In 2003, the world of RFID technology looked bright. The idea of using UHF RFID solutions in commercial applications was about 10 years old and everyone was looking to expand its use. IBM engineers obtained several RFID patents and began working with retailers, including Walmart, to streamline their business processes. As a result, Walmart announced that its top 100 vendors and suppliers would be required to tag all their cases and pallets with UHF RFID tags within two years. RFID technology seemed like it was about to take off. Everyone expected tremendous results. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
Why RFID Didn’t Succeed with the Push in the Early 2000s
In the end, Walmart’s pilot program proved unsuccessful for a few reasons.
1) RFID technology was immature.
Though UHF RFID technology has since become widely used, the available technology for UHF RFID (reading systems, tag constructions, and printing solutions) at the time wasn’t as advanced as it needed to be to fulfill the technology’s true potential.
2) No global RFID standards existed.
In 2003, the industry had yet to standardize RFID technology or agree on specific RFID protocols. This lack of standardization meant that not all RFID technology could interact effectively. For example, one manufacturer’s readers did not necessarily work with another manufacturer’s tags.
3) Data on RFID tags didn’t supply new information or insights.
At the time, most companies believed that RFID technology would provide higher ROI in supply chain applications. Proposed RFID solutions consequently focused primarily on the supply chain. As a result, Walmart’s mandate required RFID tags only for cases and pallets directly within Walmart’s own supply chain.
Walmart suppliers were not anxious to comply with the new request. Suppliers already had barcode solutions in place with the information they needed for their supply chains. Adding RFID tags to their cases and pallets did not give them any new data or insights to offset the extra cost involved. Adding RFID was simply an extra expense for them.
How Today’s RFID Technology Differs from the Early 2000’s
In recent years, RFID technology has experienced a renaissance of sorts. It’s better than ever and provides a proven ROI for applications spanning from healthcare to retail to manufacturing and, of course, the supply chain. New advancements in RFID reading and printing technologies have made RFID a sustainable and worthwhile technology.
Benefits and Improvements in RFID Applications Today
1) It’s standardized
In 2004, EPCglobal (part of GS1 today) first published the Class 1 Gen2 interface protocol. This defined the requirements for an RFID system operating in the 860 MHz – 960 MHz UHF range. Over the next 10 years, many sectors began to adopt this protocol as an industry standard, and the technology slowly rebounded.
The Gen2 standard continues to evolve, and today we have Gen2 Version 2.1, which includes numerous enhancements and improvements. The RAIN RFID Alliance was also established in 2014 to promote the adoption, interoperability and understanding of the technology. The success of the RAIN Alliance has led many to refer to the GS1 Gen2 standards simply as “RAIN RFID.”
Because of these standards, manufacturers, suppliers, and end users are now able to develop solutions that work efficiently with a variety of RFID products that operate together seamlessly in most applications.
2) It’s more advanced
RFID components and systems are more advanced now than they were in their earlier iterations. We have better readers, supporting software, RFID tags, and printing solutions. Innovative designs have also made RFID printers more versatile. For example, the ability to print on smaller tags and utilize diverse media constructions such as on-metal tags has opened a huge market for RFID.
3) RFID goes beyond pallets and cases
After the Walmart RFID initiative of 2003, companies began to leverage RFID solutions beyond pallets, cases and the supply chain. RFID is now used in every industry from tracking patient samples in the hospital to taking item level inventory in retail environments.
4) Costs have come down significantly
Since the early 2000s, the cost for components in an RFID solution have dropped dramatically. This reduction not only makes RFID solutions more affordable, but it has taken them from negative to positive ROIs. Companies that launch a RFID solution today may be surprised by how affordable the initial hardware investment is. The cost for RFID labels, a major issue in the past, has also dropped significantly. New RFID printers are able to utilize these more affordable RFID tags which helps keep the day-to-day cost affordable.
We’ve come a long way since 2003. Smartphones are everywhere, traceability is more important than ever, and RFID technology has advanced enough to live up to its earlier, circa-2003 promise.
Printronix Auto ID believes the future of RFID is strong. We offer innovative RFID printers for every budget, size and application. If you’re unsure which printer will work best in your specific application just give us a call and we test your RFID tag and printer for maximum compatibility and productivity in our RFID Label Testing and Verification Lab. We are here to help.