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May 02, 2019

Using TIPP Tagged Item Performance Protocol Outside Retail

中文版 Chinese version

GS1 RAIN RFID Performance Standard Helps to Scale up RFID Across Industries

RAIN RFID is being adopted increasingly in several industries such as automotive manufacturing, healthcare, and pharma. Because of the growing number of implementations, there is an increasing need for a solution that helps to scale up the implementations.

One of the bottlenecks seems to be specifying RAIN tag performance in a way that enables the use of tags from several manufacturers in a system. Need for performance specification or for a method to classify tags comes up more and more frequently in industry meetings. The good news is that pioneering industries have solved these questions earlier, and there are working solutions ready for adoption.

Why Performance Specification is a Thing?

Most RAIN RFID system deployments cover a single use case, utilizing one type of tags in one way. When users become familiar with the system and learn about the possibilities, the deployment starts expanding:

  • New types of readers are added
  • New types of items are tagged
  • New use cases are added.

End users naturally expect that all the components have solid readability across the entire deployment. At the same time scaling up typically creates a need to use several tagging suppliers. This ultimately creates the need to specify performance instead of purchasing a tag model.

Keyword is “Scalability”

GS1 TIPP is a Ready Solution

GS1 Tagged Item Performance Protocol (TIPP) was originally developed for retail use. The methodology is universal and works perfectly for any RAIN user industry such as pharma, healthcare or automotive. The performance classes aka grades and methodology are already used in several applications beyond retail. Adopting GS1 TIPP is easy when a working tag and tagging method has been found:

  1. The item or group of items can be tested in minutes for finding out which performance classes it fulfills.
  2. The test outcome is the performance specification.
  3. In addition, tagging instructions and quality requirements are created easily.

For example:

Tagging instructions: Item X is tagged by placing the tag on the top part, as shown in the photo above
Performance specification: Tagged item performance should meet TIPP grade S30B
Quality specification: Inlay quality variation should be within +/- 2dB
Encoding specification: The tag should be encoded with 96bit SGTIN code and permalocked.

Scale up by leveraging existing standards

There are several benefits for adopting GS1 TIPP standard:

  • Dozens of tag manufacturers have the TIPP test capability in-house.
    The specifications would be quick to roll out.
  • There are several third-party test centers offering testing-as-a-service in several continents.
    Anyone has access to the testing.
  • The standard already includes several performance grades – with high probability one of these performance classes can be used in any application in any industry.
  • There is a self-improving methodology included. If there are no suitable grades for a new industry or application, a new grade can be added and it is automatically distributed to tag manufacturers globally.

Re-inventing the Wheel Creates New Problems

Developing new, parallel methods brings problems: new investments would be needed, and communicating new requirements with new ways to dozens of tag manufacturers globally is risky and slow. All in all, the adoption would be slow and instead of helping to scale up the industry a new bottleneck may emerge. It took industry experts more than four years to develop the GS1 TIPP into a global standard, which only shows how extremely slow it is to create a new standard.

In my opinion, the best way to scale up is to leverage the existing EPC standards, and GS1 TIPP is one of the standards in the EPC standards family.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about the GS1 TIPP methodology? Contact us – I would be happy to discuss this in more detail!

Mar 14, 2019

Future-proofing RAIN Connectivity

中文版 Chinese version

The RAIN RFID market has been growing nicely throughout the latest years. The latest news is that last year a total of 15.4 billion RAIN ICs were sold – and we are nicely on track for more than 20 billion in 2020. At the same time, the market penetration is still very low. According to IdTechEx, in the most successful market segment, retail, we are at around 10% of the total accessible market, and with other segments, such as Industry 4.0, aviation, and food it is even lower. So, there is plenty of room to grow.

We can already see 100 billion tags a year in the horizon. I don’t know if it will be in 8 or 10 years, but we are getting there. Then maybe another ten more years, and we will be at 1 trillion. However, several things in our thinking will need to change for that to happen.

I can see three obstacles that we need to overcome.

  1. We need to think about what happens when applications overlap. We are already starting to reach the situation where tags from one application are entering the read zones of other applications, and it is causing problems.
  2. We need to prepare for people intentionally messing with the applications. This is something that has not been a big problem for now, but it will increase as RAIN RFID spreads wider.
  3. We need to stop thinking in terms of tags and start thinking about RFID enabled items. There will not always be a separate tag that is attached to a product.

Since the industry has accepted that source tagging is the way to go, there needs to be a way for the party that owns the RAIN system to specify to the party that tags the product, how to tag.

For that I propose the Tagging Specification.

The specification is a common language between the parties, and it could also work as a checklist to make sure that all aspects have been considered. But what should be in a tagging specification? This is my proposal:

Geographic Region

In which geographic regions does the tagged item need to be identifiable? This could be for example ETSI, FCC, or global; and this choice will affect the tuning of the tag. With the upcoming upper ETSI band we have more and more countries working around 915 MHz.

Tag Numbering Scheme

How do we encode the tags? This is one of the areas where we need to look into the future. When there are more and more tags out there, the applications start to overlap.

For example, in a running race we have tags in the bibs of the runners provided by the timing system provider. But we also have tags integrated in some of the garments or accessories of the runners, courtesy of the sports retailer. When the runners pass the RFID readers, there is a limited amount of time to detect each runner – or even get several readings for reliable timing – if there are tags around that don’t belong to that application. Juho’s blog post about tag flooding talks more about this. The radio protocol provides ways to ignore the irrelevant tags, but it takes more time, and it requires that all parties think about the numbering.

Security

One action that is closely related to encoding the tag data, is securing it. At the moment, RAIN RFID is not everywhere, and most RAIN RFID readers are professional equipment. But, we are already close to the time when different electronics enthusiasts get their hands on RAIN reader modules. It may take some more time, but at some point we will have more RAIN readers integrated in mobile phones. And when there is an opportunity, there will be sabotage and people trying to get gains for themselves by affecting the RAIN RFID systems.

Of course, different applications have different security needs. There are still surprisingly many applications out there, where there is zero security – the EPC is encoded and that’s it. Most applications lock the EPC memory and passwords. That may work for a while, but in the long run, you need a way to manage passwords, and Nedap’s Danny Haak’s proposal for managing RAIN passwords could be a solution. Finally, in some application there might be a need for authentication functionalities.

Tagging Method

There is a fundamental shift in the industry, where more and more tags are integrated either into the packaging or into the products themselves, be it a running backpack or a tire. Thus the specification is no longer about the tag itself but about the RAIN-enabled product – or maybe a smart product. So, another line in the tagging specification would be tagging method. Is the tag a sticker applied to the product? Is it a hang tag? Is the tag applied to the package? Or is it integrated somewhere inside the product? Perhaps it is up to the supplier to decide? This all depends on whether there is a use for the tag after the point of sale; for example for product returns, warranty etc.

Tag Size

Tag size is often the first specification that comes up. Usually we want the tag to be as small as possible. But there is a compromise between the bandwidth of the tag which affects the geographic range; its performance – how far it can be read from; and size. You can choose any two, but the third one will be a compromise.

Tagged Item Performance

Radio performance matters as well. But it is not the performance of the tag, it is the performance of the entire RAIN-enabled product. And that’s where inlay lists widely used in retail will be insufficient. Still several retailers maintain lists of inlays that are allowed for products sold in their stores. And Auburn University is certifying tags for different product categories. That is an ok starting point, if you want to do hang tagging. But not everyone does.

Determining radio performance for RAIN-enabled products is somewhat more difficult than for just inlays or tags; and the testing methodology should be thought out for each industry. The TIPP methodology was developed for retail several years ago, and now there is an ISO standard family coming out for RFID in tires. The application determines whether in the typical reading scenario there are multiple tags close to each other and from which directions the products need to be identifiable. The reader type used in the application, on the other hand, may determine the requirements for sensitivity and backscatter strength.

It is extremely important that the tagging specification includes a clear verifiable performance requirement – and that it is vendor agnostic. That is the only way that the industry can improve and innovate.

Example of a tagging specification; what elements a specification should contain.

The tagging specification is my proposal for overcoming the obstacles we are facing – and this is my idea about what should be in the specification. Let us hear what do you think should be there!

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.

Jul 07, 2017

The Evolution of RAIN RFID Testing Started with Inlays, and Ends with…

中文版 Chinese version

Evolution of organisms is one broadly accepted theory. Let me walk you through the phases evolution has taken when it comes to RAIN RFID tag testing.

Starting Point: The RFID Inlay

In the end of 90s there were no off-the-shelf solutions to start doing RFID research and tag testing. Hence the classical Radar Cross-section (RCS) seemed like a great way to characterize the UHF antenna of an inlay. It’s just that such a passive antenna test didn’t enable designers even to optimize the forward link: matching the impedance of IC with the impedance of the antenna. As a result, it was a struggle to get the tag tuning right. Additionally, the RCS measurement told nothing of the read range that the inlay design can deliver.

Delta Radar Cross-section (deltaRCS) was a serious step in the right direction for two reasons: the impedance match could be better analyzed and the fundamental reverse link parameters were brought into consideration. Read ranges started to improve. Around 2005-2007 also the first commercial tag test systems became available. Those systems, such as the Tag Analyzer from SAVR Communications, the Voyantic Tagformance and MeETS from CISC, already utilized the Class 1 Gen2 protocol to better grasp the actual performance of an RFID inlay. Pavel Nikitin’s paper from 2012 explains the theory and practicalities of diverse test systems in detail.

As tag prototypes were made and production samples tested, many companies focused mainly on the inlay performance in free air conditions. It didn’t take long for the first experts to realize that the test results better correlated with the real-world use case performance when the inlays were attached on various materials prior to testing. So, approaching the current decade it seemed half of the industry was busy working with various reference material sets, and the other half with aluminum plates of various sizes.

Era of Testing Tags on Items

To bring more sense into real-world performance of inlays, Voyantic introduced the Application Development Suite already in 2008. With the Population Analysis function anyone could visualize and study the behaviour and properties of tags in groups. As we have later learned, very few did such analysis before 2011, which manifests two related findings:

  1. The more groundbreaking the concept, the longer time it takes to really sink in
  2. It takes a lengthy period of time for engineers to learn how to explain certain groundbreaking concepts in an understandable way.

Tag-to-tag close coupling effects are indeed complex, and only partially understood and explained by the academic community even today. As a kind of workaround, the ARC Program emerged in 2011 to combine exhaustive label testing with data collection from actual RAIN use cases in retail. Outcome of that analysis are the ARC performance categories and the related certified inlay lists.

These ARC inlay lists simplified tag selection for the US retailers. I’d also state that the success of the ARC program pushed the technology vendors to seek additional ways to ease the adoption of RAIN RFID technology by collaboration. It can be said that the Program may have slowed down the market entry time for new inlay types and vendors obviously because they needed to pay and wait for certification tests before getting on those lists.

On the positive side waiting pays off, because the ARC inlays lists are one functional way for a new vendor to gain access to the US retail deployments.

Early this decade the performance testing elsewhere in the RFID ecosystem already focused on tags on actual items. However, the industry lacked a documented and open framework to correlate various test setups with each other. This void, together with the industry’s quest to improve the scalability of deployments, led to VILRI’s tagged item prototype project. Eventually that project gave birth to the Tagged Item Performance Protocol, aka TIPP, in 2015.

TIPP is a standard-like guideline from GS1 that establishes and combines three fundamental aspects:

  • Key performance metrics for RAIN enabled items
  • Test methodology that anyone can repeatedly use to extract these metrics
  • Performance grades for individual and stacked items.

Among its other benefits, the open and thoroughly documented TIPP guideline enables anyone to easily communicate their tagging requirements without sharing details of their processes and use cases.

Following the TIPP approach tagging solution providers are free to innovate and offer their latest products and solutions immediately without the need to have them certified by third parties.

How Would You Like Your RAIN Enabled Items? Separate, Boxed, Stacked, Hanging…

Close coupled RAIN enabled sporting goods

In the fall of 2017 an update to TIPP introduces a new test protocol for dense hanging stacks. This test protocol puts 100% reads of all the items to the focus, and thus leaves the close coupling effect purely for tagging experts to handle and solve. I anticipate that RAIN deployments especially around sporting goods retail will benefit from this new test protocol.

RAIN Read Performance Requires Input Also From the Reader Side

Albeit the tag side already enjoys highly sophisticated performance test framework, there are still a few missing pieces on the RAIN reader side. The Reader Sensitivity Test Recommendation from the RAIN Alliance was a grand milestone already. The dialogue and evolution would greatly speed up if the industry stakeholders, such as GS1 and RAIN Alliance, would take initiative to derive meaningful open performance metrics for read zones and readers in general.

That’s my evolution story for now. And no, the evolution of RAIN tag testing has not stalled, instead it’s constantly looking for new paths to make RAIN technology spread more efficiently. That’s also where Voyantic keeps on investing in. Your feedback on these thoughts will be greatly appreciated!

Jun 16, 2017

When Buying Tags – Ask the Right Questions

中文版 Chinese version

I frequently lecture in RFID training events, and now and then, a question comes up from RFID users and system integrators: “When buying RAIN RFID tags, what should we ask from suppliers, and what should we tell the potential supplier?”. I asked the same question from some RFID tag manufacturers and spiced the answers up with my own experiences and collected the following summary from the answers.

How to Get a Good Quotation for RFID Tags

Plenty of information is related to the tag selection. The more information that can be given to the tag supplier, the easier it is for them to propose a good tag. And the better questions you ask, the better answers you get, and the easier it is to make an educated decision. At the same time, it is essential to keep the focus – what is important for the project at hand and what can be left out.

The issues to consider and communicate are in the following areas:

  • Use case – what can I tell about the tag use
  • Tag functionality
  • Tag format, shape and size
  • Durability requirements
  • Performance requirements
  • Delivery format and quantities
  • Printing and encoding needs
  • Quality data
  • Delivery terms and pricing
  • Change management
  • Additional services from the supplier

There are plenty of questions under each of these areas. Download our free RAIN RFID tag buyer’s guide to get a more comprehensive understanding and an example request for a quotation!

Download the RFID Tag Buyer’s Guide

Learn what to ask when buying RFID tags.
Get our example request for quotation to help you get relevant quotes.

Apr 27, 2017

Four Factors That Make Japan the Perfect Place to Deploy RAIN RFID in Convenience Stores

中文版 Chinese version

The Nikkei Asian Review released a story about how some of the largest Japanese convenience stores plan to deploy RFID as a fix to severe labor shortage. Firstly, I am personally a huge fan of Japan and secondly, I’ve done quite a bit of work to speed up RAIN RFID deployments in the retail market. Still this announcement from Japan took me by surprise, and let me explain why.

Nikkei Asian Review: New RFID self-checkout systems will eliminate the need to scan each item individually, helping to cope with a severe lack of manpower.

Unconventional Motivation

This is the first time I’ve heard labor shortage to drive the RFID deployment. In Europe and the USA it’s been more about omni-channel sales that creates sales uplift, and all the efficiencies that simply result from high inventory accuracy.

Still, as you give it a moment to sink in, isn’t this just perfect news – labor shortage as a new driver has emerged and greatly motivates several large stakeholders to engage in this initiative, including Seven-Eleven, Lawson, Familymart and even the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry!

For me Japan is the most intriguing piece of the plot, and let me outline the four factors that I believe will help this initiative all the way to success:

Factor #1: Collective Efficiency in Their Veins

The culture enables the Japanese to behave and act highly efficiently in extremely large and dense crowds. If a new form of practice is available to improve public efficiencies, the Japanese are the first ones to oblige.

Consider the notorious train rush every morning between 8AM and 9AM. The Yamanote Line, for example, is an amazing experience. With a ridership of over 1,000,000 passengers overcrowding is both a challenge and a fact. Keep to the left and go with the flow, yes, but there is more to the story.

Factor #2: Payment Cards as the Sixth Finger

You can’t get around in Tokyo without a Suica® or a Pasmo® card. Based on the Sony FeliCa® technology, these rechargeable payment cards enable the commuters to quickly pass through the ticket gates at the JR and Subway stations, and help maintain the efficient flow of people in the jampacked station platforms.

You can conveniently use the same payment cards for many of the small purchases you stumble around the stations. As you take a moment with it, actually kiosks, taxis, cafes and many other small businesses seem to even endorse Suica® over coins.

Factor #3: Ubiquitous Automation

For the sake of efficiency and convenience, a metropol such as Tokyo is filled with automation to assist the consumers. I’d especially highlight the vending machines that you can find around in corridors and even on the station platforms. Take the automated ordering systems at fast-food restaurants as the second example. Automation and advanced user experience even follow the average Haruto-san all the way to the restrooms as well.

Factor #4: Local Retail Technology Vendors

If one has ever visited the RetailTech Exhibition in Tokyo Big Sight, it is pretty clear for a Japanese retailer that there are many Japanese based top brands to choose the implementer partner from: Toshiba TEC, Sato, Fujitsu, NCR, Ricoh…. On top of that, there is a great number of local experienced RFID label solutions providers, such as FVG, Sato, Toppan Forms, Toppan Printing, and Fine Label to name a few. Altech provides expertise and solutions related to RFID label testing and manufacturing.

A local partner is a great asset for clearing obstacles and moving any project forward at a fast pace.

A Few Ideas to Support Success

As a few generations of Japanese consumers are native to utilizing payment cards and automation in their everyday life, the RFID based self-checkouts at convenience stores should be nothing new. The local ecosystem of RAIN RFID vendors already exists, so I would only list two long-term implementation success factors to closely consider by all the stakeholders:
1. Utilize EPC numbering for the tagged sale items, because proprietary item numbering systems overlap sooner or later and then erode the RFID system reliability
2. Utilize the GS1 TIPP Guideline to specify the tagged item performance requirements, because TIPP makes the deployment more future-proof and enables the suppliers to manage tagging economically.

Voyantic provides easy-to-use turn-key solutions for TIPP testing.

With this said, I hope all goes well with the initiative. Please drop me a line if you’d like to raise further conversation around the topic!

SUICA is a registered trademark of East Japan Railway Company
PASMO is a registered trademark of PASMO Co., Ltd.
FeliCa is a registered trademark of Sony Corporation

Feb 01, 2017

GS1 Releases the TIPP Global Guideline – Streamlines RAIN RFID Adoption in Retail and Fosters Tagging Innovations

中文版 Chinese version

After over 18 months of hard work, the TIPP work group under the GS1 Global Office has now released the Tagged Item Performance Protocol (TIPP) for global usage. The guideline focuses on readability of tagged items, supports all the global RAIN RFID frequencies, and also comes with additional supportive documentation to make the adoption process easier.

Many experts have invested a considerable amount of time in the creation of this guideline, and I am personally pleased with the outcome. The feedback that I’ve already collected leads me to believe that the standard lays out useful guidance also for RAIN RFID projects outside of the retail sector. Read on to learn what this standard means for the industry and end users.

TIPP Simplifies RAIN RFID Adoption for Retailers

The early adopters of RAIN RFID technology needed to cope with plenty of piloting, in-store testing and other iterative procedures to make the technology work out for them. A decade later, now in 2017, both the technology itself and the surrounding ecosystem have matured. Standards also emerge to make adoption of technology easier, faster and less expensive.

TIPP grades establish a common vocabulary and methodology for the RAIN RFID ecosystem. Original chart adopted from Impinj Inc., with modifications.

The end users define their specific tagging requirements as TIPP grades that are easy to communicate between stakeholders. Similar standard communication methods are already utilized in barcoding, EPC tag data standard and product attributes – standards boil down complicated technical issues into simple ones thus removing headaches and misunderstandings.

But wait a minute – some retailers rely on the approved inlay lists from the ARC Program, so what is the relevance of TIPP for them?

TIPP Scales – Removes Bottleneck of the ARC Program

The well-known ARC Program uses a sophisticated test system to gather and compile a database of RFID label performance characteristics. Combined with the end user specific requirements gathered during pre-pilot tests, the local experts then maintain certified inlay lists across retail item categories.

However, a limitation of the ARC Program is that the only official place to perform the tests for a newly developed inlay or retail item category is the one Auburn University test laboratory in Alabama, USA. There are only a limited number of experts available for pre-pilots, thus a bottleneck gradually developed.

As the number of deployments started rising across continents, the ecosystem simply needed methodology that scales. Now that the TIPP guideline establishes open grades and open test methodology, anyone can start performing TIPP tests locally and the bottleneck is removed.

Under the hood TIPP is about 95% the same as the ARC test setup. The main difference is how the test data is interpreted. In fact it should be acknowledged that the ARC Lab Director Justin Patton and Director of Technology Dr. Senthilkumar CP both gave significant contribution during the creation of TIPP US.

TIPP grading test system is essentially a similar 4 channel setup as the ARC test system.

TIPP grading test system

Building the Future for Smarter Packages

An aspect of TIPP is that it enables tagging solutions providers to innovate with new breeds of smart packages since they are no longer dictated to work only with inlay-based RAIN labeling. Moving away from diverse inlay lists also brings increased possibilities for suppliers to drive down the cost of tagging. In this perspective I don’t expect the cost of an inlay to drop as such, instead I am confident that management, stocking of labels and finishing processes around tagging will find new efficiencies.

Origins of TIPP Date Back to VICS and ILRI

For the folks out there that want to understand how TIPP came to existence, I’ve gathered a brief history piece in another document. If ILRI, VICS or ARC Arkansas rings any bells, you may want to give the History of TIPP document two minutes of your time.

In essence TIPP is rooted on

  1. the joined effort within the retail industry to increase the efficiency and transparency of supply chains
  2. the pain that RFID projects caused for the early adopters in the retail industry
  3. the learnings from prior technology implementations, such as barcodes
  4. the ongoing RAIN RFID deployment evolution from handheld scanners to zone sensor infrastructure.

Next Step: Guideline to Be Adopted by Retailers

As the TIPP guideline was developed for the retail community by the request of the retail community, I next look forward to the retailers and their suppliers to start adopting this global guideline. To make the transition smoother this time around, the guideline comes with supportive documentation both for the retailers and solution providers.

The GS1 TIPP website offers new fantastic documentation for both techies and non-techies.

Needless to say, if there are any obstacles on the way, both the GS1 Member Organizations and technology vendors are glad and available to assist. A new test protocol for dense stacks will be added to the standard in Q2/2017 together with new grades – mighty good news for anyone in the sporting goods business!

Over time we all should learn more about the benefits that the standard offers. When it comes to simplifying RFID vendor compliance management, my recent blog post already discussed that side of the story.

Methodology Likely to Find Ground Also Outside of Retail

I’ve had the privilege to explain and justify TIPP for various stakeholders over the recent couple of years. Received feedback suggests that the end user segments outside of retail consider TIPP as a benchmark of how to express tagging requirements in a scalable way. One hurdle for those folks in various businesses will be to find and motivate an un-biased association to efficiently nurture the standard creation – same as VILRI and later GS1 did for retail.

Any comments or concerns? Please let me hear it! Let’s also utilize LinkedIn forums for additional discussions:

Dec 13, 2016

TIPP Offers Both Low-Hanging Fruits and Long-Term Efficiencies for Everyone in the Retail Supply Chain

中文版 Chinese version

In the name of vendor compliance, many suppliers and brand owners are facing new RAIN RFID product tagging requirements from their retailer customers. The new TIPP standard harmonizes these requirements, bringing transparency and new cost efficiencies within grasp of all parties. Continue reading to catch some more good news coming your way!

RAIN RFID Adoption Challenge #1: Managing a Multi-Party Technology Project

I am sure you have all been there: a room full of people and a couple over remote connection, and someone with opening words – “Good Morning Everyone. We now have this new vendor requirement we need to satisfy. It concerns most of you and some of our partners, too.”.

What happens then is roughly a factor of project management, technology maturity, number of involved parties, communication skills and team endurance.

Adoption Challenge #2: Balancing the Short-Term Goals and Long-Term Efficiencies

You may have noted that when a deadline approaches, the time perspective also shortens. It’s only human nature that this leads to decisions that seem simple and make sense in the short-term, but which lead to excess expenditure and even re-engineering projects in the long-term. It’s a twisted set of requirements that is difficult to put in balance.

When it comes to an RFID implementation, I would personally list the signs of short-sighted decisions to include usage of inlay lists, selecting the cheapest label supplier, and utilizing of proprietary numbering systems.

Transition from an IT Project to a Compliance Process is Easier if Implementation is Based on Standards

During the roll-out phase, an RFID project definitely involves the folks over at the IT department. There are new streams of information flowing between companies, and also bits going back and forth in the new RAIN reader infrastructure within the company itself.

However, as all that is successfully solved and implemented, the IT maestros turn their focus back on geek black magic, Linux and Dr. Pepper. The whole thing basically turns into a compliance and quality management process that runs 24/7 and is managed by different people: Vendor Compliance Manager, Quality Manager, or similar. It is at that time when standards, defined maintenance routines and ISO 9001 quality systems show their power.

Take the Simple Route and Base Tagging Requirements on TIPP

Tagged Item Performance Protocol (TIPP) is a global standard developed by the spearhead retailers, their suppliers and the RFID technology community. TIPP utilizes a grading approach that enables anyone to define varying tagging requirements for different product categories.

I’d actually like to point out the TIPP analogy to hangers, where the “Voluntary Guidelines for Hanger Specifications for Floor-Ready Merchandise” by GS1 states that “Hanger performance is the key metric, not the material.” The very same applies to RFID, where the readability of tagged items is the key, not the logo on the RFID inlays.

TIPP grades enable retailers to efficiently determine tagging requirements based on their own read scenarios without sharing any sensitive information unnecessarily with outsiders. Naturally it’s ok to turn to trusted solution providers that can perform the necessary tests and determine which TIPP grades to utilize in different product categories.

Paving the Way to Long-Term Process Efficiencies

TIPP grading enables the suppliers and brand owners to work with their partners and solution providers to find cost-effective tagging solutions that both meet the vendor compliance requirements, aka TIPP grades, and their own process preferences. This way the decision making on label purchases is distributed to where costs and supply chain efficiency can be best managed.

Wait, there is more: TIPP practically removes the in-store validation tests that are now essential to the maintenance of retailer specific inlay lists! In-store testing of labels is a significant operational burden and expense, which was indeed quite necessary at the early days of RFID adoption in retail. Now that the technology has matured, it’s time to reassign all performance and validation testing to parties that efficiently perform it as part of their daily routines.

Lean on the Technology Providers

Today there are numerous technology providers close by you that can assist you in meeting your RFID retail mandates and requirements. To find solution providers try these search engines:

It goes without saying that you ought to be a demanding customer for all these folks out there – don’t accept the first proposal without hearing more about the alternatives. Always demand a standard solution without vendor-lock and have the short- and long-term implications spelled out.

Yes, We Can (in January)

The original TIPP guideline came out in the USA in 2015. The guideline already introduced the performance grades approach, but was limited to the FCC frequency band. To create a global version that also covers the ETSI, Chinese and various other bands, the GS1 Global set up a workgroup in summer of 2015. I have been co-chairing the workgroup for about a year now together with Plamen Iliev of Embisphere.

January is going to be exciting in many ways. I am delighted to point out that a global TIPP standard is already ratified and will be officially released by the GS1 in January 2017. Please contact us if you want to discuss these issues in more detail, and see you at the NRF in New York!

RFID tagged men’s shirts in a department store in Helsinki, Finland. I simply wanted to add this picture here in the end because it’s just such a beautiful sight.

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.

Nov 23, 2015

Why RFID TIPP Grading is Great News for the Retailers Worldwide

What does EU tax harmonization, the war in Ukraine, and TIPP adoption have in common? All three appear to be stagnant battlefronts with plenty of hard work done behind the scenes but minor visible progress to outsiders. Is there something wrong with the world order, how to move forward? Relax, take a sip of Dr. Pepper and read on to see why and how TIPP will prevail.

What Do TIPP, Tire Sidewall Codes, and Automotive Oil Grades Have in Common?

TIPP is an acronym for Tagged Item Performance Protocol. The TIPP methodology was initially created in the USA to simplify and standardize the communication and accountability around RFID tagging. RFID tagging of retail items dramatically improves inventory accuracy. Without RFID, it is impossible to sustain accurate inventory, especially on the shop floor level, and without accurate inventory a retailer cannot effectively execute their omnichannel sales strategies.

With this said, TIPP is a significant leap forward for any RFID adopting industry that looks to cut tagging costs, simplify communications, and clarify accountability. This approach would equally well serve the RFID adopters in the healthcare, automotive, and aerospace industries. It comes gift-wrapped by the GS1 US, too!

Little something for our friends!

The TIPP approach bears an analogy to car tire codes. The standardized information on the tire sidewalls describes the fundamental characteristics of the tire and is mandated by US Federal Law and EU Directives. Adapting to this system, the car manufacturer carefully masters the product (car) design, sets the tire requirements with a few alternative sizes that the car owners then follow. Periodically there is the unbiased 3rd party to check that a particular car has tires that meet the specs, are not damaged nor too worn out. In all these technical affairs, the tire manufacturer’s responsibility is to come up with the numbers and put them on the product. The tire brand is devoted to the sales and marketing side of things.

Tire sidewall markings include plenty of information for the consumer. “Tire code – en” by F l a n k e r – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons.

I will take a second example also from the automotive industry: SAE oil grades. Most car makers don’t endorse Total, Shell, nor Valvoline above others, but simply specify multigrade SAE 5W-30 in the owner’s manual, perhaps with little twists as BMW-LL-04. These grades have temperature-viscosity built-in, which makes a real difference up here in the North Pole. This valuable classification work was done by the Society of Automotive Engineers – SAE, which also has set standards on the quality side. SAE oil grades lay the grounds for easy purchasing, healthy competition, and results in fewer engine problems for us all. In this setup, the oil brands play an important role that is simply fenced off from the underlying oil grading system.

These two examples illustrate how grading systems have made two major industries more transparent, efficient, and streamlined. Sure it took years to develop and enforce these common practices, but the outcome benefits everyone.

Maintaining Approved Inlay Lists Becomes Too Complicated as RFID Tagging Expands to New Product Categories

Before the TIPP was established, the early adopters of RFID came up with their ways of getting tagging done in a controlled manner. Often this meant countless hours of the trial-and-error type of testing, and the outcome in many cases was lists of approved inlays that are suited for a particular product category. Suppliers were then instructed to use inlays from those lists, and just for a while, the process seemed to be alright.

Gradually the pain started to manifest itself. Because an inlay product is in constant evolution, maintaining of inlay lists often turned out to be quite a burden. To make the situation even more uncomfortable, the amount of testing is dramatically increasing as RFID tagging expands to new product categories. Even suppliers were unhappy due to extra effort and expense because conflicting lists from different retailers lead to exception tagging.

Adopting TIPP Is Evident, But There Are a Few Speedbumps Left on The Road

GS1 US did a fantastic job in pulling retailers, suppliers, and RFID industry experts together, and as an outcome, the TIPP grading system with eight initial performance grades was introduced in January 2015. The test methodology was documented on the protocol, physical and practical levels. A logical and well-documented alternative to the approved inlay list processes had been introduced.

The TIPP Guideline also includes grades for stacked retail items.

So why is it that the US retail’s giants did not instantly adopt TIPP? I would list four factors:

  1. The TIPP grades are not intuitive – which one to pick, and what to do if none of the eight alternative grades meet the read scenario requirements;
  2. How to verify for the TIPP grades – RFID technology vendors have not yet introduced routine validation methods for TIPP graded retail items;
  3. Many retailers are managing global supply chains, and they would rather adopt a global standard around RFID tagging;
  4. From the perspective of a multi-billion dollar retail company, slowness is an integral part of “instant”.

All these issues can and will be resolved; it just takes time. The road ahead is, therefore, paved with education, training, convincing, waiting, and politics. This rough terrain is nothing new since most RFID vendors are ideally used to it already for a decade.

Even slow progress is progress. Image courtesy of Hold the Mustard Postcards ©1980.

The Industry Is Multitasking And Making Further Progress

The vital steps that technology vendors and GS1 should take include making the TIPP grades more understandable, adding new grades in the portfolio, and introducing validation methods. All these issues are being addressed as we speak. In fact, for validation, there are already the first out-of-the-box solutions available, as you can see from the videos below.

On top of this great news, the GS1 Global Office is making a strong effort to develop a TIPP global standard. Retailers in the US, Europe, and Asia should all contribute and support GS1 in getting the global standard out promptly.

All this takes time. Many stakeholders are working on it, and it’s going to turn out great. Please contact me (juho.partanen@voyantic.com) for further insight!

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