Back to the Future
the future often conjures up images of a Jetson-like universe complete with robots and spaceship vehicles that fold into suitcases. While this lifestyle is light-years away, great strides are in fact being made to take us to a society where washing machines instruct their owners to remove a silk garment accidentally tossed in with the wool sweaters. And, perhaps in 20 years, refrigerators might even print out our grocery lists. To think, these are just some of the ideas that radio frequency identification (RFID) experts are currently working on to make a reality.
In its recent study, “RFID Forecasts, Players & Opportunities 2006-2016,” IDTechEx estimated that 1.3 billion RFID tags will be sold this year alone. It is also anticipated that the value of the total market, including systems and services, will jump from $2.71 billion to $26.23 billion by 2016. “People are beginning to see the benefits of RFID, and are becoming less concerned about the uncertainties of this expanding technology,” said David Grove, technical sales, Schober USA, Cincinnati.
Alan Davis, president of Tapecon, Buffalo, N.Y., attributed RFID’s growing popularity to the influence of markets such as Wal-Mart and the Department of Defense. Dennis Ryan, director of RFID business development, Repacorp Label Products, Tipp City, Ohio, agreed. “In the supply chain, companies impacted by Wal-Mart’s and the Department of Defense’s mandates are now seeing a return on their RFID investment by using the data those labels can generate internally, thus driving the growth of that particular market.”
He added, “The same is true when you get into item-level tagging. There has to be a business case to do it and whether it’s tracking counterfeits or improving inventory control, RFID can do those things well.”
When Opportunity Knocks
Item-level tagging is just one opportunity for RFID-enabled printers. In the pharmaceutical industry, the primary motivation for using RFID is anti-counterfeiting. Item-level tagging isn’t limited to the prescription bottles individuals receive from the pharmacy, explained Ryan. Instead, it pertains more to the bulk products that go out to the pharmacy and are then divided up. “The FDA has looked at various ways to track certain classes of pharmaceuticals, and although it hasn’t mandated it yet, it strongly suggests pharmaceutical manufacturers look at RFID. Pfizer is using item-level tagging on Viagra, and a couple of other pharmaceutical companies are either in the pilot stage or in limited rollout with RFID-enabled smart labels,” Ryan commented.