What’s the big trend in RFID (radio frequency identification)?

by Gary Hartley on 2012-03-12 04:49:13

As another year gets into full swing, it’s a fair question to ask about an emerging technology of huge potential in just about every area of the economy. Are there particular industries and applications where RFID is becoming a major driver of change – and where the potential of the technology is being more fully revealed for others to follow?

The answer is “no” at this stage, both in New Zealand and internationally. The uses of RFID are surely being explored and developed in many places and settings, but we cannot really pin a leadership role of any particular industry or application . In Europe and North America, there is a concerted effort to roll the technology out in some major apparel industry supply chains – think of Gerry Weber retailing in Germany and Wal-Mart in parts of the United States – but these do not define a trend.

In our part of the world, the New Zealand kiwifruit and livestock industries are the most obvious examples of RFID rollout although not yet sector-wide in either case. Kiwifruit post-harvest operator EastPack has now had three seasons of efficiency gain through application of RFID in its pack houses and in 2012, we will see a form of the technology become operational in the cattle farming and beef processing.  These demonstrate diversity in the drivers for RFID adoption and in the value that can be secured from doing so. In the livestock industry, there is a very useful ongoing exploration of technology standards for the further rollout of RFID for deer and, in time, sheep. Right now, GS1 is supporting further tests on the use of UHF (ultra high frequency) RFID for these species within the framework created by the National Animal Identification and Traceability (NAIT) system.

But again,  we cannot say these industries are the trend leaders for RFID deployment in New Zealand. The truth is that RFID is such a fundamentally important  -- and, at the same time, still-emerging – technology that it defies assignment to one particular area of the economy (here or internationally).  The real trend is a growing awareness and interest in its potential usage and value economy-wide, in public service functions as well as in business and trade.

There are obviously ongoing developments in the design and production of RFID tags and readers, and in associated data standards. In this regard, there are definitely trends towards cheaper and more durable tags, more efficient readers and greater technological interoperability for data sharing.   UHF is becoming more the norm, in place of LF (low frequency) in many contexts. These developments help drive the trend towards broader, more diverse take up of the technology.

 For those of us in the “RFID industry”, the challenge is to stay as open-minded as possible to the use of the technology (as it continues to develop) in as many industries and contexts as possible.  Industry decision makers will, themselves, identify and action the opportunities as they recognize them: Our role is facilitate and support at both conceptual and technical levels.  In New Zealand, I can assure readers there is plenty of interest in RFID across a broad front – and that is includes interest from some non-obvious organisations! We are very keen to see primary industries like kiwifruit and livestock farming secure more value from broader, smarter application of RFID. But we are not looking to them alone to set the trend for the technology in our economy – and no-one else should either.

In 2012, there is even more reasonable than ever to look hard are RFID’s value to every industry, every supply chain and every area of public service delivery.  The only trend really is towards broader interest and greater diversity in application. And at GS1, we are delighted to help!


Gary Hartley