”
IDTechEx is organising RFID Smart Labels Europe in London September 19-20 and delegates will receive 3 months access to the RFID Knowledgebase.