Zebra Expands Smart Media Supplies Line

New Gen 2 inlay supply agreements, conversion capabilities aimed at meeting growing demand for smart labeling technology

New Gen 2 inlay supply agreements, conversion capabilities aimed at meeting growing demand for smart labeling technology

Vernon Hills, IL — March 3, 2006 — Auto-ID specialist Zebra Technologies is now offering a range of "smart media" to help companies meet compliance tagging and other radio frequency identification (RFID) needs, the solution provider has announced.

Zebra said it has entered new supply agreements with various Gen 2 inlay manufacturers, including Alien Technology, Avery Dennison, Raflatac, Symbol Technologies and Texas Instruments. The agreements, along with Zebra's label converting facilities in North America and Europe, enable Zebra to produce a range of cost-competitive labels, tickets, wristbands and other smart media to provide RFID performance for a variety of pallet, case and other tracking needs, according to the solution provider.

Smart Media Demand Growing

In 2006, industry watcher IDTechEx expects demand for smart media to grow significantly as more companies adopt RFID to meet compliance mandates. Other industry applications driving demand will include healthcare, pharmaceutical, library/rental, archiving, airlines, military and transportation.

As a result, 1.3 billion tags are forecast to be sold in 2006, and about 500 million RFID smart labels will be used for pallet and case level tagging (roughly double the usage in 2005). Analysts say that this growing demand will be the result of several influences: the availability of viable Gen 2 UHF EPC tags; the growing number of companies who need to meet compliance mandates in 2006 and 2007; and the increasing use of "closed loop" RFID applications for operations such as work in process and asset tracking.¹

"The increasing demand for smart media reflects the growing acceptance of RFID applications in business today," said Bob Cornick, vice president and general manager for RFID at Zebra Technologies. "In all these applications, it is critical that smart media transmit data reliably. Zebra's strategy is to offer a broad selection of high quality, tested media, so that customers can rely on us to not only provide reliable and robust printer/encoder hardware, but also equally dependable smart media that matches the performance of our hardware."

Ensuring Quality

Zebra provides thermal printing and supplies, combining nearly 10 years' experience in RFID research and development with 20 years' experience designing and manufacturing specialty thermal printing supplies. Zebra believes it is positioned to offer reliable smart media to meet or exceed industry standards for performance, from Gen 2 and other UHF protocols to ISO standards and popular 13.56 MHz high frequency technology. The company has a custom media development and testing laboratory that sources RFID inlays from suppliers worldwide to develop targeted solutions to meet special needs.

By converting RFID inlays into smart label media itself, Zebra said it can control manufacturing and institute efficiencies to meet quality standards while producing smart media at competitive prices. Zebra said it inspects inlays at three stages: prior to conversion into the label, after conversion into the label and finally encoded and read/verified within the printer/encoder. The first two stages ensure that only usable inlays are converted into smart labels. The third stage of inspection takes place while the label is being printed and encoded — the final failure point — to ensure the printed label will perform as expected.

"Our goal is to make running genuine Zebra RFID supplies on Zebra printer/encoders the 'smartest' smart media solution for our customers, so they get the cost-effective results they need," said Cornick.

Additional Articles of Interest

— A recent independent study revealed that Wal-Mart customers are finding the items they wanted in stock more often due to the retailer's use of RFID technologies when compared to control stores. Read more in "Wal-Mart Achieving Improved On-shelf Availability with RFID, Study Finds" on SDCExec.com.

— 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."