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The technical possibilities of area reading

What does the future for RFID solutions look like? The Tech Geek interviewed Hannu Heino, Technical Director of Nordic ID. He gave us some aspects about what we should prepare for when hearing about new innovations among RFID business.

A business owner targets to operational excellence and thus is reluctant to waste valuable time in tracking items with the expense of lost potential sales. What if the business owner knew only by opening an application with one click what is the stock status, without performing any monitoring by hand? It would simplify many things - and it is something very much doable.

The idea of automation among product tracking is not a new trend, but now the RFID world has speeded up with providing response for the increasing demand. RFID world has now entered a stage in which different types of readers are combined and used together as a coherent system instead of using single reader devices. This is done in order to achieve perfect real-time product tracking and to push the gathered data from one place for further analysis. Moreover, it requires new innovative products.

The key of the system is the data utilization - why is it important to monitor the products, what's in it for the business owner? Let's go a bit deeper. Automation was before a trend only in logistics and manufacturing industries, but now it has especially become a trend in the retail sector and Omni-channel operations. Retail business is an environment where stock-related operations are implemented simultaneously with customer service and thus these are done with the expense of each other. And, in addition to this, retail business owners reflect the reading data into different types of data analyses, which help in analyzing customer behavior and predicting new trends.

But how does this kind of system work in practice? 

"A closer look at the possible system overview shows that the reading system can be built based on the existing and future product types. Roughly said, the aim of the system is to generate a real-time inventory system for item-level visibility. The ensemble of combining different types of readers is an innovative solution with endless use case possibilities - a few use cases to mention are tracking consumables in the healthcare sector and shop-in-shop solutions in the retail sector. These use cases among several other ones will be further discussed in coming articles. What is important here is that Nordic ID sees the RFID reading as an embedded entity. But what kind of systems are there already on the market? There are mobile readers, but also gateways and area readers meaning different sorts of fixed readers installed into ceilings and walls. As Nordic ID is willing to compete on this field too, the R&D has currently these kinds of fixed readers under progress. What makes the future Nordic ID readers versatile from other readers is that the interface varies from the competitors', and of course there are some differences in the actual reader, too. The fixed readers have been in large use before, but quite a new idea is to bring them into the shop floor to perform real-time product monitoring," Heino explains.

He continues: "Technically, the reading system is divided in two parts, first reading a tag's static status and secondly monitoring a tag's movement. The reader is either a visible device or an integrated one as it can be hidden in the shop's interior. The interfaces used are generic ones defined by GS1, including how to configure and how the data collection is implemented. A crucial point of the system is the readers used, and the entire system can be seen as a set of building blocks - the first of the blocks is the set of actual readers and antennas. In practice, any type of a reader can be attached as a part of the system, so far we divide the readers into two categories, mobile and fixed. Mobile readers are probably the most known RFID devices as they have long been used on shop floor, so I will not introduce them further at this point. But, about the fixed readers, there are several different types of fixed readers in the market which can be installed as a part of this system, these are for example the mentioned port readers. And this will bring us to the second building block of the system - data collection."

The data that the readers generate can be collected in various ways. In order to act as a coherent system, when several readers are combined into one quantity and when wanted to push the data from one place, the system needs either an intelligent reader to coordinate the reader network, or in certain cases it has a direct connection into a server that has a capability to control the readers. The RFID data is transfered into a server service, which can be either cloud or local. The data storage and data management are centralized, as well as reader and system management.

Heino continues: "The third building block of the system is integration of the data. Why is it important to gather data through RFID readers? There are versatile motives for installing RFID systems, but perhaps the most common of them is to breed the data into utilizable documents and statistics in order to improve business actions and to be aware of changes in different places and situations. The integration server can be provided either by a third party, or it (with the interfaces) can be provided by the RFID reader manufacturer. Different applications are for example data warehouse, business logic, ERP, POS, and WMS. Also, one of the highlights of this kind of system is that it can have a wide range of connections available between readers and the system, both wireless and wired data, meaning versatile integration interface." 

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What are the short term and long term technical possibilities for this system?

"In short term, the goal of the system is in performing inventory inside a specified area. In retail business, these areas can be for example a fitting room area and certain product groups. Also the goods movement between the backroom-store axis can be monitored. In Logistics and Manufacturing business area, the ensemble is the same, but what is different in that area of business is the diversity of the use cases," says Heino.

About the long term goals, he states: "In retail business the aim of the system is to monitor the goods movement and draw conclusions by monitoring the static statuses of the goods inside the store. As a result, we no longer monitor only stock balances but a larger entirety, consumer behavior. Another use case for the system is acting as an alarm system - if a garment is seen to be taken into the fitting room area and if it is then seen to disappear, by tracking the garment's movement we can see where it is. Technically this is done by comparing synchronically location data and tag data with each other. As the system enables goods movement monitoring, we could only not combine this with consumer behavior but also with commercial purposes as target marketing could benefit from this system. How this would work in practice? A customer is in a store, which sells electronic products, such as home appliances and computers. When a customer grabs a product from a shelf and carries it to the cashier, the system could suggest accessories and complementing products. This could be done for example with tablets - when passing a tablet while carrying a brand new laptop, the system behind the tablet reads the product tag and suggests you a laptop bag, a mouse, or a Wlan box."

Where does the implementation process start and what does it require in order to succeed?

"The whole implementation starts with a deep RFID-based analysis. The integrated environment should be first evaluated in order to come up with a solution that would serve the customer best. As customers do have different expectations and requirements for the RFID system - such as reading speed and accuracy -, it is crucial to carefully evaluate the positioning of both readers and the tags in order to achieve the goals. Another step in the analysis is selecting the reader types. We have several different types of readers available, and by combining our products with each other we can assure customer satisfaction and thus improve the reading accuracy," says Heino.

He continues: "The idea of the system is to turn inventory intelligence into business intelligence, and it allows the mentioned automation, which means less manual work for the user and more accurate information about the monitored products. Nordic ID is a forerunner in the RFID technology in Europe as we have been active in the business from its early steps, and we have closely monitored how the business evolves. Nordic ID has a vision of how the world will change with RFID - or even how RFID can change the world, and it involves automation as customers want exact results with a low effort. But how to ascertain the automated system? Shortly, pay attention into tags, readers and the installation environment. When the data is pushed from one place and you can control the system from another place, the systems integrate better as one, which can be monitored through single tools and systems. These systems can be attached with versatile business intelligence applications in order to provide the reports that are important for the customers. And when customers are pleased, we as RFID device manufacturers are pleased too."

Hannu -Heino -WEB

Hannu Heino, Technical Director at Nordic ID

1 comment on “The technical possibilities of area reading”

  1. Posted 07 January 2017 at 13:40:35

    Nice...

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