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

Potential Breakthrough in Passive RFID Tag Design and Other Important RFID, AIDC and IoT News


Tags 25% Smaller; Delta Launching RFID Bag Tags at Last; Johnson Controls get Logistics Containers and Racks Under Control

May 10, 2016
SCDigest Editorial Staff

Below is a summary of the top stories in RFID over the past couple of weeks.

New RFID Passive Tag Design Said to Cut Size by 25%, Reduce Costs

A new RFID passive tag design - the type of tag typically used in retail as well as many other applications - from engineers at North Carolina State University is said to result in tags that are 25% smaller than current versions and are therefore less expensive.

Supply Chain Digest Says...

Brian Kelly, director of supply-chain management at Johnson Controls, said he hopes someday to have RFID tags to track individual parts.

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With passive RFID, tags communicate their data, such as a serial number, when a reader energizes the tag as part of the scan/read process. The tag converts the AC power of the radio signal into DC power in order to energize internal circuits, which control the signal with the tag data that is bounced back to the reader.

The approach at North Carolina State in effect takes out that power conversion step.

"By eliminating the hardware that is used to convert the AC signal to DC for powering the circuit, we are able to make the RFID tag much smaller - and less expensive," said NC State professor Paul Franzon.

Franzon's team redesigned RFID circuits so they could operate directly from AC power by incorporating additional transistors into the circuits. The circuits share a few transistors that enable them to operate correctly using an AC power source.

Franzon and his colleagues call the new design "RF-only logic tags."

Tags made from the design as is would have a shorter read range than conventional tags do at present. However, Franzon and team plan to develop RF-only logic tags with a range similar to that of conventional passive tags in the near future.

"We're currently looking for industry partners to help us bring this technology into the marketplace," Franzon noted.

Every cent taken out of the cost of RFID tags opens up ROI opportunities in new applications, so this could be important news.

Will Lost Luggage at Airports Finally be a Thing of the Past?

There has been talk of using RFID tags to substantially reduce airlines losing luggage for at least 15 years, but little progress in terms of actual systems deployment, in part because for years the airlines struggled with big losses that served as barriers to investment in better baggage tracking.

But now, with airline profits somewhat on the mend, Delta Air Lines announced on April 29 that it will be introducing a new baggage-tracking system that utilizes RFID chips and readers. Assuming it moves successfully to full deployment, this will be the first time that a US air carrier has launched an RFID-based system - one that promises to provide real-time tracking information.

"With a $50 million investment in RFID at 344 stations around the globe, we aim to reliably deliver every bag on every flight," said Bill Lentsch, Delta's senior vice president of Airport Customer Service and Cargo Operations. "This innovative application of technology gives us greater data and more precise information throughout the bag's journey."

Delta says it has already deployed 4,600 RFID readers and 3,800 RFID bag tag printers - quite an investment. There are 600 gate and claim readers now integrated into the system to allow for hands-free baggage scanning. RFID will soon be used to track luggage on all Delta mainline and Delta connection flights.

For example, Delta says that as luggage enters the belly of a plane, a reader on the belt mechanism will scan that bag tag and verify that it has been loaded onto the correct aircraft.

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Thus far, the RFID system has achieved a 99.9% success rate in terms of proper routing and loading, Delta says. When the RFID technology signals that a bag has been incorrectly located, baggage handlers can immediately remedy the problem by retagging it for another flight.

Lost luggage while travelling - could it soon really be almost a thing of that past? "Perfect logistics" is coming, we continue to say.

Johnson Controls Tracks Containers with RFID - and Interesting Deployment Model

The value proposition for using RFID tags on re-usable logistics containers and platforms - from totes to kegs of beer - has always been pretty strong.

Automotive components supplier Johnson Controls is the latest to demonstrate that ROI, with an RFID-based system to track containers and racks used to move goods to auto OEMs.

An article in the Wall Street Journal this week gave some insight into Johnson Control's RFID system, which tracks these logistics assets that had a tendency to get lost in somewhere in the logistics system.

With the costs of buying these assets on the rise, Johnson Controls launched a study to find out where they were going, and found lots of interesting insight: some of the assets were squirreled away at factories by Johnson Controls' own plant managers, others were kept by customers. One box was discovered at a Michigan gun range; another had wound up storing bait on a fishing boat in Seattle.

In 2012, Johnson Controls launched the new tracking system, with active RFID tags placed on the sides of the containers. More than 830,000 containers and racks have been tagged so far, the company told the Wall Street Journal, and soon all of them will be tagged. Each tag costs $1-5 dollars, depending on the asset.

Now, all Johnson Controls' North American plants and warehouses are equipped with tag readers - and the tracking system has led to a sharp reduction in orders for the $150 containers and $1,500 racks.

Interestingly, Johnson Controls' suppliers are required to use the company's logistics assets to ship their products.


A March 2015 letter to suppliers noted that based on the launch of the new tracking system, the following changes were being implemented:


• Johnson Controls will charge suppliers for returnable containers not returned within 60 days


The label on each container will not only have an RFID tag but also a scannable 2D QR bar code that also contains the serial number


Johnson Controls will have visibility for serialized conainer assets that are loaded/unloaded on a trailer


• The visibility will include each container's last known location.

North Canton, Ohio-based Surgere Inc. was the system integrator on the project, installing readers at 37 North American plants and five distribution centers.

Interestingly, while Johnson Controls directly acquired the tags and readers, Surgere runs the tacking software system itself, "pushing" the data to its client.

Brian Kelly, director of supply-chain management at Johnson Controls, said he hopes someday to have RFID tags to track individual parts.

"We could get to a point that we not only know where all of our containers are but what is in each one without ever opening them up," Kelly told the Wall Street Journal.


Are you glad we are finally seeing RFID bag tracking systems? Do you believe the smaller RFID passive tag design is an important breakthrough? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.


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