Zebra Technologies Supports New RFID Lab at Cal Poly University

Global Automatic Identification Technologies lab aims to help produce companies move beyond "slap and ship"

Global Automatic Identification Technologies lab aims to help produce companies move beyond "slap and ship"

Vernon Hills, IL — December 12, 2005 — Auto-ID specialist Zebra Technologies has become a key supporter of the new radio frequency identification (RFID) lab at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif., as part of its mission to support RFID development and adoption, the solution provider has announced.

The Cal Poly lab was conceived in 2003 when two major players in the produce industry, facing RFID compliance mandates from their retail customers, came to the university looking for information on RFID applications specific to their industry, which presents unique challenges to RFID implementations.

Today faculty and students from many disciplines — including various College of Engineering, College of Business and College of Agriculture programs — are using the PolyGAIT (Global Automatic Identification Technologies) lab.

"We spent the first year just immersing ourselves in RFID technologies, and as part of that we spoke to many, many RFID suppliers," says Tali Freed, assistant professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering, and the director of the RFID research and development lab at Cal Poly. "In the process, we connected with Zebra, which has been extremely helpful in ensuring that we received the printer/encoders, training and smart label supplies we needed to conduct RFID research and development work."

The lab supports experiments with a variety of readers and tags, and it houses a specially designed, 600-feet-per-minute conveyor. In addition to testing the readability of tags at such speeds, the conveyor is able to divert packages based on their ID to other tracks, simulating environments such as airport luggage systems or complex conveyor systems in warehouses and distribution centers.

The RFID lab also includes RF test facilities. An anechoic chamber is used for measuring antenna radiation patterns and an electromagnetic screen room (called a Faraday cage) is used for testing conducted and radiated emissions emanating from electronic system enclosures. The lab also includes workstations for the development of RFID tags, readers and antenna elements.

"Labs such as the RFID lab at California Polytechnic State University play an extremely important role as the use of RFID technology for the supply chain continues to evolve," said Bob Cornick, vice president and general manager of RFID at Zebra. "The insights that are realized from these labs provide invaluable information to help companies identify and strategically implement RFID systems that maximize the technology's potential and promote a positive financial impact on their businesses."

The lab is currently conducting an extensive benchmarking study of the produce industry that projects potential return on investment as the result of better data collection. The study involves participation by 25 companies, a number of which are subject to compliance mandates and interested in moving beyond the "slap-and-ship" approach in order to recoup their investments in RFID. The study investigates the outcomes of applying RFID to cartons and plastic containers of produce in the fields where harvested.

"Collecting data at the point of harvest can have significant benefits for many of these companies — in the event of a recall, for example," said Freed. "And there could be other benefits: in productivity, security and quality.

As a result of expertise gained in produce supply chain processes, Freed has submitted a patent for a process and technology change of the "slap-and-ship" approach. Other projects the RFID lab is working on involve hardware and software development, parking management, RFID-based process automation and livestock applications.

Zebra has been researching and developing RFID products for nearly 10 years. It says it was the first company to produce an integrated, on-demand RFID printer/encoder more than five years ago.

Additional Articles of Interest

— RFID technology has the potential to change the way supply chains are managed, but in order to be effective businesses need to take a holistic look at the deployment. Read more in the SDCExec.com article "Time for RFID: Applying RFID in the Supply Chain."

— For a contrary view of the future of the RFID market, see the article "The O'RFID Factor: A 'No Spin' Look at Where Radio Frequency Identification Is Headed," in the October/November 2004 issue of Supply & Demand Chain Executive.

— For more information on trends relating to radio frequency identification (RFID), follow this link for an extensive listing of SDCExec.com articles, featuring the latest research findings on the RFID, including adoption, return on investment and barriers to implementation.