Next Webinar: RFID Sensor Tags – The Current state and the Future of Wireless Sensing Applications – Learn more and register here

Apr 26, 2018

Smart Labels – Great Opportunity for Traditional Label Companies

中文版 Chinese version

Smart labels are one of the most common RFID tag types, especially in retail business, but also in numerous applications in other industries. Increasing acceptance of RFID and the double-digit growth rate of inlay/tag volumes in the past years have made smart labels an attractive business segment not only for the established RFID companies, but also for the traditional label manufacturers.

The barrier for a label company to enter the RFID/smart label business is very low as their core business comprises of printing and converting anyways – adding “inlay insertion” or “inlay lamination” to the converting process will increase the label manufacturer’s value-add and enables meeting the customers’ RFID and IoT requirements.

The Smart Label Opportunity

Label market is a big business, but expected to grow only a few percent a year, which is roughly double compared to print market in general though. The big opportunity lies in smart labels where CAGR of 15 to 20 percent is expected in the coming years, thanks to continuous tag cost reduction and huge amount of new application areas utilizing RFID technology.

Retail industry has been working long and very hard to utilize RFID technology and counts for the biggest tag volumes as of today. If one of the initial drivers justifying RFID in the early days was efficiency improvement in logistics, today there is an increasing number of drivers and quantified value-add right next to the consumers:

  • Integrated customer experience in omni-channel environment
  • Customer engagement and consumer interaction
  • Unmanned stores
  • Freshness and cold-chain tracking
  • Labeling obligations by authorities
  • Anti-counterfeiting measures.

RFID is the dominating technology today in smart labels, and RFID labels are successfully used to address all the requirements mentioned above. The big volumes of smart labels are typically produced by key players in RFID industry, i.e. either inlay/tag manufacturers or converters, however there are also several smart label producers focusing on specialized tags and applications. Integrated part of the smart label business are also the value-add services like tag performance testing and encoding of product and supplier specific information in each tag.

The current suppliers will certainly increase their capacity as the demand grows, but at the same time there is an opportunity window open for new entrants to take their share of the smart label market and related services.

How to Make Your Labels Smart?

Smart labels based on RFID technology (RAIN and/or NFC) are produced with a dedicated converting machine laminating the RFID inlays between the top material and the liner as shown in image below.

The selection of suitable RFID inlay type and supplier would be based on the RFID application and customer specification or alternatively smart label manufacturer’s own specification. Below image by permission from BW Papersystems, from their Speedliner RFID Converting machine brochure, illustrates RFID converting principle:

It is not only about manufacturing though, as smart label production brings also new requirements for the process:

  • Functional and/or performance testing to manage the RFID tag quality
  • Encoding capability to store customer specific data in each tag.

The good news is that these capabilities can be integrated in converting machines and they create the value-add service opportunity. Smart labels can be an entry point to the RFID value chain for a traditional label company with increased turnover and profits.

Testing and Encoding Added-value

With the increasing tag volumes and adoption of RFID, the demand for RFID testing has grown even faster. This is caused by the fact that many RFID applications are fully integrated in various business processes where basic requirement is that each tag can be read reliably every single time in the field – otherwise the efficiency of the process would collapse.

Accordingly, the RFID end-users are setting more requirements for quality assurance in RFID production and demanding actual performance measurement instead of simple pass/fail testing by RFID readers.

RFID Performance Testing

Ensuring high smart label quality (= successful read in the field) requires more than simple pass/fail testing with a RFID reader. More reliable performance testing can be done by measuring the tag sensitivity in production line with variable power levels and several frequencies using RFID production tester.

Voyantic Tagsurance inline production testers can be used in single and multi-lane configurations (up to 6 lanes) integrated with various 3rd party RFID machines, like Mühlbauer CL Light RFID Converting Line pictured here.

The same Tagsurance solutions are also available for Voyantic Reelsurance and several 3rd party offline test machines for sample testing of finished labels or incoming inspection of the outsourced RFID inlays.

Encoding and Personalization

New requirements are set also for encoding functionalities as new RFID applications and users are emerging. There is a growing need for managing deliveries of special tags with customer specific memory content, often with short delivery time and rather small batches. Encoding functionality can be integrated either in converting machines or alternatively done in dedicated offline personalization machines.

Voyantic has recently introduced a new multifunctional reel-to-reel machine, Reelsurance Pro to cover both testing and personalization needs for UHF and HF tags. Reelsurance Pro is a small footprint machine with emphasis on flexibility: the functionalities are extensive and the turn-around time between different label configurations is short.

How To Learn More?

If you are considering making your labels smart, please contact us to schedule an online meeting to discuss your needs. You can also learn more of our production testing solutions and download brochures describing Voyantic solutions with our machine vendor partners on our website.

Read More

Apr 14, 2018

RAIN RFID Maturing, BLE on the Rise – Report from RFID Journal Live! 2018

I have been going to the biggest RFID shows for 12 years now. In 2007, it was RFID World in Grapevine, TX. And for the last ten years, it has been RFID Journal Live!. Once again, I flew to Orlando to find out what is new and exciting in RFID. And I have to conclude that not much. Which is pretty much what I also said last year.

RAIN RFID Industry Maturity

But while nothing new might be bad for RFID Journal Live!, it is not necessarily bad for the RFID industry. It may be just a sign of maturing. The development of an industry is often described with the industry maturity S-curve, which could look something like the one below for RAIN RFID. All the market data suggests that the RAIN RFID market is growing fast, so I would assume that we are currently in the growth stage.

RAIN RFID industry maturity curve

What is typical of the growth stage, compared to the earlier embryonic stage, is that the industry is more focused on process innovation than on product innovation. As a result, we are not really seeing new game-changing products. Rather the technology companies are working hard in producing the existing ones more efficiently, which should eventually lead to lower costs which further supports market growth. And there were some signs of that at the show. First of all, many technology providers were talking about growing volumes, and investing in manufacturing equipment. And on the supply side, BW Papersystems launched a new chip bonding machine that could improve manufacturing capacity.

We are seeing the same trend at Voyantic as well. While at the beginning of the decade, technology providers were in the need of tools for designing tags, the focus has shifted into production testing equipment. And Voyantic’s latest launch of the Reelsurance Pro for RAIN RFID and NFC testing and encoding follows the same trend, improving the efficiency of the manufacturing process.

But There Was Something New After All

Even if we are further along the maturity curve with most RFID technologies, new S-curves will continue to arise. Secure RAIN RFID according Gen2V2 is evolving, and EM Microelectronic has launched new ICs that present a significant advancement in that field. I feel this market is still in the embryonic stage, and there is a lot to do in building up the market.

But above all, what surprised me was that Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) has made its way into the product portfolios of many traditional RFID tag manufacturers. And to top it off, HID Global even won the Best New Product Award with its Bluetooth sensor beacon. I guess it is a matter of opinion, whether you want to call BLE RFID. But it is definitely a related technology. Maybe we need to stop positioning the different technologies against each other and accepting that we need different technologies for different applications – all providing a gateway to the Internet of Things.

Apr 04, 2018

Can Versatility and High Capacity be Combined in Smart Label Personalization?

中文版 Chinese version

Smart labels are basically really simple RF devices and look identical to each other. However, smart label deliveries are highly customized especially in high value specialty label segment. This sets two conflicting requirements for production machinery: high capacity and high flexibility.

To address this dilemma, Voyantic has spent more than two years developing a new breed of smart label personalization solutions. At the RFID Journal Live 2018 exhibition in Orlando we are proud to unveil the Reelsurance Pro – a flexible reel-to-reel machine for smart label personalization.

Large Smart Label Manufacturing Volumes are often Sum of Numerous Small Projects

Global RAIN RFID tag production volume continues to grow and NFC is doing very well, too, especially now that the majority of iPhone users can utilize the technology to its fullest extent. According to IDTechEx there will be more than 30 Billion tags sold in the year 2020.

A peculiar fact is that even as the tag volumes grow, still the demand of customer specific tag production lots remains high. Practically this means that smart label production must remain flexible enough to meet the various requirements of end user projects.

Printers are an Obvious First Step for Many

RFID label printers are the perfect way to supply small quantities of labels that are often immediately applied on products. As such printers will continue to serve a great variety of customers engaged with luggage tracking, healthcare and event management.

The sheer scale and complexity of production often exceeds a point where buying more printers is not feasible: special label form factors, sophisticated substrate materials, large reel sizes or complicated NFC / RAIN / custom encoding. I’ve come to learn that managing specific encoded data over numerous printers requires plenty of manual processing, which especially in the long term may not be sustainable.

Printers are good for many applications, but how is the scalability?

Industrial Grade Machinery Available for High Volume Label Programs

On the other end of the spectrum, label presses and high-end personalization lines serve the needs of high volume label and ticket suppliers. If you are in the business of supplying steady volumes of tickets, hang tags or bulk labels, those machines should serve you well.

But what is the option for those ambitious companies, that want to take both NFC and RAIN jobs, and dispense variable and highly specific label batches day-to-day?

Perfect environment for label presses and high-end personalization machines

Reelsurance: Office-sized Machine for Varying Smart Label Projects

Voyantic Reelsurance Pro fills the gap for those who need a flexible reel-to-reel machine to finalize a range of different smart label jobs for their customers every week. The machine won’t stop shy of features either!

Voyantic Reelsurance Pro is a small footprint machine dedicated for RFID smart label personalization

Voyantic Fitted NFC, RAIN RFID, Barcodes and Quality Control in a Smaller-than-a-horse-sized* Machine Frame

The list of printing and encoding options on this machine is impressive, and special effort is put on label output quality. Sophisticated RFID quality testers, line tension control, ESD protection, splicing table and slightly tilted machine frame provide reels that are 100% quality tested and immediately ready to deliver. The tilted frame also makes the machine ergonomic for the operator!

May We Propose a Machine for You?

Since 2013 we have supplied quite a number of Reelsurance machines for inlay and label quality assurance processes. Now that the Reelsurance Pro supports printing and encoding too, we would be thrilled to craft a proposal that meets your specific requirements. Please contact us to schedule the first demo and conversation!

(*) As a salute to honorable Mr. Tauno Matomäki, a highly esteemed Finnish business man, President and CEO (EVP), Voyantic is still working hard to supply larger-than-a-horse-sized machines after more than a decade of exporting smaller-but-way-more-expensive-than-a-horse-sized testers around the globe.

Get Answers to Your RFID Tag Encoding Questions!

Download our white paper of RFID tag encoding! You’ll find answers to many baffling questions regarding tag memory and what should be coded to it, which codes to use and how to get the codes to the tags.