Join us at CONNECTIONS SUMMIT 2022 in Helsinki, Finland   June 14-16, 2022 – Learn more and register here

Mar 30, 2022

6 Tips for Tackling the Global Component Shortage

The electronic component shortage is hitting hard on pretty much any imaginable industry. We see that in consumer electronics; we had to wait for more than a year for my son’s Playstation 5. But also, the automotive industry, mobile devices, and several industrial markets are affected heavily. The RFID industry is no exception. Claire Swedberg wrote recently an excellent and multifaceted piece about chip shortage in RFID in the RFID Journal publication: https://www.rfidjournal.com/rfid-technology-rollout-strained-by-chip-shortage. The article is mainly focused on what is going on with RAIN tag ICs, but from what I have seen, also reader manufacturers and other players in the industry are affected.

My company, Voyantic, is a provider of test and measurement solutions for the RFID industry, so we are not supplying the kinds of volumes that RFID reader companies do, let alone tag manufacturers. But I thought it would be interesting to look at what the situation has meant for us and how we have dealt with it.

“Components Available in April – Next Year ” – What to do?

I had a chat with our head of operations to hear his thoughts on the situation. His overall feeling was that the amount of time spent in sourcing has increased, and in the worst points of time, there were new negative surprises in component availability almost every week. But so far, our operations team has been able to work around them. He identified three key points that have made it possible:

  1. Co-operation between product design and operations. Being surrounded by skilled people that know the products intimately has been the key. When there have been challenges with some components, electronics designers that can point out what is critical have helped to find replacement components, which have been delightfully abundant. Finally, in most severe cases the designers may have made slight design changes around difficult-to-find components. I have learned to highly appreciate our in-house hardware design capability and can guess how difficult it might have been if all that was outsourced to a distant country.
  2. Turning to your network to find trustworthy component brokers. When looking for alternative sources for components, there are thousands of component brokers out there. But the question is, who can you trust? Where do you buy without getting counterfeit or C-grade components? That’s where your network comes in. Who can they recommend?
  3. Geographic distribution. It has proven efficient to have trusted brokers on different continents; the one in Hong Kong may have a good inventory (and prices) for one product, and the one in the US for another one. Asking around often leads to the best outcome.    

Communicating with Suppliers and Customers

In addition to the operational measures above, the crucial part of coping with growing uncertainty is instilling trust and good communication with both suppliers and customers. I am sure that, during the last year, everyone has experienced a supplier announce a delivery delay just days before the confirmed delivery date. You don’t want to be that company, right? So, what should we do?

  1. Discuss order schedules in advance. Customer needs usually don’t materialize overnight. Discussing needs in advance, or even placing advance orders, helps production planning.
  2. Radical openness. If there is uncertainty in delivery times, why not communicate that openly. Which company would you want to work with in the long term? The one that gives you the nasty surprise just before expected delivery? Or the one that tells you where they stand and keeps you updated with any progress?
  3. Solving the customer’s problems instead of delivering products. Open discussion with the customer and understanding what they plan to do with your product and when they need it may reveal alternative ways to solve their problems. Maybe you can solve the most acute needs with services. Or maybe you have a demo product or a previous generation product that you can loan to the customer until the new product arrives.

It’s probably going to be another year or two until the component shortage gets any easier. I hope that as an industry, we, the RFID guys, can work together to get through it.    

Voyantic Webinars

Tune into our educational live and on-demand webinars where we cover various topics around the RAIN RFID and NFC industry. We invite guest speakers from the industry to share their insights on each topic.

 

Feb 24, 2022

Sensing Tattoo, Cyber Tooth and Check Your Own Brain – Review of RAIN RFID Research in 2021

In 2021, RFID with sensing technologies continued to be a major research area. The COVID-19 pandemic was also seen in RFID research topics.

Plenty of interesting research papers were published and, unfortunately, I can only introduce a very limited selection of the research topics.

Sensor tags – sci-fi brought to reality

RFID combined with sensing continues to be the overwhelmingly most common broad research area in RFID. But research has clearly moved beyond the traditional sensor tags. Some of the described ideas and methods seemed more like sci-fi than science.

Sensing Covid-19

Covid-19 has inspired some research papers, and practical RFID-based solutions are being developed to help in fighting the pandemic.

Masks’ wetness can reduce their filtering capabilities. Do RFID-based sensors offer a solution?

Monitoring structures and machinery

Measuring and monitoring the condition of structures and equipment was another topic area for RFID research last year.

RFID could be used for the early detection of building surface cracks.

RFID sensors in medical applications

Combining RFID, sensors and medical diagnostics pushes biomedical sciences to a new level.

Wearable tags, miniaturization and hard to tag items

Textile, yarn, and wearable RFID continue to be another common research topic.

The stretching of fabrics is an issue for common RFID tag antenna designs. This paper introduces a way to create stretchable antennas suitable for textiles: Stretchable Textile Yarn Based on UHF RFID Helical Tag.

There are also several papers published around the topic of making ever smaller tags with higher read ranges, and using them to tag, for example, metallic objects:

Machine learning and Blockchain

Machine learning and Blockchain combined with RFID are rising research areas.

Voyantic Tagformance

Voyantic Tagformance® system is widely used in RFID and NFC research. Read more or book a demo to learn more.

Feb 01, 2022

Webinar Series for Barcode Pros – Getting Started with RFID Labels

Last year, we teamed up with TSC Printronix Auto ID and started a webinar series designed for barcode professionals, who are considering expanding their offering to RAIN RFID labels, or who already are at the beginning of that journey. With TSC Printronix Auto ID we saw the need for education as more and more barcode label customers are looking for RFID solutions. 

In the first webinar, What a barcode professional needs to know about RAIN RFID Label and Tag Data, we started from the basics: what are the key aspects of RAIN RFID technology and data, how does RAIN RFID actually work, what are the system components, and most importantly, where can you find more information. 

The second part of the webinar series, What a Barcode Professional Needs to Know about the RAIN RFID Encoding Processes, focused on the practicalities of the RAIN RFID encoding process, equipment, and alternatives. 

In the third webinar, What a Barcode professional needs to know about RAIN RFID label selection and sourcing, scheduled for February 10th, we will cover the most important considerations related to label selection and sourcing process including label specifications, supplier selection, delivery format, handling, and other issues.

Here are my main takeaways from the first two webinars in the series.

Key Takeaways from Part 1 

It is crucial to understand filtering in the context of RFID systems

The nature of RF signals means that they can go through walls and various other materials. A RAIN RFID reader can read a large number of tags simultaneously and without a line of sight, which is, in comparison, required for reading barcodes. For example, when you are inventorying tagged items in storage, your system could be reading tags behind a wall that should not be included in your inventory. Setting up tag filtering correctly ensures that your application works accurately, and that requires following proper data encoding processes. 

There are 9 RFID tags on the wall, but the reader found 54 tags.

There is no “one size fits for all” RAIN tag

What do you need to know about RAIN RFID tags when looking for a tag for your customer? The difference between a barcode label and an RFID label is that the RFID label includes an IC (microchip) and an antenna. Together the IC and the antenna make up an RFID inlay. There are lots of different IC models out there and the type of IC defines what kind of and how much data can be encoded in the tag. The antenna model defines how far the label can be read. Knowing your solution requirements, physical factors such as the label size and item materials, and use cases and data requirements are necessary for finding the best tag for your solution.

Do not use a proprietary numbering system

Keeping the importance of filtering in mind, it is crucial to understand the basics of RAIN RFID encoding systems, i.e., how you are putting data into a tag. There are three data standard families available for RAIN RFID tag encoding

Following one of the established data standards ensures there won’t be issues with tag filtering (and application errors) along the road.

The fourth option is to use your own proprietary encoding systems – Please do not do it! Or if you do, you need to “wrap” your system within the ISO standard or the RAIN numbering system.

Selecting the data standard to use often depends on your customer or the industry you are operating in. Some customers may mandate that you use a specific standard, and many industries have a mandated or de-facto standard in use to ensure interoperability.

Above are my key learnings of Part 1, but many more topics and details were discussed. Watch the webinar to learn more about each of the data standard families, including the structure of the different numbering systems and example use cases, as well as the basics of data security. Webinar part two dives deeper into the standard selection process and the specific advantages of the different standards.

Key Takeaways from Part 2

Label Manufacturing Process

The label manufacturing process includes three steps. In the first step, the IC is attached to the antenna, creating an inlay. In the second step, the inlays are converted in a common backing material called a liner, creating a blank label. In the third step, data is printed on and encoded into the label, creating a finished label.

While the process itself is simple, the manufacturing machines are quite complex. Watch the webinar to learn more ›

Encoding Equipment Types and Process

The suitable type of encoding equipment depends on the volume of tags that need to be encoded. The more sophisticated machines that can process high volumes at high speed naturally come with a higher cost.

An RFID reader can be used as an encoder but it is not an efficient permanent solution.

An RFID printer is purpose-built for encoding and is best suitable for small rolls and batches. They can be affordable and process up to some thousands of labels per hour.

High throughput personalization machines can take in larger rolls and process up to one hundred thousand tags per hour, but they also come with a higher cost.

And finally, encoding can also be integrated into product production or packaging lines.

Watch the webinar recording to dive deeper into the IC selection factors, encoding process steps, RAIN tag memory details, as well as tag locking and passwords – ensuring the right data is encoded in the right way.

The Personalization Process

The personalization process includes both printing data on the label and encoding the tags. The printed data can be the same data that’s in the RFID tag or include additional information. 

High throughput personalization lines often process labels in successive stations. Combining the print and encoding in a high-speed personalization process requires accurate triggering for all the steps and making sure the stations match the process flow.

An example of personalization stations in a high throughput personalization process.

Using an RFID printer for personalization is a good option for smaller-scale projects. An RFID printer prints the barcode and other designed details on the label as well as encodes and verifies the RAIN tag data.

Part 3: RAIN RFID Tag Selection and Sourcing

Learn the most important aspects of label selection and sourcing, including label specifications, supplier selection, and delivery format.

Dec 19, 2021

RAIN Man’s Letter to Santa 2021

Dear Santa,

I hope all is well with you. What a year! Let’s do an instant recap:

What happened in 2021

I had not really accepted this fact early on this year, but towards the summer it started to sink in: the pandemic is business as usual. At least on Voyantic’s side business has been great.

On the RAIN Alliance side of things, I became the Chairman of the RAIN Board. It is an honor, it is exciting, and it has kept me busy. The Alliance has continued delivering good value for its membership. Specifically, I want to highlight two important developments:

  1. As a housekeeping measure, the Alliance launched the RAIN CIN numbering system. While it may sound like something brand new, it is actually an ISO based numbering system simply in a new wrapping. With this easy alternative now available, all stakeholders can start clearing up some of the deployments out there that do not follow any specific numbering system. 
  2. The RAIN RFID Tyre Expo in September was the first ever global event for the tire industry with focus on RAIN RFID. The program included presentations from the early adopters, such as EuroFit Group, FIA, Norauto and Michelin, as well as from the key RAIN technology suppliers, including Hana Technologies, Siemens, and Zebra to name a few. 

Lastly, due to the continued push by several stakeholders, the Global harmonized RAIN RFID frequency band took an important step forward as France implemented the Commission’s decision EU 2018/1538. I am sorry to say that this move puts the RFID end-users in Germany increasingly in an unfair position since they remain restricted to the lower ETSI band.

Looking forward to 2022

Dear Santa, the outlook for 2022 is better than ever. With that in mind, one needs to be cautious because of two persistent inconveniences: 

Inflation went up and stays up

“We see inflation rising further in the near term but then declining next year”, says Mrs. Lagarde of ECB.

“Nonsense”, I say.

I see three factors in play, that will keep inflation up for a long time: the green energy transition, trading of emissions, and excess supply of money. While the last will go away, the two first ones are here to stay, I would add, simply because humankind is doomed otherwise. In a relatively short time, those factors already contributed to the rising price of energy. Slowly that price increase has bloated prices of raw materials and logistics. Eventually added costs will creep into everyday products and services. All this takes time, and therefore I don’t think inflation is a temporary phenomenon.

Dear Santa, please pass the following message to Mrs. Lagarde – “Juho hopes you’re right, and he is wrong.”

Component shortage gets businesses stuck

You are stepping on the gas pedal with orders coming in, but nothing moves or goes out the door. The component shortage is like fine deep sand underneath your business tires. 

At Voyantic we have been fortunate to have been able to manage our supply chain up to these days, but we have seen our customers struggle. That struggle eases up over time, but with the stock levels down through the supply chains and the price of logistics going up, I don’t see a fast way out of this. What that means is that the speed of business will be reduced, with longer lead times and more waiting.

Beer and a good night sleep in a prison

I cannot wait for the return of the in-person meetings. An RFID enthusiastic’s highlight of the year will be the RAIN Alliance meeting in Helsinki 2022. While at the event, as you agree to have “a beer at the lobby bar”, effectively you shall have “a beer in a prison“.

The event will be hosted by Beontag, Nordic-ID, and Voyantic. Mr. Nikias Klohr of Race|Results has volunteered to time your performance as you sprint over the prison yard and the wall. 

Take the shots, wear a mask, and get yourself to Helsinki on the 14th to 16th of June, 2022!

Happy Holidays!

Dear Santa, with the meeting restrictions tightening up again, you might be in for a similar Christmas tournée as the FedEx guys are – no hanging around in the living room, just deliver and get going. Look at the bright side: you will get to sauna a bit earlier!

Nov 18, 2021

NFC Forum’s Wayfinder Mark System Improves NFC User Experience

In a blog article published in 2019, I described a few experiments that tested the level of NFC user experience. One of the conclusions was that users have issues with connecting the NFC tag and the reader device, due to a lack of detailed knowledge of the antenna locations. I noted that: “NFC forum should recommend system integrators and manufacturers to indicate clearly where the tag is placed, and where the phone´s antenna is located. “

Now NFC forum has published the Wayfinding Mark System. The marks are used for showing users the NFC tag placements, where the reading device antenna is, and whether the NFC functionality is used for charging or just for communication.

Read the detailed instructions and sign the trademark license agreement at the NFC forum website.

  • The Wayfinding Mark is free to use.
  • Just the license agreement needs to be signed.
  • And obviously, the mark should be used as intended.

Wayfinding Mark Variations

There are 4 variations of the mark.

Image source: https://nfc-forum.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Wayfinding-Mark-Guidelines.pdf

The default mark is “directional”. It can be used on tags and devices. It guides users to find the exact position of the NFC tag and antenna.

A “simplified” version can be used when users are expected to be more familiar with the NFC use case.

Many NFC devices have also the possibility to charge wirelessly via the NFC interface. This is indicated by a charging variation of the Wayfinding Mark. The “charging” mark should only be used when charging is possible.

NFC Powered Marketing

Another blog I wrote in 2019 presents an example of how NFC can support effective marketing and storytelling.

The Wayfinding Mark is the correct way to indicate the tapping position on a packaging or other material.

The Wayfinding Mark is royalty-free and easy to use. The more it is used by NFC device manufacturers and system providers, the more aware consumers will be about the mark and its meaning. And that will significantly improve the user experience of all the NFC systems.

Please, take the Wayfinding Mark into use.

Sep 30, 2021

The First-Ever Global RAIN RFID Tyre Expo – Recap

The third Engage Again Virtual Conference by AIM and RAIN Alliance took place September 8-9, 2021 and this time it was co-located with the first-ever RAIN RFID Tyre Expo – an event solely dedicated to the technology and use cases of RAIN RFID enabled tyres. The Tyre Expo was targeted atr people from all aspects of the tyre world including tyre manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and vehicle makers as well as technology and solution providers.

The conference program covered a wide range of interesting topics, that were arranged on three parallel tracks. Rumor has it that the Tyre Expo conference track continuously attracted an average of 60 people, making it the most attended track of the Engage Again event.

1. The Secret Sauce

Voyantic naturally took part in the fun as well, as a sponsor and by presenting together with Hana Technologies. Also, Juho Partanen from Voyantic moderated an expert panel discussion on the key levers for the growth or RAIN RFID adoption across the tyre industry.

Watch the panel discussion recording

In their presentation, Teemu Ainasoja from Voyantic and Randall Grein from Hana Technologies shared the story of how millions of Hana Technologies manufactured and Voyantic tested RAIN RFID tags have been successfully embedded into tyres, and at the same time, paved the way for other tyre manufacturers who are not yet working with RAIN. The technology and processes have been established, tested, and proven as tens of millions tyres are source tagged in 2021!

Watch the presentation recording

Teemu Ainasoja & Randall Grein on the stage

Combining the messages from these two presentations: the secret sauce to success is collaboration across company borders. It applies both on 100% successful source tagging of tyres, information sharing within supply chains, as well as accelerating the adoption of RAIN technology across the tyre value chain.

Enabling source tagging of tyres was not easy. There were technical and other hurdles to overcome. Now, those hurdles are passed and any new tyre manufacturer can jump on-board the tyre tagging train quite easily.

2. Looking into the future

Voyantic had a good crowd of employees attending the conference. Here are some of the key takeaways our staff shared from the event.

  • The RAIN tagging of tyres is driven by traceability needs thorough the tire life cycle, not only through the supply chain. The circular economy seems to be another long-term driver.
  • The tagging penetration in 2021 is around 3-4 %, still adding up to tens of millions of tires. The volume is projected to leap to a few hundreds of millions by 2024, as Michelin extends tagging to cover all passenger car tyres, in addition to truck and transport vehicle tyres that are already tagged today.
  • Embedded tags seem to become the dominant application method, however, it is not clear whether embedded tags can deliver the needed reading performance through the whole supply chain. That would leave the market open for sticker-type tagging specifically in tyre distribution and sales.

Siemens believes that RAIN tagging of tyres will become an industry-wide norm. Quote of the week came from Dieter Horst of Siemens “tires are not conceivable in the future without RFID connectivity”.


Voyantic offers RAIN RFID testing and encoding systems for tyre manyfacturers’ systems. The systems include:

  • Tagformance system with C50 measurement chamber / C100 measurement chamber / C150 measurement chamber for anyone developing tags for tyres or tyre tagging.
  • Tagsurance system for production quality testing of RAIN RFID tags, including tyre tags.

Jul 01, 2021

Switching into a New IC in Inlay Design – Is There a “Quick n’ Dirty” Way?

A few months ago, I started receiving questions about switching to a new IC in inlay manufacturing. All these vendors had done several IC changes over the years, but there was something new going on. The questions were centered around possible shortcuts in the process.

  • “What if I just change the IC and don’t change the antenna design at all?”
  • “What if I don’t waste time in machine settings and just do it quick n’ dirty?”
  • “Are there any ICs that are ‘plug and play’ with other models?”

Unfortunately, I could not offer any help. I did find the question interesting though. At first, I tried to figure out some approaches on my own but did not get past the very basics. That is when I asked help from my colleagues Juho Partanen and Jesse Tuominen, and started doing some research on the topic.

In scale comparison of Impinj M750 and Monza R6

Together with Juho and Jesse we put together a whitepaper that outlines the process and key considerations for switching from one IC to another.

Download the white paper

Key considerations for switching from one IC to another

The IC vendors have plenty of helpful material available:

  • IC Datasheets
  • Reference antenna designs
  • Industrialization guides.

Some of the material is not publicly available, so reaching out to the IC vendor for help is a good starting point.

  • Start by verifying the suitability of the IC functionality.
    If you only need 96bit EPC pretty much any IC can do it. But some IC’s have a lot more functionality. More EPC memory, different amounts of user memory, and they support various optional EPC gen2 commands.
  • Then focus on production.
    Getting all the details and settings in the IC attachment process adjusted for the new wafer, for the new IC, and possibly for the new bonding paste can take time. This is also a time to check the durability of the new IC attachment.
  • When the production compatibility is confirmed, focus on the antenna design.
    Optimizing antenna design is always recommended, and with the IC vendor’s reference designs as a starting point, the design is not that huge of a project. In some cases, it is possible to take small shortcuts, but the time saved is not much. A good and optimized design is a better approach.
  • Focus on quality.
    As with designs, shortcuts do not make sense. The best approach is to fully utilize the new IC and optimize the tag performance and quality.

Learn How to Switch from One RAIN RFID IC to Another

Learn more about each step in the process of switching from one IC to another

Jun 11, 2021

RAIN RFID Industry Paving the Way for Eco-friendly Tagging

For more than a decade, RAIN RFID tag antennas were etched, and the substrate was PET film. Copper was first substituted with aluminum, and various other technologies have emerged, such as printed antennas, and cutting, milling, or laser engraving metal foils.

More recently we have seen antennas being applied on paper and even directly on the packaging and on other surfaces. Much of that development has been driven by cost, but the ecological and sustainability aspects are rising in importance.

Juho Partanen recently moderated an online panel discussion on various aspects and implications of sustainability and eco-friendliness of RAIN RFID tagging. The panelists included Sipi Savolainen from Stora Enso, Jerome Lemay from Decathlon, and Emmanuel Arene from Primo1D. The discussion ranged from ecological tag materials to the technology itself contributing to system-level sustainability through enabling and driving applications for the circular economy.

Watch the panel discussion recording

Before the discussion started, we asked the attendees how they would rate various aspects of eco-friendliness? A quick poll revealed the following:

The initial attendee views support the notion that although moving to renewable and recyclable materials for the tags is a no-brainer in terms of eco-friendliness, there needs to be a more holistic view of the whole system – how the technology enables cradle-to-grave traceability, waste reduction, efficiency improvements, transparency plus other aspects crucial for driving the circular economy and sustainable consumption.

We received a lot of attendee questions during the discussion and since the webinar time was limited, we were not able to address them all during the live session. So we asked our panelists to provide some additional answers for this blog.

Follow-up Q&A from the panel discussion

The responses to the following questions have been written by Mr. Sipi Savolainen from Stora Enso.

Question: If a tag is paper-based, could it be placed in the paper recycling bin, as it includes electronics and metal?
Answer: All paper and cardboard recyclability testing is based on the ability to separate non-fiber-based materials from fiber materials and screen those components before re-pulping. According to the results of PTS RH 021/97 Recyclability of Packaging Products and TAPPI UM 213 Repulpability testing (mod.), ECO tags are recyclable within paper and paper board recycling processes.

Question: According to WEEE regulation, RFID label is still regarded as electrical waste, I doubt if the paper-based label can be recycled as paper?
Answer: Passive tags are considered to fall under the scope of the WEEE directive. However, as tags are being attached to items they are naturally disposed with the material/object they are applied to. The best suited waste management process is defined based on the material/object type.


The response to the following question comes from Jerômé Lemay from Decathlon.

Question: What are the most influential factors that can move world businesses towards practicing environmental sustainability?
Answer: For Decathlon, sustainability is considered in a holistic way and, in addition to preserving nature, also includes taking care of people, and creating sustainable value through governance and business ethics, for example. Environmental sustainability is the third pillar and includes tackling climate change and driving the circular economy.

Environmental sustainability needs to be incorporated into the strategy and values, and forward-looking businesses should see that it is also what their customers are expecting.


The response to the following question comes from Emmanuel ARENE of Primo1D.

Question: Obviously, depending on which material the Primo 1D is embedded it changes its perfromance. Is the antenna re-tuned for each different material?
Answer: Yes, the performance of our embedded system is intimately linked to the permittivity of the tagged item. To make sure the RF performance and durability are optimized for each material, object, and use case, different elements can be tuned: the antenna material and its design, the chipset, and the packaging of our RFID UHF tag as well. Primo1D has all resources in-house to support product development and industrialization process till ramp-up.

Panel Discussion: The Many Faces of Eco-friendly Tagging

Listen to expert panelists from Stora Enso, Primo1D and Decathlon wrap their heads around the eco-aspects of RAIN RFID tagging.

Mar 25, 2021

The Benefits from RFID Technology Growth in this Decade

I work as an engineer at Voyantic and my main fields of expertise are electronics and radio science. Last autumn I started studying business administration to get a wider perspective in general. I have been trying to tie my work and studies together as much as possible, and when I attended a course called “Future experts 2030”, I got the idea to look into the future and see what it might bring for the RFID industry. More specifically: I tried to pick some trends which would have the most impact on the growth of the RFID industry.

Of course, there are a lot of possibilities, but I chose to take a closer look at five megatrends:

  • The development of science and technology
  • Overconsumption of resources
  • The amount of waste increases
  • Population growth and the aging of the population
  • The development of healthcare

Those megatrends were put on a future radar and some important elements were added for each sector.

The further from the center the elements are, the weaker their effect is in the present time. The colors represent the trend of the elements:

  • Green: Strengthening
  • Blue: Weakening
  • Red: Wild card

Let’s look into these trends and see what they have to do with RFID.

The development of science and technology

RFID technology is developing rapidly all the time, no doubt about that. My colleague Teemu wrote a blog post about the recent RAIN RFID research topics a while ago and listed some interesting topics there. However, if we look at the big picture it is not surprising that other technologies are also developing, and some of those are competing with RFID.

Since RFID enables items (or “things”) to be identified by systems run by computers, it is naturally one of the technologies used by IoT. For example, retail stores can use RFID for automated and real-time inventory. But when we think about identifying an item, is it enough to just know what it is? Wouldn’t it also be nice to know where it came from?

Hospitals can trace people and equipment with RFID tags, and I believe that this kind of traceability would make RFID much more valuable in some cases. That would require that different systems would be able to communicate with each other and pass tag information from one operating environment to another. For example, responsibility is nowadays an important aspect and companies could benefit from more transparent value chains.

Looking from a different perspective, the data consumption in the world keeps increasing exponentially and the data provided by RFID is adding to that. This requires continuously more from the data transfer networks and memory storage. This also brings data management challenges for the RFID systems.

Population growth, aging, and the development of healthcare

In western countries, the population is aging and the lifetime expectancy keeps increasing. The importance of healthcare will also grow while the workforce shortage problem gets worse. Since the amount of work increases, system and service automation should be made effective. This development is fortunately already quite far, as can be seen from another one of Teemu’s blog posts.

More and more medicines are used globally, and online shopping for medicine is also growing. This could attract more counterfeit medicine to the market, and that is something RFID could be used to prevent. Medicine traceability would make it harder for counterfeit medicine to reach the market, which increases the security of the medicine market.

Overconsumption of resources and the amount of waste increases

The overconsumption of resources is a well-known problem around the globe and so is the amount of waste the human population creates. The more we spend, the worse it gets. In the future, soil degradation might prove to be a serious problem for agriculture, and a shortage of raw materials for the electronics or construction industry could be a crippling problem.

For example, in retail, physical waste is created when inventory is not up to date or there are problems in the logistic chain. This causes:

  • Items to go out of date (or fashion)
  • Too many items are ordered
  • Items are lost

RFID is a well-known answer for an automated inventory and the retail industry has adopted it quite nicely.

What is needed from the RFID industry?

To be able to offer reliable solutions for the problems, the RFID industry needs to overcome some obstacles. One well-known bottleneck is the tag manufacturing capacity; the world has not enough capacity to manufacture tags if every retailer suddenly demanded every item to be tagged. We have to pump up the tag manufacturing numbers to be able to answer the growing demand.

Putting up the infra to enable the benefits of RFID is not cheap and requires investment, but I’d like to raise an equally important aspect to overcome. It’s not easy. The end users might not be experts in RF and they do not want to buy the RFID infrastructure. What they want to buy is the automated inventory, which just happens to be enabled by RFID technology. And they need help with that. RFID is not magic and has its limitations that need to be considered. That is why I believe the help provided as a service creates quite much value for the customers and should not be overlooked.

I also believe that it is a problem that different RFID environments do not communicate with each other. It means that the traceability of a tag is cut when it moves from one environment to another. To overcome this issue, the companies could work together and create a standardized system for tracing tag data.

All in all, the RFID industry is in a good position, and seems like the demand for RFID solutions remains high in the future. Hopefully, the COVID-19 pandemic will not cause too much setback for the development of RFID technology due to companies investing less in new systems.

Mar 09, 2021

Highlights from the Future of RAIN RFID Tag Design Panel Discussion

On Feb 17th 2021, we hosted an online panel discussion on the future direction of RAIN RFID tag design and tagging implementations. The panelists for the discussion were Matti Tavilampi from Avery Dennison, Steve Berry from Impinj, and Jesse Tuominen from Voyantic.

In case you missed the discussion, view the recording HERE

The discussion topics ranged from industry trends and standards to the development of readers, systems, ICs, and manufacturing technologies as well as embedded tags and smart packaging.

If spending an hour on the webinar recording does not currently fit your schedule, we made a quick recap on the topics and main points that came up during the webinar:

Megatrends that drive the RAIN industry

Early on to the panel discussion, we asked the numerous attendees to weigh in with their preferred two megatrends that strongly affect the RAIN industry.

RAIN RFID and circular economy

At first, RAIN RFID tag volumes started to grow in retail applications 10 to 15 years ago. Now the same tags are increasingly being used in manufacturing and the supply chain before the retail stores. The expectation is that the same tags will also be increasingly used in applications beyond the point of sale.

Tags are being applied more and more in item manufacturing. Source tagging poses new requirements for the RAIN RFID tagging. Tagging should support both the FCC and ETSI regions, and perform well in dense populations. Endurance and ruggedness requirements increase, because, for example, tags on garments must survive the entire life cycle of the item. Data privacy must also be considered differently when there are multiple users for the tags.

Dual-frequency tags are one approach. In some applications, a tag can combine supply chain tracking (RAIN) and consumer interaction (NFC).

Standards

The core of the Gen2 air interface has been stable for a relatively long time. The adoption of RAIN RFID technology has benefitted from the stable standard environment.

In the IC market, there seems to be a split between:

  • bare functionalities,
  • and more complex features in the protocol, such as authentication.

When it comes to protecting tag data from rogue readers, there are some users already for encryption and authentication, and interest in these possibilities seems to be increasing.

A viable policy is to pay only for the capabilities and features that are essentially required by the use case. Designers should know the air protocol standard at some level, and then industry-specific standards relevant to their target segment (aerospace, tire RFID).

Frequency allocation is something that designers should be aware of – especially the status of the upper ETSI band. Ultimately the upper ETSI makes tagging easier and brings new optimization possibilities. Optimization for upper ETSI comes naturally because other geographical areas are in the same frequency area.

Readers and systems

During the discussion, it was noted that the human operator is often the weak link in handheld scanning. Transition to overhead readers is ongoing, although an even faster transition was expected. In addition to overheads, also EAS gate and other fixed reader types’ use is increasing. The main hurdle to applying a new type of readers is twofold: the slowness in changing processes and business practices, and secondly, the longer read distance increasing tagging performance requirements.

Applications will also focus more on movements and transitions, not only on counting. These new types of applications are based on advanced algorithms tightly connected to the readers. Impinj for example has focused on improving sensitivity in the latest reader designs. It is a constant race, and more often reader sensitivity is the bottleneck.

ICs

IC sensitivities have improved roughly 15 dB in past 15 years. Operating ranges have increased six-fold from the first designs. ICs are also shrinking in footprint; Monza 1 was about 10 times the size of the latest Monza version. At the same time performance has increased. With smaller sizes also the IC cost has decreased.

The technology has matured. Modern ICs are stable. Memory corruption, clock shifts, etc issues are not seen anymore. On the other hand, there are plenty of specialty ICs with kilobytes of memory, data busses, logging, etc.

Sensor ICs were also discussed. Passive technology of RAIN RFID is easy in many sensor applications. The challenge is operation when there is no active reading around, for example, in data logging applications. RAIN RFID does not fit everywhere, but more sensors will be seen, for example, in cold chain applications.

Manufacturing

Up until today, it has been evident that high manufacturing volumes require big machines. This is true especially for labels, both for manufacturing inlays and in converting the inlays to labels.

Distributed manufacturing will be seen more in personalizing the tags. Embedded tags will change manufacturing, and this change has started and will continue. Instead of one label process, the process is divided and integrated into different item-specific manufacturing processes.

Embedded tags

Embedded tags are already in use in a variety of applications. Apparel care labels are already made in volumes. Also, tire tag volumes are increasing.

In many industrial areas and healthcare, further standardization is probably needed before embedded tag volumes grow. For example, the tire industry already has an ISO standard in place for tagging, enabling the industry to implement RAIN in a way that is both scalable and interoperable.

Embedding tags is happening right now, for example, with consumer packaged goods. Food tags are being integrated more and more into the packages, instead of a label on top of the package.

New antenna types and materials

Aluminum will not go away in the near term. There are plenty of established machines and production processes. Aluminum also has its benefits. Recycling the tags in paper packages is a frequent question. The current recycling processes handle this automatically. Separating metal from paper and plastic is already done efficiently in recycling.

Manufacturing will develop and change, processes are becoming more environmentally friendly, using fewer chemicals and creating less waste. New materials will first come to use, for example, in food packaging, where metals need to be avoided.

The above points are a brief summary of the discussion. The full recording is available here ›