RFID beyond supply chain

TORONTO – Wal-Mart may have the most famous Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) installation, but most companies that implement the technology are not doing so to manage their inventories, according to the president of an RFID systems integrator.

Bob Moroz, founder and president of

Markham, Ont. R. Moroz Ltd., said a lot of the news stories about RFID have focussed on Wal-Mart, which uses the technology for supply chain management and has announced it will make RFID tags mandatory for its top 100 suppliers.

“”People call me up and say, ‘Could you tell me about the technology that Wal-Mart invented?'”” Moroz quipped, but added none of the 40 systems his company implemented in the past year were for supply chain management.

Moroz made his comments Thursday during a seminar on RFID organized by the Toronto Wireless User Group (TORWUG).

Target markets for RFID technology include companies that sell tickets for their services, he said. In Europe, up to 30 per cent of skiers do not wear the correct tag, and it takes a long time for staff to check all skiers to make sure they paid their way on to the hill. But RFID tags can control access by scanning skiers’ tags automatically when they pass a reader on the hill.

In addition, RFID tags could have other uses, such as allowing skiers to store money on them and pay for snacks without using cash, Moroz said.

“”After skiing, I don’t want to have to go searching through the pockets of my snow suit to find money for a beer and a hamburger,”” he said.

Another example of a retail RFID application is Speedpass, an RFID tag that customers can carry on their key chains and use to pay for gas at Esso stations.

Other RFID applications include security, building access control and animal identification, Moroz said.

Livestock are often branded with bar codes, but the symbols can become difficult to read after the animals get dirty in the pastures, he said. RFID tags are more durable in outdoor conditions.

Other markets for RFID include garbage collection companies, said Peter Wakim, Nokia‘s director of new business development for the Americas.

Wakim, who also spoke at the TORWUG seminar, said one waste management firm uses a phone with an RFID kit to keep track of how full each dumpster is when it’s picked up. RFID tags are placed at various levels on the bin, and before emptying the dumpster into the truck, the driver touches a cell phone with an RFID tag to the side of the bin near the top of the trash heap.

At the back end, there is software that detects which tag is closest to where the driver placed the cell phone. The waste collection company is able to choose better routes by ensuring the dumpsters that tend to fill quickly are emptied first, and those that are used less are emptied less often.

RFID has an advantage over bar code scanning in outdoor and industrial environments, Moroz said. For example, tags operating at low frequency can receive signals through liquids, which is an advantage for beverage producers, or for government agencies wanting to track fish.

RFID tags operate at different frequencies, each of which have their advantages and drawbacks, Moroz said.

High-frequency readers, for example, use signals in the 13 MHz band, are not susceptible to noise and can read about 50 tags per second. In addition, the signals go through some materials, which allow them to be embedded into packages.

Although Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) readers are not affected by electronic noise, the signals reflect from metal, which makes it more difficult to set up systems that enable readers to receive signals, he said.

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