In Focus: RFID

The Packaging Horizons case study takes a close look at the way a Lehigh Valley manufacturer used Near-Field Communication—a variant of RFID—to reduce human error and open new market opportunities.

In order to learn more about this technology and the promise it holds for the manufacturing and other sectors, we spoke to Claire Swedberg, a Senior Editor with RFID Journal and one of the publication’s primary content producers.

Up front, in the way of definition, Claire described RFID as “the transmission of a unique identifier from one device to another—a tag to a reader, tag to tag, etc.”

The most important point is that need for a unique identifier.  With that established, RFID enables you to track countless parameters: the temperature of goods, how much time given tags spend in different areas of the warehouse, their movement around the facility, all sorts of things.

Despite its leading-edge capabilities, Claire says the main technology driving the use and adoption of RFID is the oxymoronic “old-fashioned internet.”

“People want more and more data,” she says.  “They want goods that are custom made, and they want them now.  That means manufacturers have to provide that customization in a hurry. RFID helps track work in progress, which enables the change and customization required.”

When asked if the majority of the new RFID technology is coming from large or small and medium-sized manufacturers, Claire says that while people tend to expect technology innovation to come from larger players, that is not exclusively the case.

“The smaller companies really do innovate,” she says.  “There are unique product and application ideas there.”

What’s more, Claire believes that this technology will proliferate, and she says manufacturers will have an equal opportunity to leverage RFID.

“You used to have to find an integrator and get your IT department involved…it was hard to integrate.  Now, so many companies offer their software as a service (SaaS) that you have cloud-based software support, and the manufacturers can play with the bigger ones.”

She also adds that like so many other technology-reliant innovations, smart phones and tablets offer a playing field that we have only partially explored thus far.

“RFID readers can now link to smart phones, so guys in the warehouse or on an assembly line can walk around and track RFID tags with phones.  Sensors are another hot area.  Tags can collect sensor data and send all sorts of information to a reader—they can tell you about temperature or pressure changes, or the presence of fluids, and they don’t need a battery or external sensor.  You just walk around with your phone and sense any changes you should be aware of.”

For small and medium-sized manufacturers hoping to stay in front of this technology and look for new opportunities, RFID Journal is a great place to start.  The publication website has a great deal of information about what’s happening in the RFID space, including vendor data, a variety of columns, and more.

Another suggestion is to contact technology vendors themselves and see how their offerings align with the applications your customers are looking for.  Ideally, you will see alignment between what vendors can do and what customers want them to do.

Claire says that it is important to feel comfortable with those vendors, too; if they don’t seem like they can offer the level of customized service you need, rest assured there are others who will!

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Thanks for reading this month’s installment of the Manufacturers Resource Center’s Tech eNews.  Please feel free to browse our site or contact us to learn more about how we can put our experience to work for you.

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