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May 17, 2022

The “Secret” to Ensuring Accuracy and Repeatability in RFID Testing – Properties of an RFID Test Chamber

When our customers think of where measurement accuracy and repeatability in a tag testing setup originate from, they usually mention things like output power resolution, power setting accuracy, measurement distance measured down to a millimeter, angular alignment, and high quality matched antennas, test grade RF cables, etc…  My claim is, and it’s not even a bold claim, but more like a friendly reminder, that the most significant factor in achieving result repeatability and comparability is actually the environment.

So, what is the best route to a great environment? Well, clearly, the best solution is to use a closed and controlled environment like an anechoic cabinet specifically designed for RFID measurements. At Voyantic, the most iterated and refined cabinet is the C50. It is also the smallest of the offered cabinets, supporting the TIPP/ARC compatible four antenna measurement layout.

  

ARC / TIPP antenna arrangement and the C50 cabinet

Test Distance

The C50 name comes from the 50cm nominal measurement distance and the circular arrangement of the antennas. The choice of the distance is a sweet spot to be as close as possible for best accuracy and dynamic range, but far enough to be in an accurate enough representation of a  far-field for most average-sized tags, tagged items, and item stacks. Any further attempt to still reduce the distance rapidly ends up in the antennas not physically fitting anymore or just coupling into each other as they would sit in each other’s reactive near field.

The Cabinet Size

When you add on top the 50cm test distance the size reserved for the test object, clearance for the Fresnel zone, the volume required by the UHF range pyramid absorbers optimized for each wall, and the outer shielding, you still actually end up with a reasonably sized package. The C50 chamber totals to dimensions of 1,55m x 1,50m x 1,05m. This typically doesn’t sound important in any way, until one is planning the location for the cabinet and the transport route up to the very spot. These dimensions have not evolved by accident but rather designed from experience so that the cabinet would fit through as many door openings, narrow corridors, and elevators as possible. Also, the total weight remains in the 200kg range, making it movable by a few sturdy RFID test engineers without renting any additional equipment.  

A Sturdy RFID Engineer

Low Reflections

One of the hardest parameters to get right is the level of unechoicity. It wouldn’t be too hard in a totally empty space, but as the item under test requires a computer-controlled rotatable platform withstanding over 10kg of weight and still being totally stealthy, things get a lot trickier. The rotation mechanism and the support platform should not provide alternative radio paths from the antenna to the tag which could create a multipath situation and decrease the accuracy.

Turntable Design

To achieve the required stealth properties, anything bulky, parallel, and flat should be avoided. Also, electrically conductive materials must be avoided at all costs, except for the shortest of screws.  This means that conventional mechanical design is thrown right out of the window and other approaches are needed. Our chambers have fully ceramic bearing structures, Kevlar belts, fiberglass axles, Nylon bolts, and numerous foam structures. Most other structural parts are carefully designed from polyamide with most of the material hollowed out and any parallel and straight lines broken to reduce the RF footprint as much as possible.

Components in the chamber are designed to minimize any RF reflections.

To see the full range of available Voyantic anechoic chambers, download our R&D Solutions Catalogue ›

Download R&D Solutions Catalogue

Learn more about the Voyantic Tagformance® Pro system, accessories, and test chambers!

By combining RAIN RFID and NFC testing into one compact test device, our all-new Tagformance Pro is a true all-in-one tool for anyone either developing or using RFID technology.

May 03, 2021

Analysis of the Cost of RFID Quality – And How (Not) to Lose a Customer

We hosted a webinar on managing quality in RAIN RFID and NFC manufacturing. During the session, industry experts shared their views on setting quality goals, on the relevant standards, and on best practices for quality testing through case examples and practical tips. While veterans in RFID quality testing recognize the need for it to achieve excellent and consistent quality, for many less experienced in the field, it can be puzzling to justify the investment for the required RFID test equipment.

With this in mind, it is worthwhile to explore whether the cost of good quality in the context of RFID is justifiable. In an earlier blog post, we discussed optimizing the cost of quality. In this post, we give an example analysis of RFID quality costs.

Analysis of the Cost of RFID Quality

Typically, the three main process steps in smart label manufacturing are chip attach, converting, and personalization. While the process details are specific to the manufacturer and machine, the analysis methods are universal:

  • Failure analysis: What is the impact of possible machine failures?
  • Process analysis: How do quality defects impact the process?
  • Cost analysis: What is the cost of quality defects?
Three main processes in smart label manufacturing

To remain in scope, our example analysis focuses on the cost impact of non-performing RFID tags in production. The case analysis is inspired by the case study presented by our customer Lab ID in our previous webinar session. In our modified case example, we are tasked with the delivery of 1 million labels to a customer. Let us assume that our manufacturing process has a yield of 98%. Out of the 1 million produced tags, 2% would be non-performing, meaning that these tags are bad quality or out of specification. Confronted with this reality, there are three possible actions to address non-performing tags which are described in the picture below.

Different scenarios that can play out based on the action taken to address quality testing and deal with bad tags

The first one is the baseline scenario for the case. We assume that cost and sell price per tag are 0.08 and 0.1, respectively. This leaves us with a margin of 20% for this production lot. In this scenario, we do not take into account any potential cost impact of 2% non-performing tags.

Base scenario – 2% of tags are non-performing

In the next scenario, we ride our luck and deliver all tags without addressing the bad ones. Thankfully, the customer does not notice any defects this time. While the 2% of non-performing tags did not have any repercussions on our margins, the last two scenarios showcase how repeating the action might bite us back the next time. We also do not consider the implications of how the bad tags will inevitably affect our customer’s business.

We get lucky – customer does not notice delivered bad tags

We can also do something about the bad tags. In the third scenario, we decide to test our tags and mark the bad ones during production. This would incur costs in the form of initial tester investment (a capital expenditure that is omitted from the costs of this single production lot) and marker ink (a largely negligible running cost). Marking the tags does not introduce extra production processes or require an operator to supervise the machine. With the help of the tester, we are able to mark the non-performing tags out of the 1 million. This sees our margins decrease slightly (20% to 18%) as we do not charge the customer for the bad tags.

Alternatively, we can also decide to test and then remove bad tags during production. Aside from the initial equipment investment as with the previous scenario, this also requires additional steps in the production, e.g. by handling non-performing tags with a splicing table and changing them to a normal one. This process also requires an operator overseeing the production process which induces additional costs. For our analysis, we assume this removal of a bad tag is ten times the normal cost of producing a tag. This would add a somewhat significant cost to us but our margins remain positive at 2%. Worth considering in this scenario is customers’ willingness to pay more for rolls with 100% working tags. This could help offset the extra costs associated with tag removal.

Testing tags – in both scenarios we can achieve a positive margin

Next, we deliver all tags, 98% good and 2% bad. This time neglecting quality has consequences: the customer notices defects in our delivery, returns the lot, and demands we rework them to reach the promised quality. This requires us to find the non-performing tags from the lot and replace them with good-quality ones. For our analysis, we assume all that tag replacement hassle along with the changes to production planning costs us 25 times the normal cost of producing a tag. Not only have our margins turned negative, but we also need to deal with an annoyed customer whose plans have been disrupted.

Final two scenarios – not testing tags can have grave financial and reputational consequences

In the final “doomsday” scenario, after delivering the production lot, the customer detects the defects, simply returns the lot, and stops doing business with us. Revenue for this production lot has been lost, our customer relationship is severely damaged and our reputation as a tag manufacturer is also at risk. Not addressing quality issues and providing no quantifying proof of quality can have severe consequences. As shown, a single batch of tags mixed some with inferior quality can do much more harm than expected.

Loss of customer relationships is difficult to measure in costs

Being able to quantify quality puts tag producers in a superior position to win and establish trust with customers. Getting there requires effort but as shown in our example it is a worthwhile pursuit in the long run. We are happy to help with your needs in getting there. A good resource to start with is our webinar on managing quality in RAIN RFID and NFC manufacturing.

On-Demand Webinar

Quality Management Approaches in RAIN RFID and NFC Manufacturing

Sep 26, 2017

What Do Babies and RFID Have in Common?

Something worried me before my first daughter’s arrival, something I had been already warned: “Babies are born without a handbook”. I am used to working with procedures, methodologies or at least to have some standards to follow; and now I was going to face the most demanding challenge in my life without any kind of guidance.

But, I gradually noticed that it was not going to be that way, and that the parallelism between the technology I have been working with for more than 15 years, RFID ― those intelligent chips enabling the Internet of Things which we can find in more and more stores and warehouses every day ―, was clear from minute zero. Many companies, end users and system integrators think, like I did in early stage, that there are no rules nor guidelines for a project to become successful, but that trial and error is the only way to gain experience to face it with. Is that how I should bring my daughter up, by trial and error?

Look for Help – It Is Available!

As with RFID, when Carlota was born, tranquility came by being surrounded by experts in the field, and not just sympathizers who have faced that same situation. Firstly, I was provided with a handbook. Seriously! Guidelines about what to do in certain situations, such as tips to interpret the baby’s cries. Better than improvising with the newborn, right? Likewise, the handbook suggested the baby to sleep on her back, while just a few years ago it was suggested to sleep on her stomach.

Having professionals, who advise us following the latest recommendations and standards, gives us the peace of mind to do things well in RFID, too.

For example, some years ago it was always recommended to do pilot tests before deploying an RFID project, but then we realized that the results were conditioned by the selected reader and selected tags. Yes, it seems obvious, but before even starting those pilot tests, readers and tags had already been chosen within the wide spectrum of combinations existing in the market. Doesn’t it make sense to first know what we need before choosing them? For this reason, nowadays professional RFID companies use standards (have you heard about the TIPP methodology by GS1?) and laboratory equipment capable of determining which RFID readers and tags in the market will give better results in a real test.

To Do Comparison You Need a Reference

Carlota was weighed, her length was measured, the diameter of her head was measured… these were going to be the indicators that would tell us if her growth was adequate or not. It is not useful to keep trying things; we must measure, measure Carlota and RFID, and do it with the right tools. But not only that! What a surprise when the kilograms and centimetres at the hospital were not the same kilograms and centimetres at the drugstore, not even the same as those at the pediatrician. How should I decide if everything is okay or not when one tool tells me “yes” and another “no”?

And I remembered so many customers I have who do not worry about calibrating their RFID measuring equipment, and a tag that could work with any reader when tested with a given equipment, but the same tag that would only work with the most powerful and sensitive readers when tested with other equipment.

Define Your Requirements Before Selecting the Solution

I have always insisted on my clients that they should not choose the best tag, but the most appropriate tag for their application; with my daughter this situation happens from diapers to milk, but not only with her milk, also with the adults’ milk! What kind of milk do you have in your fridge? The one with more calcium, vitamins, etc. on the market; the cheapest one; or the one you consider good enough for you and your family? The same thing happens with RFID tags, where it makes no sense to pay more for the best tag on the market, because there is no such ideal tag, but the one that is the best one for your application, the best milk for you.

Regarding prices, what should we think of the cheapest ones? Again, if their quality and features are the most convenient for us, they are definitely the best choice. Please pay attention to both concepts: good quality and minimum required features.

And what about the quality? I do not mean good finishes or performance … but that once a model is chosen, every diaper, every tag, always perform the same way; their features do not vary among them and they have a certain margin of operation. It seems obvious, but the cheapest tags on the market are usually cheap because although they all work (i.e. a standard RFID reader can detect them), not all of them perform the same way; some tags can be detected at much longer distance than others, even though being the same model. I checked it when I bought some cheaper diapers than the usual ones, which seemed to absorb as much as the best ones, but it was not always like that, whether it was a discreet pee or a champion one.

“Always” is an interesting and challenging concept, but at least we need to be prepared before the chosen diaper stops performing as expected and what would be acceptable. What if a customer makes the wrong choice and purchases 5 million reusable tags regardless of their operating margin? They could perform well today, and at the slightest change in the initial conditions of use, stop doing so.

Select Suppliers That You Can Trust

Finally, once the feeding bottles, diapers, milk were chosen, and their brands, prices and features were evaluated, we had to decide where to buy such an amount of supplies. I have to admit that we started buying some stuff online and taking advantage of promotions at the hypermarket, but it all depends on how seriously we want to get involved in bringing our daughter up. Right now, there are many things we decided to buy in pharmacies and specialized stores, not only for the qualified professionals who helped us from the beginning, but also for the access they have given us to brand events, training, samples of new products…

In the end, we are learning day by day. Carlota relies on us, and we rely on professionals and industry standards, because there is a reference for every industry. If in children’s upbringing references are driven by the WHO, which are followed by pediatricians; in RFID industry the guidelines are given by ISO, GS1 and RAIN RFID Alliance, and there are more and more system integrators and end users who, by following them, have stopped suffering with the deployment and adoption, respectively, of the technology. Why should we suffer as the result of improvising with our newborn instead of enjoying her growth without worries?

Welcome, Carlota.
RFID, it’s your time.

Jun 02, 2017

RFID Journal Live in Phoenix – The New Exciting Stuff Was in IEEE RFID

中文版 Chinese version

This year’s RFID Journal Live! was arranged in Phoenix, AZ three weeks ago. I have been scanning through different reports about the show, and they all seem to amplify my own perception: the overall business was good, things are moving forward, but there was nothing particularly new and exciting this time. Sure, the inventory robots were still there, readers are integrating with antennas, and some new chips were announced, but that’s about it.

So, instead of writing about Journal Live!, this year I am focusing my show report on a co-located event that always delivers something new, the IEEE RFID conference. The conference was arranged for the 11th time, and I think I have only missed it once – though often I have had to divide my time between IEEE and the trade show.

The conference featured two excellent key-note presentations: Secure RFID for Trusting Devices and Data by René Martinez of Honeywell and Near-Zero Power Radio Frequency Receivers by Troy Olsson of DARPA. And then there were a total of 32 technical papers presented. Most papers were accepted in these categories:

  • Localization
  • Protocols and Security
  • Antennas and Propagation
  • Circuits, Devices and Readers

So, it seems that localization is on the rise, as the category has reached the top from outside the top-5 of 2016 event. I haven’t really seen asset localization properly break through in the industry, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did in the near future.

Poster Session

During the last few years, IEEE RFID has arranged a poster session in the RFID Journal Live! exhibition area. So, if you do one thing to learn about what is going on in the research space, I recommend browsing through the poster area. In just half an hour you will get a nice overview of the latest research related to circuits, protocols, antennas, chipless sensors, etc. This year, there were a total of 25 posters from universities around the world, but also one from the industry: the French company Primo1D had a poster about their RFID yarn. A full list of poster titles can be found here.

This year, I was privileged to be a member of an expert panel that was assigned to choose the best poster. It took us two hours of looking through the posters, interviewing the presenters, and discussing, until we were able to decide the winner:

“A Dual-Band Wireless Power Transfer and Backscatter Communication Approach for Implantable Neuroprosthetic Devices” by Eleftherios Kampianakis and Apoorva Sharma (University of Washington, USA); Jose Arenas (University of Washington, Chile); Matthew Reynolds (University of Washington, USA).

The presented research combines UHF and HF RFID, as well as many disciplines of electronics and RF engineering into an implantable neuroprosthetic testbed. A more detailed description can be found here.

Best Paper Award

This year’s best paper award went to Pavel Nikitin of Honeywell for his paper titled ‘Self-Reconfigurable RFID Reader Antenna’. The paper presents a method for varying the beam of an antenna. The method is presented with a two-element Yagi antenna, where the parasitic element is loaded with a self-oscillating circuit. The ability to change the reader beam could be especially useful when inventorying static tag populations, e.g. when using an overhead reader to inventory a retail store.

But what pleased me most, was that some of the measurement data in Pavel’s paper was generated with the Voyantic Tagformance Pro system. Let me explain why.

This is me and my colleague Jesse back in 2006, sitting in front of the very first Tagformance prototype. We had just left our jobs at the university, and were frantically trying to build a system for testing the performance of UHF RFID tags. I spent hours of trying to understand papers written by Pavel Nikitin – then only a name to me. And we were able to pull it off: we got our system out to the market for RFID World 2007 which, by the way, was co-located with the very first IEEE RFID conference. Now, seeing our system used in one of Pavel’s papers 11 years later feels like the circle is closed.

Oct 07, 2016

Recommendation for RFID Reader Testing from RAIN RFID Alliance

中文版 Chinese version

The RAIN RFID Alliance recently published a recommendation for RFID reader sensitivity testing. But why is such a recommendation important for the RFID industry? I was deeply involved in its creation process, and can open up some of the reasoning behind it.

Reader Sensitivity Is Important

It is well known that the performance of a RAIN RFID system depends on

  • reader transmit power,
  • the path loss between the tag and the reader,
  • tag sensitivity,
  • tag backscatter power, and
  • reader sensitivity.

Now there is plenty of information available about tag performance, and tags are typically characterized in detail both in the design phase as well as in production. Measuring path loss (characterizing the environment) is relatively easy as well – simply measure a Voyantic Reference Tag with the Tagformance system in an unknown environment, and the result is the path loss between the reader and the tag (contact Voyantic for more information about the test process). But even though reader sensitivity is one of the main elements defining the overall performance of a RAIN RFID system, it has been given very little emphasis so far.

RAIN RFID Alliance Reader Sensitivity Test Recommendation

Almost all RFID reader datasheets report output power (TX power, radiated power, port power) somehow, but very few reader manufacturers report the receiver sensitivity of their reader. And without the sensitivity information, you can’t really be confident about the reliability of your RFID system. So RAIN RFID Alliance decided to take the initiative and publish a recommendation document “RAIN RFID Reader Sensitivity Testing” to get more companies to report their reader sensitivity.

Now reader sensitivity can be a complicated issue, but only if you let it.

It is well known that sensitivity varies (a little) as a function of the exact frequency, reader transmit power, and the choice of protocol parameters. However, the RAIN RFID Alliance workgroup that developed the recommendation, opted for simplicity and deemed sufficient to report a single sensitivity value. In order to make comparing reported sensitivity values easy, it was also required to report the used test parameters. As a result, RFID system integrators and end users can evaluate the usefulness of the sensitivity data by comparing the test parameters to those of their use case. And if needed, they can request further test data with other parameters.

Voyantic Readformance Reader Tester

Voyantic Readformance – Perfect Match with the RAIN RFID Alliance Recommendation

Voyantic has offered a solution for reader sensitivity testing, the Readformance, for several years. So with our experience in reader testing, it was natural for us to participate in developing the RAIN RFID Alliance test recommendation.

The approach taken in the recommendation was:

Easy and simple testing that anyone can perform without the most expensive test equipment.

This very same approach, combining simplicity and flexibility with fast and low cost testing, is exactly what we had in mind when designing the Readformance back in 2012.

In order to help the RFID industry, and to boost availability of reader sensitivity information, Voyantic is also offering reader sensitivity testing as a service, in addition to selling test equipment. Request a quotation for reader sensitivity testing!

Reader testing performed at the Voyantic lab

Learn How to Test RAIN RFID Reader Performance

Download our application note “Testing RAIN RFID Reader Performance with Voyantic Readformance” to learn how easy it is to test the sensitivity of a reader!

Jul 08, 2016

Downgrading Your Spec Does Not Make a Quality Tag – Thoughts About RFID Quality

中文版 Chinese version

I work as the CEO of Voyantic, a company that specializes in RFID test and measurement equipment. Since our systems are used by hundreds of companies around the world, we often come across cases where a customer needs our help to verify that their tags work as they should. This is a story about a case where things went wrong.

Tagging Athletes in Cross-country Skiing

We got involved with a very interesting case a couple of years ago. A small RFID integrator that we have known for some time wanted to tag athletes in a cross-country skiing competition. The idea was to use RFID for timing the race. And you can guess that if someone spends several hours on the ski track, being left without a race time is definitely not an option.

Cross-country skiing is a healthy hobby and also a good application for RFID timing – Photo by Sorbis / Shutterstock.com

There are many different ways to tag athletes in timing solutions. Common approaches in running competitions include integrating the RFID tags to the race bibs or attaching them to the shoes of the runners. However, in this case, the chosen approach was to buy wrist-band tags and to attach them to the ankles of the skiers. The tags were read by fixed readers that were set up on the side of the tracks.

The integrator went through the specifications of several different wrist-band tags and finally contacted a fairly well known maker of specialty tags for some samples. The samples arrived the following week, and the integrator ran some field tests. Everything worked well. He was able to detect every skier that passed the reader antenna.

So the integrator decided to order the tags that he needed for his application. Once again, there was a timely delivery of correct amount of tags. However, when he started to build the application, he noticed that not all of the tags were working. A typical discussion between an unsatisfied customer and a worried supplier followed.

The conclusion was that all the supplied tags worked according to the specification.

The tag manufacturer tested both working and non-working tags attached to the wrist of whoever they considered to be their standard-human. All tags were readable from a distance of 2 m which was the specification. But they didn’t all work in the end application. How is this possible?

Analysis

We got involved with the case at this point. We were asked to take a look at the tag samples to try to understand what was going on. So we ran a performance test for the tags using the Tagformance measurement system. The results from the Threshold Sweep measurement are shown below.

Performance variations of wrist-band UHF RFID tags measured with the Tagformance system

We tested the tags in free air, so they were not attached to a wrist or an ankle. But even in this setup it is clearly visible that there are significant variations in the tuning and performance of the tags. So this is what we think happened:

  1. The integrator decided to use the tags differently from what the manufacturer had specified
  2. The first samples sent by the tag manufacturer performed clearly above the spec
  3. The integrator concluded that this tag will work in the application
  4. The next tag batch – even though still within the original spec – performed differently
  5. A part of the tags didn’t work.

So, it is very hard to point fingers in this case. But there is something that the RFID industry needs to improve in. The industry is already doing a decent job in reporting the performance of their tags, e.g. in expected read range. But I think there is a lot to improve in how performance variations are reported, because that is a key factor in building reliable RFID systems.

And what happened with the skiing competition? Did the integrator get the system to work? He did. But he had to manually test through the tags and hand-pick the ones that worked well enough. Hardly a perfect outcome but every skier got their time.

My company Voyantic specializes in test and measurement solutions for the RFID industry. Are you interested to learn more about RFID quality control? Download our sample quality test report and contact us.

Download the Sample Quality Test Report!

See what performance testing can tell you about a tag – and how this data can be used to improve your production quality

Jun 07, 2016

RFID Triumph at Macy’s: More Sales with Higher Margins – GS1 Connect 2016 Recap

中文版 Chinese version

It was my third time to attend the GS1 Connect event; this time in Washington, DC from May 31st through June 3rd. The event was loaded with an impressive conference menu and a larger exhibition area than in the Austin event last year, although with less exhibiting companies than previously. RFID was well presented – read on to see what I am taking home from that perspective.

Utopia Comes with Transparency and Traceability that Protects Both Business and Consumers

Standardsville is a picturesque city where everything is clean, convenient, traceable and safe. Business blooms because information and goods flow without obstacles, and The Consumer is protected from harm. Actually I thought GS1 had done a really nice job on creating this Standardsville utopia as the theme of the event.

Standardsville comes with plenty of convenience and color. Picture Copyright GS1 2016.

In his keynote speech Mr. Bob Carpenter, the President and CEO of GS1 US, highlighted RFID as one of the transformational technologies that is currently reshaping retail. In a conference session the same message came through the presentation of Dr. Bill Hardgrave of Auburn University. Dr. Hardgrave listed the “Big Four” Foundational Use Cases of RFID together with the additional current driver: the omni-channel retail.

Retail use cases of RFID according to Dr. Bill Hardgrave, University of Auburn

For the most effective RFID execution Dr. Hardgrave again gave the ultimate guidance: “Move to 0HIO“.

RFID Is a Strategic Enabler for Macy’s

In the Macy’s HTDBW session Mr. Bill Connell, Senior VP of Logistics at Macy’s, explained the reasons why Macy’s is so committed to RFID – sales uplift is naturally the ultimate reward, but all the other benefits of accurate inventory also add enormous efficiencies to store operations. The consumer sees all this as improved shopping experience, whether she is online or in-store.

Supplier Source Tagging Is Happening Already

Mr. Connell also made it clear that supplier source tagging is the only way to do this right so that benefits are spread thorough the supply chain. Today tagging coverage among Macy’s suppliers is 56%, and Mr. Connell expressed his wish that the rest would start tagging tomorrow.

In a separate session Rich Haig, the CIO of Herman Kay, one of Macy’s suppliers, presented their experiences around RFID. The added visibility that RFID has brought to their own processes has dramatically affected shipping routines and raised accuracy to a whole new level. All this has made Herman Kay a better supplier for all their customers.

Many Retailers Put Emphasis on Product Attributes and Rich Content

As omni-channel retail marches forward, it seems that most retailers have their focus on getting the content right on their webstores. As an example, Walmart is focused on getting every single item online, including those that they are not currently even selling! As an engineer I am struggling to follow this logic, but I suppose that’s just me.

I understand rich content and romancing the product is essential to fight the online competition. However, behind the curtains many are following what the spearhead retailers are doing around RFID. For the latecomers implementing RFID is going to be a smoother ride because supplier source tagging is already happening, standards are emerging to make communication easier between stakeholders, and successful tagging solutions have become a common knowledge in many product categories.

TIPP Is Like the Air We Breathe

So, why are the retailers not implementing the Tagged Item Performance Protocol (TIPP) that was just recently developed for them? I’ve learned this actually is just an illusion. The way professional RFID tagging in retail is done today is solely based in TIPP-like methodology – some just call them ARC tests and others Voyantic tests. Common factors include tags applied on products/materials, organized to in-store like product stacks and then tested over a wide frequency band and across rotation angles.

TIPP grades will take their place as a communications method as tagging spreads to new product categories and new retailers. This is already happening, and I am sure the TIPP methodology will be discussed more at the GS1 Connect 2017.

GS1 Connect 2017 Taking Place in Las Vegas

As business moves forward the next GS1 Connect will be held in Las Vegas. Unfortunately the event is moved forward by a couple of weeks to 19th-22nd June, which will be right on top of the Finnish Midsummer’s Eve – the magical nightless night. Considering the night in Las Vegas may well be somewhat similar, I will be faced with a difficult decision between bonfires and casinos.

Apr 21, 2016

RFID, Love or Die

Dear reader, my name is Lluis Bueno, and I love RFID. Do you? I belong to the Spanish company NextPoints, and in my work I have met hundreds of professionals and companies working in the RFID market without any passion for the technology… and most of them are not working in the RFID market anymore. So, why is love required for RFID business to survive? Let me share a few real stories with you.

Without any doubt, RFID is living its best moment: Internet of Things is more real than ever, RAIN RFID Alliance has more than 100 members, GS1 released TIPP guidelines for RFID tagging in retail, RFID inlays reached the lowest price ever without losing any quality… but perhaps, even with this friendly environment, the RFID company you created or joined some time ago is not alive anymore.

What was the reason for failure then? All of them had something in common: their lack of love towards the technology. Focusing on the product is of course important, but prioritizing price and forgetting collaboration with other players did kill them.

RFID is not just one more technology, it still needs your support to develop the market, and you need the market to be developed to make business.

RFID has its professional tools and methods of doing measurements, and this is something many of the professionals in the market are not aware of. There are only two ways to work with RFID: the right way or the wrong one, and there is no midway. Fortunately, I met Voyantic years ago and they showed the right way to me. Doesn’t it sound like some kind of religion? That was exactly what I felt the first time I met Mr. Juho Partanen: I had always thought I was doing things, if not the best way, then good enough for my RFID business. But I was doing wrong until he opened my eyes and he led me on the right track.

Most of the RFID companies ─ large end users, system integrators and even manufacturers of RFID readers or tags ─ are still using the same methods for testing their products and solutions which they used 5 years ago: conventional readers instead of professional testing systems, trial and error instead of real measurements, empirical reading distance instead of other key measured parameters. They think they are getting enough information from those old methods to understand how RFID works, but they really have no idea of what is happening. Why are they not taking their own business seriously? Is lack of budget the reason? No. Lack of love towards RFID is.

Most of the RFID companies think that purchasing RFID products at the best price will turn their company into a successful one. Forget it! Price just helps. Qualified partners, not only products but business providers, RFID alliances involvement, real RFID measurement tools…. You are missing much more aspects than just price. Are you aware of the changes in RFID ETSI frequencies, TIPP guidelines, RAIN RFID Alliance…? Information, commitment, involvement… definitely, love. Love is missing all along the supply chain, so we need to spread love since the beginning.

Please, you have chosen RFID as a driver technology for your projects, products and solutions. Love it and it will love you back with everlasting business. Take it seriously, or partner with companies who take it seriously for you, but do not ignore RFID and treat it as any other technology or it will die and make your business pass away.

In my work I have heard dozens of questions of RFID – why is it not performing as expected? What should be done differently to make my RFID business bloom? Download the “Questions of RFID – Loving Wisdom” document below to read the commonly asked questions with my answers.

Download Lluis Bueno’s RFID Q&A!

Download Lluis Bueno’s loving wisdom for frequently asked questions of RFID. You’ll find answers to many baffling RFID questions regarding tag and reader selection, system setups, link margins, and troubleshooting.
For your convenience, many of the answers come with pictures, too!

Nov 06, 2015

The Pioneers of UHF RFID: The Aerospace Industry

中文版 Chinese version

Retail RFID seems to get the most limelight in the RFID industry at the moment. And that is not surprising because of its huge tag volumes and growth rates. But many other sectors are benefiting from RFID use as well. One of my personal favorites is the aerospace industry.

The aerospace industry has been one of the pioneers in UHF RFID use

The most visible aerospace company in the RFID space has been Airbus. Their announcement, at the beginning of this year, to ask their supply base to tag all traceable items with passive RFID shows that they are serious. But also Boeing and Embraer come across regularly in RFID related news. To serve this industry, an ecosystem of RFID technology providers has emerged. Companies such as Fujitsu, Maintag, Tego, OAT Systems, and Brady, to name a few, have a special focus in aerospace RFID. Besides, the ecosystem has generated business opportunities for the supporting industry, see, for example, the Stanley Black & Decker success story.

What is Required from RFID in Aerospace?

So why are some RFID companies specializing in the aerospace industry? Can’t we just buy a roll of RFID labels and start tagging airplane parts? Well, it is not quite as simple as that. Several aspects set aerospace RFID, apart from many other application areas:

  1. Large memory required: The aerospace industry requires that a lot of information (birth records, maintenance records, etc.) is stored directly into the tag. They don’t want to rely on a connection to an external database which is usually used in retail RFID.
  2. Valuable items: The tagged items are of high value and are often used for ten years and more. As a result, tag durability is more important a driver than tag cost.
  3. Harsh conditions: Tags in and out of an airplane need to endure vibration, significant variations in temperature, humidity, and pressure, and many other conditions unfamiliar to retail applications.
  4. Global functionality: As airplanes frequently cross country borders and oceans, the RFID tags need to be readable around the world. As a result, the tags must be designed to be wideband.
  5. Less sensitive tag ICs: Due to their larger memory content and possible special functionalities, the tag ICs used in aerospace typically need more power. As a result, many applications are limited to read ranges of 15 cm to 3 meters.

A Need for Standards

The aerospace industry realized that they need standardization for flyable tags as early as 2006. That is when a group of experts in the field decided to develop a standard under SAE International. SAE AS5678, “Passive RFID Tags Intended for Aircraft Use” was born. The standard includes a broad set of different environmental tests to make sure that a tag would endure the harsh conditions of a flying airplane. Sun APT Test Center was the first lab to start certifying tags according to the standard.

In addition to environmental testing, the standard also describes RF performance tests for the tags. The standard described a very professional and well repeatable measurement methodology. But even more interestingly, the standard divided tag performance into performance grades, somewhat similar to what the GS1 TIPP standard would do for the retail industry in 2015.

AS5678 was truly ahead of its time.

As a result, an airplane manufacturer could simply require a grade B tag to be used by its suppliers without having to specify the tag model or detailed performance parameters.

AS5678 performance tests are typically performed in a small anechoic chamber

Now, in 2015, SAE is revising the AS5678 standard to reflect the new information gained during the years. I have been a member of the team, revising the standard as well. The changes, however, are not very large, which well reflects the quality of the first standard version.

Specific RFID Testing Needs of the Aerospace Industry

The special requirements of the aerospace industry for RFID lead to some specific testing needs:

  1. Measuring tag performance: Because of the large memory contents, wide bandwidth, and rugged design, aerospace tags may have limited read ranges. The AS5678 test methodology can be used to determine the acquired read range and the matching performance grade.
  2. Verifying tag bandwidth: Since a wide bandwidth is required, the performance of the tag needs to be tested typically throughout the 860-960 MHz frequency range.
  3. Environmental tests: AS55678 describes a large set of environmental conditions that the tag needs to endure. The performance of the tag should not degrade during the tests.
  4. Memory testing: The memory of an aerospace tag is organized differently compared to a typical label. As a result, there is a need to have good visibility to the tag memory contents.

My company Voyantic has delivered test and measurement systems for both end-users and technology providers in the aerospace RFID industry. The systems promote design and manufacturing excellence, as well as fluent technical dialogue between pioneering companies within the industry.

If you are interested to learn more, please download our application note below or contact us, and let’s talk more!

Learn How to Test UHF RFID Tags in the Aerospace Industry

Download The Essential Guide for UHF Tag Testing in Aerospace

Oct 22, 2015

Avoiding the Next RFID Hype Rounds by Learning from the Past

Omni-channel retail, pharma serialization, internet of things, M2M, NFC – the world never runs out of buzz words that get us all worked up and excited. Then come to the budgeting rounds, and so many again overestimate the next year’s revenue growth, setting the sails towards the future disappointment. What is so tricky about it – how to see the forest from the trees?

I would keep my nose directed forward but also take care to learn from the past. Read on to grasp some of the past mistakes.

As we look back at the strange days of the tremendous RFID hype in 2004-2007, one can only shrug and shiver. Can you remember the factors that drove up the inflated expectations curve ten years ago? I was a rookie in the RFID business in 2004 and couldn’t tell which were major and minor industry drivers. Now the following themes become highlighted as I try to make sense of the past.

Royalty-free ISO Standard Makes Your Day

In 2004, the Class 1 Gen2 was ratified by EPCglobal. As no patent constraints had been found, the EPC Gen2 standard was also declared royalty-free by EPCglobal. The significance of Gen2 was manifested in 2006 as the International Standards Organization ISO approved it as a part of the 18000-6 standard. Class 1 Gen2 fixed many shortcomings of the original Class 1 and 18000-6B standards, and this global standard certainly paved the way for a smoother ride for the industry.

Do NOT use this switch!

Wal-Mart flipped the hype boost to overdrive with its announcements in early 2004 for the top 100 suppliers to tag pallets and cases by January 2005. This drove the whole RFID industry, and those around it, practically insane. If Wal-Mart was doing this, wouldn’t this drag the other retailers to do the same? Also, venture capitalists woke up and became fully alarmed not to miss the train. Money started pouring in RFID companies that were set to make millions in the Wal-Mart ecosystem alone, had short or non-existent revenue history, a few patents perhaps, and a bullish burn rate. It was a roller-coaster ride during which marketing agencies, lawyers, and event organizers must have made big dollars.

Go Only with a Solid Standard

By 2007 nothing much had happened. One central cause for Wal-Mart not getting ROI in their RFID expedition was the timing related to standards – the transition from Class 1 to Class 1 Gen2 took a long time and effort for the technology vendors, which also had other worries to handle. As Wal-Mart gradually began to pull back on RFID and Nasdaq started to slide, it was clear that most RFID companies were firmly headed towards the biggest hangover of all times. RFID hype had peaked, and burst, too.

Healthy Competition, or Something Lurking Behind the Scenes

One thing the investor money managed to get done was to destroy the profit margins in UHF RFID. Even the few good looking companies in RFID were nearly pushed over the edge by their revenue-hungry-investor-backed competitors that sold their goods probably at a below-zero profit. As technology was still immature and quality standards non-existent, the door was open for low-quality and no-quality vendors that gradually ate off the left-over positive karma around RFID. End users learned to be cautious and consider quality aspects as well, which now at the later time has turned into a competitive advantage for companies that have quality processes well established.

2008 to 2010 were terrible times for everyone. I can imagine how so many sales funnels had steadily forward surfing high-rise edges. As the pressure eased off just slightly, then came December of 2011 and Round Rock. That horrid battle took long and was mostly fought behind the scenes. I feel lucky for not knowing all the details, but the dispute did plenty of harm! Among other casualties, the Impinj IPO was scrapped in 2012, but at the same time, Smartrac was awake and managed to execute some significant acquisitions. The one universal splendid outcome from Round Rock was the fact that RFID companies learned to co-operate in the name of a greater common good.

Less Hype, More Industry Collaboration

There may be a time to go solo – but not now

We arrive at the present day – RFID hype is long gone, technology has matured, and studies clearly show how the RFID adoption is streamlining processes, bringing ROI and making the world a better place. Omni-channel retail, lean manufacturing, passive sensors, and expanding industry collaboration, such as the RAIN Alliance and GS1, are some of the drivers that bring more and more business to the technology vendors and solution providers.

The future of the RFID market looks set to continue at double digits rate growth. I do not see any unjustified hype on the horizon as of now. If only the RFID industry would be able to avoid the next pitfalls, such as new patent disputes, proprietary national protocols, and especially the IoT hype. In general, I feel optimistic over all this; however, having been an entrepreneur for over ten years, I won’t be surprised.

Do let me know if your crystal ball reflects the future any differently, and with more clarity! Send me an email (juho.partanen@voyantic.com) and let’s talk more!