The RFID Smart Labels Europe Conference and Exhibition on September 19-20 broke new ground, showing how the subject has moved on. Over 350 delegates from 30 countries rated speakers from San Francisco International Airport and Manchester Airport Group to be particularly interesting. They described RFID markets that have come from nowhere, including baggage tagging and people tagging for reducing queues and improving safety and accuracy. Another new market, drug tagging, was covered, this being primarily for anti-counterfeiting. Indeed, the message of both the conference and the Masterclasses was that conventional supply chain optimisation is proving difficult with the chosen UHF frequency across the world because radio regulations, until they are eased, cause technical problems and most consumer goods suppliers see no payback in pallet and case tagging and drag their feet. Altria Group (Miller, Kraft, Philip Morris) says, "Pallet/case tagging is a pain barrier – item level tagging is our utopia".
Sparkling exceptions to the UHF technical problems are where the product is dry and non-metallic and reader density is low. That was described by Marks and Spencer UK (item level apparel) and Boekhandels Groep Netherlands (items in bookshops). UHF works fine for them even under tough European radio regulations. Another message is that item level is the hot topic now.
Paul Fox of Procter and Gamble/ Gillette discussed the counterfeiting challenges. Fascinating opportunities with so-called Near Field UHF in item level tagging were explained to packed rooms by Richard Fletcher of TagSense and Ian Forster of Avery Dennison. However, so far, HF is the preferred solution for item level and Tagsys described its success with Pfizer, etc.
Another trend is the interest in solution providers because more of these are profitable and they land the big orders. LogicaCMG, Vue Technology with its smart shelves, Siemens and others emphasised the importance of solution selling. At the tag level, EM Microelectronics warned that "compromise equals complexity" as seen in the Gen 2 chips with so many "nice if" features being added.
Gold Sponsor Wavetrend headed up the Active RFID session. It is tackling a remarkable variety of opportunities in both Real Time Locating Systems and conventional active RFID worldwide. Speakers said that the market is booming with space for WiFi, Ultra Wide Band, Smart Active Labels and sensor systems. The giants are gaining traction here – Motorola, Cisco, Lockheed Martin and Philips all had breakthroughs to report.
The bottom line is that RFID is not what it was seen to be only a few years ago. The profitable large supply chain applications are different, involving anti-counterfeiting, military and heavy logistics sectors. Other applications involve many forms of standing assets for many reasons and often in huge volumes but people tagging in the form of wristbands, badges, etc is sharply improving safety, security and convenience. New education is the order of the day and delegates greatly appreciated receiving free copies of the latest IDTechEx report RFID in Action sponsored by GS1UK and receiving a subscription to the IDTechEx Knowledgebase of 2100 case studies of RFID in 82 countries as well as the online journal, Smart Labels Analyst.
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IDTECHEX 2006/7 DATES:
• Active RFID Summit USA, 14-15 November, Atlanta, USA www.activerfidsummit.com
• Printed Electronics USA 2006, 6-9 December, Phoenix, USA www.printelec.com