One really needs to look at this on a case-by-case basis to get at specific benefits for, say, a particular industry. And that is why there is a need for committing to a pilot to create a robust business case for utilizing this technology. But clearly, automated reporting of real-time, accurate data can provide tremendous advantages in all kinds of industries from express parcel delivery, to healthcare and life sciences, to transportation, entertainment, and retail. In addition, RFID's ability to support asset tracking and the creation of a pedigree (or historical document) is of great interest to a number of industries.
Is RFID something a company would migrate to or will it be a first automation project for a majority of users?
For the vast majority of early adopters, you are talking mostly about supply chain applications, and they are going to migrate from existing barcode systems to include RFID. Other than that, healthcare is probably one industry that will adopt RFID more as a first-automation project.
The basic but critical elements of an RFID system include tags, printer/encoders, reader/encoders (interrogators), sensors, middleware (for data-filtering and data-flow management), and, if needed, some software adaptations to enable legacy applications and systems to receive RFID-generated data.
More importantly, RFID adopters should seek out companies that have had their products tested under real-world conditions to validate a solid track record of performance. These "trusted advisors" can greatly assist and expedite end users through their pilots and early adoption learning curves.
Yes. Cards are just a form factor. "Smart cards," as they are called, are used in a variety of applications, including security/access control, employee identification, contact-less payment systems, and customer loyalty programs, among others. Zebra provides a wide variety of card printers.
The biggest "pain point" with RFID is its potential to change your existing business processes because ultimately, you can collect much more relevant data and have it in real time. RFID is an enabling technology. You can't extract all the benefits of this technology without fundamental business changes, system changes, and data changes. With early adopters, we have seen evidence that RFID spawns multiple examples of discovering "new ways of doing things.".
The networks that exist today to support barcodes will more than likely be able to support RFID. RFID and barcodes are both technologies that deliver data to a host system; however, there is a main point of difference. barcodes utilize one-way serialized and periodic data. RFID is two-way. Data passes from the tag to the reader/encoder and then can pass back again, depending on the application or need to update the tag. Data can be delivered from multiple tags effectively in parallel, and—by virtue of not requiring human intervention—can provide more data in real time.
There needs to be bridge software, or middleware, incorporated into the overall architecture to prevent the amount of data that hits the system at the same time from overwhelming it. So RFID requires data filtering and data-flow management, to turn parallel, two-way data into the serialized data that a legacy system can handle. These functions can be also partially handled by the printer/encoders and readers.
Another consideration—the need for more bandwidth in the network—depends on how much RFID increases the overall amount of data flow within the network. If existing networks can handle the additional traffic with the speed required by the applications, they should not necessarily need to be upgraded or be any more complex.
Clearly, physics plays a role here. A product may need to be re-engineered with new packaging or a new design in order to achieve optimal performance from an applied RFID system. Or a business process may need to be changed in order to remove obstacles that prevent RFID used in a specific case. There also has been a lot of discussion about liquids and metals inhibiting RFID from working well, but work-around strategies have lessened this as a mitigating factor. At this time, no significant barriers have emerged that would prevent implementing and using RFID technology in a variety of applications.