Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) will be a key application technology to be discussed at the "Wireless Congress 2006: Systems and Applications" conference, a part of electronica 2006.
Although not new in development terms, RFID tags have recently been compared to mobile phones in terms of far-reaching application with world-wide revenues set to increase nearly ten-fold from $300 million two years ago to around $2.8 billion in 2009 (Source: In-Stat).
Last year, estimates put the number of RFID tags produced at 1.3 billion, and the increase in take-up, particularly in supply chain management, should see that number rise to 33 billion by the end of the decade.
Only recently, largest US retailer Wal-Mart announced to its suppliers that they must adopt RFID technology. Many other retailers and OEMs are expected to follow suit.
As a result it is becoming clear that anyone whose business is part of a supply chain, no matter what the industry, cannot afford to ignore RFID technology. At electronica 2006, visitors to the Fair and delegates to the Wireless Congress will be able to learn about and see first-hand the very latest developments in the rapidly-expanding RFID technology sector.
What is RFID?
RFID encompasses technologies that use radio to identify and monitor objects or people. The most common method is to store data that identifies a person or object on a chip attached to an antenna (an RFID tag). The tag transmits the information to a reader, which converts the information into a computer usable form (see Figure).
Radio frequency identification emerged as long ago as the 1970s but, until recently, its adoption had proved too expensive and too limited to be practical for commercial applications. However, for some applications, such as tracking parts for just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing, companies were able to justify the cost of tags (over a dollar per tag until recently) by the savings an RFID system could provide.
Many companies have invested in RFID to get the advantages it offers. These investments are usually made in so-called closed-loop systems — that is, when a company is tracking goods that never leave its own control. This is because many existing RFID systems use proprietary technology, which means that if one company puts an RFID tag on a product, it cannot be read by another, unless both companies use the same RFID system from the same manufacturer.
The Five Cent Tag
If a company tracks assets within its own four walls, it can cost-effectively reuse the tags. But for a system to work in an open supply chain, it must be very low-cost, because the tags are generally discarded.
Back in 1999, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with money from companies such as Gillette and Procter & Gamble, changed the cost-per-tag equation by working with industry to develop an RFID tag that would be very low cost when manufactured in high volumes. Five cents per tag was the target.
With low-cost tags and the use of the Internet, companies are able to tag everything they own or produce, and then — by connecting them to the Internet through a secure network — monitor their whereabouts.
Many companies, including Wal-Mart, Unilever, and Tesco, are attracted to RFID because it has the potential to offer the ability to know the exact location of any product anywhere in the supply chain at any time.
The benefits here are potentially enormous. Companies will be able to reduce inventories while ensuring product is always in the right place at the right time. And because no humans would have to scan the tags, costs and mistakes would also be greatly reduced.
The Five Cent tag is said to still be sometime away. Today tags cost from 20 to 40 Cents, depending on their features and packaging. But there is no doubt that, with the number of tags produced and in use rising rapidly, RFID will be big business for the manufacturers and an essential tool for its users.
Wireless Congress 2006
The two day conference (November 15 and 16) is entitled "Wireless Congress 2006: Systems and Applications." Last year's Congress attracted more than 350 delegates from more than 20 countries. In addition to RFID, the Congress will discuss all the technical aspects of current and future wireless technologies, like WLAN, mobile telephony, personal networks, Industrial Radio Data and Wireless Automation, Security in Wireless Systems, NFC, wireless sensor networks, WiMAX, UWB, and Ubiquitous Computing.