RFID innovation


December 13, 2010 - MMH Editorial

In November, I published an update on RFID in the supply chain. To me, the most important takeaway is that industry continues to find new ways to get value from the technology, largely under the radar.

A couple of weeks ago, I talked to Alastair McArthur, the chief technology officer for Tagsys, about a new solution it created for Qantas Airlines.

In this case, Tagsys has developed a rewritable passive tag that is part of a system to speed passengers through the check in and baggage drop process. Instead of logging in at a kiosk and then standing in line to drop off a bag at security, a passenger will be issued a smart card that they can use to log in to the kiosk. Separately, each piece of luggage will get a permanent RFID tag that stays with a bag as long as it’s in use. When a passenger checks in, they drop the bag on a conveyor belt; it’s automatically weighed and the passenger’s destination is written to the tag. The tag will then be read by RFID readers as it travels along its journey. The tag has enough memory to write the actual itinerary for that bag, and not just an identification number, so that an airline worker can figure out where it’s going without accessing a back end data base.

There were some technical hurdles to overcome, McArthur told me. For one, Quantas wanted a unique design – the tag is circular – so that it could be read reliably regardless of its orientation since bags get jostled around during baggage handling. That also meant it had to be fairly rugged, since it was going to be a permanent tag, not a disposable tag.

“What we developed is really an asset tracking and management solution,” McArthur said. “People have been talking about disposable tags to track baggage for the last years. The game changer is that Qantas wanted a long-lasting passive tag that can be there for the life of the asset.”

McArthur believes that the tag will be of interest to Modern readers, and not just those that fly on Qantas Airlines. “I think reusable plastic containers (RPCs) and returnable pallets are increasingly areas where high performance tags can be used,” he said. He also imagines that it can be applied to consumer and industrial machines that have a long life for warranty and repair information. “This tag can be tuned in different ways, depending on how it’s packaged and how it will be applied,” he said. “There’s no reason you couldn’t write information to the tag that could be accessed by a technician without accessing the back end data base.” 

More importantly, it illustrates the increasing range of RFID chips and tags coming to market as the technology matures. “People are thinking of these things as a platform to build value from, having relatively sizeable memory to have additional services to be added to the tag,” McArthur said.



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About the Author

Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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