The RFID ecosystem has companies up and down the stack, all the way from chips, to tags, to readers, middleware, software, integration services, and everything in between. It was natural therefore to see this full diversity on display at RFID Journal Live.
For example GlobeRanger (acquired last year by Fujitsu) is an application/platform provider focusing on specific applications in defense, retail, aerospace, and oil and gas. On their team are deep domain experts who have spent decades within those industries and deeply understand the challenges they are solving, and have the relationships as well. GlobeRanger often takes on the role of system integrator as well, bringing all the pieces together. That combination of skills, expertise, and technology is hard to replicate. GlobeRanger’s iMotion platform is broader than just RFID and can be considered an Internet of Things (IoT) development and deployment platform.
Omni-ID, another application/platform provider, showed their visual tags, which are used in many industrial and manufacturing settings. In fact Omni-ID’s solution is used in four of the top ten Auto OEMs, for things like asset tracking, replenishment/eKanban, work instructions attached to the item itself (updated in real-time as things change), and container management (a superset of asset tracking where you also manage the items in the container). Omni-ID’s visual system’s strength is in dynamically changing what it displays based on changing conditions; having self-correcting instructions shown right there on the object itself. In this case, the object tells the worker what to do with it. Their software applications are built on a component-based architecture out of many application logic modules, providing a way to rapidly build new applications on top of a configurable workflow. These applications can interface with humans via many different routes and interfaces such as the visual tag, web interface, handheld devices, via ERP systems, and OPC,1 to name a few.
At the other end of the RFID stack are chip makers such as Impinj and RFMicron. Impinj is the largest maker of UHF RFID (aka RAIN RFID) chips in the world. Last year they introduced their Monza R6 chip, with many advanced new features such as Integra on-chip diagnostics, AutoTune self-tuning capability, and Enduro antenna attachment to improve reliability. The ultra-sensitivity of the chip (read sensitivity of -22.1 dBm) is what has really caught the market’s attention and driven adoption — many people want smaller tags that still perform well and sensitivity is the key. We saw the fruits of that from several tag makers who have incorporated Monza to make very small tags for things like cosmetics and jewelry. Impinj continues to innovate on the Monza chip for lower cost and higher feature (e.g. security and privacy) versions.
RFMicron, much younger and smaller than Impinj, is making significant strides in passive-RFID-based sensors. They are addressing a broad set of markets from healthcare to automotive, building materials moisture monitoring, and more. One thing these two companies have in common: although both Impinj and RFMicron are chip makers, they take a great deal of effort to address the needs of the whole end-to-end ecosystem, trying to ensure that the total end solution performs well. Their technology and programs are designed to address challenges faced by inlay makers, label converters, application writers, systems integrators, and end customers. In a sense, these chip makers to some extent take on the role of integrators of the ecosystem.
Also in the mix are the solution providers with EAS roots, including Tyco, Checkpoint, and Nedap. Each of them has been in retail for decades and has a lot of equipment installed at those customers. They have put considerable investments into RFID offerings in different ways, but all three have invested heavily in software in recent years.
It is a good time for RFID. The industry has matured. There is steady growth, quite strong in some areas (such as retail apparel). This maturity is apparent in the type of end-to-end integrations, solutions, and cooperation seen across the RFID ecosystem that was on display at RFID Live this year.
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