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Category: RFID, Automated Data Collection, and Internet of Things

RFID and IoT News Round Up for Week of May 6, 2017

Retail Item-Level RFID Deployments Exaggerated, Expert Says; RFID to Eliminate Checkout Clerks at Japanese C-Stores; New Ceramic RFID Tag for Industrial Applications from Kyocera

May 6, 2017
SCDigest Editorial Staff

Below are some of the top recent news stories relative to RFID, the Internet of Things, and Automated Dats Collection (AIDC).

RFID Deployment is Overstated, Industry Exec Says

Many bullish assessments indicate US retailers, specifically soft goods retailers, are adopting item-level RFID in huge percentages, anywhere from 50-96%, depending on the source.

Not so, says RFID industry veteran Dean Frew, currently CTO and SVP RFID Solutions for SML Group, in a series of guest columns in trade magazines in recent weeks.

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By 2025 all Japanese convenience stores would have fully automated checkouts - no cashiers needed in a country that has tremendous difficulty filling such low level jobs.

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"While the aim among retailers to integrate RFID technology into their operations rates is near 100%, actual deployment of full RFID systems still hovers in the single digits," Frew recently wrote.

SML's analysis in fact finds that fully deployed RFID systems, including tags, readers and the supporting software, presently have been implemented at only 4-8% of retailers.

Why such inaccurate estimates? It comes down to the word "intent," Frew says.

"So many retailers have it in mind to test and install RFID technology. But reality is firmly planted in the present and that goal is significantly different than permanent deployment numbers to date," he observes.

So if a large retailer has a pilot in a single store, that indicates its interest in RFID ("check" on the survey"), but the sheer volume of tagged items is still low in absolute and percentage terms.

So this must be what is behind the differing estimates. For example, RFID standards and education group GS1 estimates the adoption percentage at more than half in retail, whereas the RFID Lab at Auburn University Retail Study puts the installed base closer to 4%.

That Auburn number is closer to the findings from SML after it worked directly with a number of retailers to assess their RFID status.

But from that small base, true adoption in terms of items being tagged and tracked is growing rapidly, Frew says. Much of that growth results from tagging to support omnichannel commerce, with retailers offering buy on-line and pick up at store, or store-based efullfillment services, both of which require the high levels of inventory accuracy item-level RFID can bring.

As with most technologies, retailers are just very slow to change, Frew says, in explaining the delays in adoption versus what seem to be clear benefits.

"The "if it's not broken, why fix it?" attitude stems from comfort and familiarity. We still manage inventory like we have for the past 30 years with SKU bar codes versus item-level RFID inventory management," Frew says. "The use of RFID technology in retail has demonstrated improvements in inventory accuracy of more than 30% (from high 60s to more than 98%)."

But in the end Frew remains bullish on RFID.

"Over the next five years about one third of apparel and footwear retailers will adopt RFID technology," driven by omnichannel demands, he says.

Labor Pressure Push Japanese Stores to Cashier-Less Operations

7-Eleven stores in Japan can no longer afford to have checkout clerks.

Reports from Japan in the past couple of weeks that 7-Eleven owner Seven & i Holdings Co. is joining forces with rival operators Lawson, Ministop, FamilyMart UNY Holdings and East Japan Railway to introduce item-level RFID product tagging by next year to enable automated customer check out.

That should eliminate the need for manual bar code scanning at POS by a human, the group says, adding that by 2025 all Japanese convenience stores would have fully autom
ated checkouts - no cashiers needed in a country that has tremendous difficulty filling such low level jobs.

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RFID tags are already widely used by retailers in anti-shoplifting devices in Japan. Turning them into price tags would enable customers to walk out of stores without having to scan items at checkout counters. Exit gates would open when mobile or card payments have been received.

Of course, Amazon last year announced its Go store concept, in which consumer could similarly "grab and go" with items in the store without a POS check-out step, using an unspecified combination of technologies that likely included RFID.

However, Amazon quietly delayed the recent planned opening of the first Go store in Seattle, after technical difficulties that were said to include problems if more than 20 consumers were in the store at once.

Kycocera Introduces Durable, High Performance Ceramic RFID Tag

Japan's Kyocera Corporation recently announced that it has developed an ultra-small ceramic package utilizing a proprietary multilayer structure with a built-in RFID antenna that can increase the read range up to two times as compared with conventional packages of the same size.

The company will start mass production in May 2017, the product will be available worldwide in three sizes, rom 6x3x1.7mm to 15x5x1.7mm).

Kyocera says the new ceramic package with a RFID antenna will help meet rising demand for RFID tags to support Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

The company says RFID is likely to expand rapidly in the automotive and medical industries, factory automation and many other industrial fields, where the resin-based materials utilized for conventional RFID tags in common retail applications are not durable enough for the applications.

The ceramic-based tags provide an affordable alternative, Kyocera says.

Kyocera claims that In UHF ban testing, this new ceramic package with an embedded RFID antenna provided a read range between 1.5 and 2 times that of conventional RFID tags of the same size. Even as package size decreased, the Kyocera low-profile thin multi-layer cavity structure continued to outperform the conventional RFID tags of similar outlines.

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