Features

Connecting to the Internet of Things

By David Savstano, Editor | November 14, 2016

Printed electronics, RFID are providing solutions for the IoT.

There is tremendous interest in the Internet of Things (IoT). The potential to connect to literally trillions of items could provide consumers, retailers and brand owners alike with vast amounts of information.
  
The ability to actually connect to the item level is one of the challenges that manufacturers are facing, and printed electronics, RFID and Near Field Communication (NFC) enabled devices provide a solution that is already being implemented in the marketplace.
  
Bill Cummings, SVP, corporate communications for Thin Film Electronics (Thinfilm), said that the IoT market really has unlimited potential.
  
“Certainly it’s a matter of execution, but it’s also about making people’s lives easier … as opposed to implementing technology for technology’s sake,” Cummings added. “We see Thinfilm’s role as being a key IoT enabler by bringing intelligence to everyday items, extending the traditional machine-to-machine boundaries, to include those traditionally unconnected items like wine, spirits, food, medicine, cosmetics, apparel, packaged goods, etc. The smartphone serves as the intermediary or ‘smart agent.’ It turns the Internet of Things into the Internet of Everything.”
  
RFID is a key enabler of the IoT. Craig Cotton, Impinj’s VP of marketing and product management, said that this has been a big year for Impinj and the RFID market. He added that according to IDTechEx, RAIN tag IC volumes reached 5.3 billion in 2015 and are expected to grow to over 20 billion in 2020.
  
“Impinj continues to lead the global market share in the RAIN RFID (UHF) industry across several verticals for tag chips, reader chips and fixed readers,” said Cotton. “In fact, if you’ve purchased apparel from a major retailer like Macy’s or Zara, run a race like the New York City Marathon, enjoyed a drink from a Coca-Cola Freestyle soda fountain, hit a ball at Topgolf or checked bags at airports worldwide like Las Vegas McCarran, then you’ve probably interacted with the Impinj platform. We’ve seen several exciting developments this year driving growth across verticals. One great example of the technology’s impact was seen in Delta’s announced use of RAIN RFID for baggage tagging resulting in improved service, substantial cost reductions or savings, and increased customer satisfaction.”
  
Michael Fein, senior product manager, RFID at Zebra Technologies, said that Zebra has seen great growth in passive RFID during the past year, particularly in the retail space.
  
“There is further penetration in retail applications,”” Fein said. “We are seeing major retailers like Macy’s, Decathlon, Target and Kohl’s developing new ways to implement RFID technology.”
  
Adebayo Onigbanjo, director of marketing for Zebra Technologies, noted that RFID is a building block for the IoT.
  
“With RFID, you get a data point that you can then apply as you build a larger system,” said Onigbanjo. “If RFID is one data point, sensors can be another data point. It adds intelligence for retailers.
  
“There is an increasing need for edge-level intelligence,” added Onigbanjo. “What is the best way to automate the process, and allow people to get involved? How do you build up this network? RFID is an end point, a key block in decision-making.”
  
Carl Rysdon, VP of inventory control solutions for Checkpoint Systems, reported that RFID adoption is gaining significant momentum, particularly in retail and apparel.
  
“At the June GS1Connect conference in Washington DC, GS1 US CEO Bob Carpenter mentioned that over 40% of US apparel brands are now source tagging with RFID,” Rysdon noted. “As retailers adopt RFID, they are asking their brands to do the same, to provide greater inventory visibility in store and in fulfillment nodes in the supply chain. Tagging items earlier in the supply chain is key to widespread adoption of the technology. We were a pioneer in RF EAS Source Tagging for Loss Prevention and have already observed that RFID Source Tagging is being adopted much more rapidly than RF EAS Source Tagging was in the mid- to late-1990s.
  
“RFID technology is a subset of the Internet of Things, which refers to the whole range of sensor technologies, including in-store beacons, location sensors, wearables, smart machines,” Rysdon said. “The vision of the IoT is connecting multiple silos of information to make existing systems and processes work better, regardless of what type of sensor is sending the data, so we have been device-agnostic from the very beginning.”
  
Rysdon said that RFID is the cost effective means with which to place a sensor at item level that provides meaningful and actionable data to enhance the retail experience and drive sales.
  
“We’re seeing more and more retailers leverage RFID and other IoT sensors to connect multiple touch points in the shopping journey, from providing real-time inventory status in mobile apps, streamlining omnichannel fulfillment and personalizing promotions in loyalty apps and for digital signage,” Rysdon added. “Today, RFID sensors provide the majority of inventory management and logistics data in the IoT ecosystem, which is essential for omnichannel retailing.”
  
“We are increasingly working with retailers and brands on DC automation projects, particularly shipment verification and bulk encoding. As RFID deployments are rolled out at enterprise level, retailers and brands are looking for centralized device monitoring, process compliance and data quality,” Rysdon added. “Where we’re seeing the biggest payoff for retailers is when they integrate RFID sensor data with existing store processes and systems – it naturally supports their current way of working and greatly improves store efficiency, especially as it relates to omni-channel initiatives.”
  
“The RFID market has continued to grow to our satisfaction,” said Ted Danhauser, VP of sales, head of pharma and healthcare, SMARTRAC Technology Group. “Though we do not disclose detailed business figures, we can say that 2015 exceeded our outlook and was one of the strongest years in our history. That trend has fortunately continued in 2016 to date.”
  
“It is obvious that the IoT market offers vast potential for great opportunities, value creation and virtually unlimited use cases for companies, governments and consumers,” said Danhauser. “Market experts predict that the economic impact created by the Industrial Internet alone (aka “Industry 4.0”) will increase to between US$1 trillion to $4 trillion per year by 2025. That is only one example, and other vertical markets such as Healthcare, Pharma, Retail and Fashion are equally promising. RFID technology is a key to tapping into these markets due to its pivotal role as the most functional and economical solution to connect simple objects to the digital world.”
  
“Companies and organizations around the globe are solidifying their Internet of Things (IoT) strategies for the next decade, which represents a huge opportunity,” Cotton said. “There are several key wireless technologies fueling the growth of the IoT, including WiFi for connectivity and NFC for payments. RAIN RFID’s place in the IoT is to enable wireless connectivity to trillions of items. The Impinj platform uses RAIN RFID, to wirelessly connect and networking everyday items -- including inventory and assets -- to software applications such as ERP systems, inventory control and management systems. While many see that IoT can provide business-critical data, Impinj’s objective is to bring real-time, accurate data about items’ unique identity, location and authenticity into the enterprise applications businesses already use. Unlike other IoT solutions, RAIN RFID cost pennies and doesn’t need a battery. This makes it especially suited for everyday items.”
 
Opportunities for the IoT

The ability to connect the consumer to the items they buy and use is one of the major advantages of the IoT.
  
“We believe using NFC to help connect everyday items via a smartphone or device is an ideal scenario,” Cummings noted. “We’re manufacturing NFC chips using a non-conventional form of silicon, and we’re able to produce the chips in high volumes and at relatively low cost points. This scale enables us to diffuse this intelligence at the disposables level. As a communications protocol, we also feel NFC will continue to rise in popularity. It’s fast and seamless. It’s much less invasive than Bluetooth or beacons, and requires that the end-user or consumer opt in and make a conscious decision to engage with a particular product.”
  
“Today, the Internet of Things (IoT) comprises billions of connected machines and devices. However, there are still trillions of simple, everyday things, which are not yet connected. There’s significant value in providing these things with a digital identity by using RFID,” said Danhauser. “Once these things have a digital identity, they can provide brand owners and retailers with information regarding post-sales use, opening up totally new perspectives in terms of customer loyalty. If you think that marketing expenditures reach US$ 500 billion annually, that alone is a huge market. This also holds true in regard to product authentication and counterfeit protection. These two areas – plus the Industrial Internet mentioned above – are of particular interest for SMARTRAC, and most probably for the RFID industry in general.”
  
While RFID is ideally suited for inventory, it is also gaining traction in manufacturing.
  
“RFID allows retailers to gain tremendous insights into their inventory levels,” Fein noted. “There is a lot more appreciation among manufacturers about how RFID can create productivity gains as well. The technology is becoming more accepted as a productivity tool. Combining data sets is where it becomes really valuable, as combining sensors with RFID and bar codes drives business efficiencies.”
  
“Passive RFID tags have the ability to be the last node of visibility into everyday items, whether it is in a retail store or a critical component of your car, or for food safety or a skier at Vail,” Fein said. “In healthcare, we are seeing lots of inventory challenges, such as high-value items like medicines, patient ID and asset ID.”
  
Onigbanjo cited healthcare as an area where RFID is making a difference.
  
“In the IoT space, one use case uses RFID to enable asset tracking,” said Onigbanjo. “RFID provides visibility. It helps the hospital to understand how its assets move through the hospital, where they are and how they are being used. It tracks the time in use, idle time and transition times. IoT allows them to analyze the data and find the bottlenecks.
  
“Hospitals are a chaotic environment,” Onigbanjo added. “IoT and RFID give the healthcare provider an accurate system and accurate timing. Without RFID, the hospital would never be able to track that data manually. I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
  
Rysdon said that the low cost and small form factor of passive RFID labels makes them ideal for high-volume, high velocity applications, such as shipping, receiving, inventory management and order fulfillment.
  
RFID as EAS hardware and Dual RF-RFID EAS tags are also well-suited for loss prevention in retail stores,” Rysdon said. “Retailers already use EAS tags in store to protect high-risk and high-value items; dual RFID-EAS tags enable them to leverage existing processes and budgets to improve inventory management for these items as well.”
  
“The IoT will impact almost all industries, as the need to track items and monitor things like temperature remotely continue to grow,” Cotton said. “The Impinj platform and products are deployed across many industries, including retail, healthcare, logistics/supply chain, food service, and hospitality. Businesses in these industries are already seeing strong ROI from RAIN RFID.
  
“Looking at retail specifically, as competition continues to heat up for brick and mortar stores, they must begin to use new technologies that enable the management of store inventory assets, the creation of engaging digital customer experiences, and the collection of valuable data to make smarter business decisions,” Cotton added. “Retailers are also using RAIN RFID to support their omnichannel strategy. To further help retailers understand the potential returns and savings, Impinj created the Retail ROI Calculator which retailers and brands can try at roi.impinj.com/go/Impinj/retailroi/. There are many verticals and use-cases where the Impinj platform and RAIN RFID technology can dramatically yield impactful savings and additional revenue opportunities.”

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