Tuesday, July 26, 2011

RFID Applications - Part 3 in our RFID series

Attaching an RFID tag to an object and incorporating that object into an RFID system, with a reader and software, can turn any object into a “smart” object, capable of communicating within the system. Long term predictions for these technologies include things like smart houses that know when you wake up in the morning, get your coffee ready for you and tell you you’re low on milk[1]; or smart shopping carts where you place what you want in a cart and walk out of the store, paying for your goods automatically when you exit.

While that sort of integration of RFID into our daily lives is years away, RFID technology is currently being used in many different industries and is expected to grow significantly in the next few years. The RFID tag industry is expected to see heavy growth in the coming years -- one third-party market research report forecasts a 14% Compound Annual Growth Rate and a total market value of $8 billion by 2014[2].

Part of the reason RFID technology is expected to see significant growth is due to its application diversity. RFID tags are used in dozens of applications in many different industries. In this section of our RFID series we will take a look at some of the wide variety of RFID uses:

Pharmaceutical companies can use RFID tags to track drugs and to verify authenticity throughout manufacturing and shipping[3]. This can help prevent fake drugs from entering their supply chains, helping to ensure drug safety to patients while allowing for much cheaper and much more efficient recalls when necessary.

Likewise, RFID can be used to track livestock from birth to retail sales. In fact, livestock tracking is predicted by British Research firm IDTechEx to be the largest RFID market by 2017 at nearly $6.5 billion worldwide[4]. This is expected to be largely propelled by government mandates requiring animal tracking for improved food safety. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in the U.S. alone there are over 100 million cattle, and over 35 million additional cattle born each year[5]. In the instance of a food safety issue (like E. Coli in tainted meat), the affected products can be traced in some instances to the animal itself, as well as to any other animals or products that it may have come into contact with. This should allow quicker, more efficient and less costly recalls both in human health and money terms.

In farm management, RFID systems can be used along with software systems to allow for easier tracking of various animal characteristics depending upon the type of farm (e.g., milk production in a diary farm). This allows more tailored care and decreased labor costs. One report states that using RFID systems in such a way as to track individual cattle rather than groups of cattle has allowed one farmer to estimate saving $35-60 per head[6].

RFID tags are used in many toll roads to collect fees automatically as a vehicle drives by, while companies managing parking lots or managing auto fleets may use RFID to track vehicle locations or empty spots within their lots.

ExxonMobil has introduced its “SpeedPass” to collect payment at gas stations[7]. Credit card companies such as Visa, with its new "payWave" system, are beginning to offer RFID embedded smart cards to provide users with a more convenient "contactless" payment option[[8]]. Smart card shipments increased 16% to 675 million shipments in 2009[9]. One estimate from CHASE Card Services holds that smart cards may reduce transaction times by between 10-40%[10].

RFID can be used for security - data on the tag can attest to the authenticity of the attached document. Many nations have begun including them in passports -- the U.S. began doing this in 2006 -- and China recently completed a $6 billion project to include them in national ID cards[11]. RFID tags can likewise be placed in employee or visitor badges so organizations can use them to allow after hour deliveries or monitor visitor and staff access[12]. Some countries are considering adding tags to currency as a counterfeit measure[13].

For large retailers, RFID can significantly reduce costs despite the upfront investment in tags and systems, by reducing shoplifting and employee theft, and eliminating the need for manual inventory counting. This can also reduce overall inventory costs due to greater automation, increased data accuracy and decreased labor. It can also increase sales with better stocked shelves; according to the Wall Street Journal, an American Apparel pilot program saw a 14.3% increase in sales in RFID enabled stores due to better stocked shelves[14], and IHL group recently stated that eliminating the estimated $430 billion in sales lost due to out of stock items could help retailers improve sales by as much as 10%[15].

In addition to tracking inventory, tracking a business’s assets can also be very valuable. A Texas hospital reports saving $30,000 per month by tracking and monitoring the idleness of rented equipment[16].

Tracking assets can be an important application for businesses. According to Frost & Sullivan, hospitals lose 10-20% (approximately $750 million worth) of their assets each year. Construction companies can use RFID to make sure that tools are not left behind at work sites[17].

Businesses can also use RFID to better understand their customers. More accurate inventory data can allow a business to better anticipate future demand, and businesses have also used RFID to track promotions and sales[18]. Another application is monitoring the in-store travel of a garment from the rack to the dressing room and back to better understand consumer preferences[19].

RFID can be helpful in a business’s compliance or safety issues as well. Sushi restaurants can track raw food to make sure it doesn’t expire[20]; healthcare providers can track employee’s badges to make sure hands are washed[21] and they can track instruments to make sure they are sterilized[22]; and an Australian mining company can track vehicle traffic underground to avoid collisions[23].

Some of the more unique uses we’ve heard about are researchers tracking honeybees to study their behavior[24], casinos embedding tags in poker chips to monitor the money at their tables[25], and a waste management company using trucks with readers and RFID tagged recycle bins to measure the weight of a recycle bin prior to disposal and give the customer credit for their bottles and cans[26].

There are clearly many varied uses for RFID technology, and new ones are being dreamed up every day. It will be interesting to see what they come up with next.

Want, Roy “RFID: A Key to Automating Everything” Scientific American 8/9/2008

Overlook Seen Positive for RFID Market despite Downturn. Supply & Demand Chain http://www.sdcexec.com/web/online/IntegrationERP-Trends/Outlook-Seen-Positive-for-RFID-Market-Despite-Downturn/19$12198

O'Connor, Mary. "Pfizer Using RFID to Fight Fake Viagra." RFID Journal http://www.rfidjournal.com/article/articleview/2075/ 1/1/ 1/6/2006

Swedberg, Claire. "Food and Livestock Tagging Expected to See Bumper Gains." RFID Journal http://www.rfidjournal.com/article/view/3725/1 2 November 2007

Cattle. National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Agricultural Statistics Board, U.S. Department of Agriculture http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/usda/current/Catt/Catt-07-23-2010.pdf 7/23/2010

Ishmael, Wes “The Power of One.” Beef Magazine http://beefmagazine.com/mag/beef_power_one/ 7/1/2010

"Visa's PayWave catching on in Canada." Contactless News. http://www.contactlessnews.com/ 2010/05/27/visas-paywave-catching-on-in-canada 3/27/2010

"Report: Smart card market to expand in 2010." Contactless News. http://www. contactlessnews.com/2010/05/12/report-smart-card-market-to-expand-in-2010 5/12/2010

The Self-Service ‘Buy-and-Pay’ Market” Vending and Foodservice Trends in the US Packaged Facts, June 2008.

Weier, Mary Hayes “Slow and Steady Progress” Information Week http://www.informationweek.com/news/mobility/RFID/221601551

“Kalorama Tech in Healthcare Bundle” Kalorama Information, A division of MarketResearch.com; November 2008

“What Every Internal Auditor Should Know About RFID”, Knowledgeleader, June 2006

Bustillo, Miguel “Wal-Mart Radio Tags to Track Clothing” The Wall Street Journal http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704421304575383213061198090.html 7/23/10

Johnson, John “Retailers look to RFID item level tagging to kick $430B out-of-stock problem” RFID 24-7 6/6/11 http://www.rfid24-7.com/articles/060611.shtml

“Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas Uses Wireless System to Track Location of Supplies, Equipment” http://www.texashealth.org/body.cfm?id=1629&action=detail&ref=1137

Nazarov, Amy “The Internet of Things” InformationWeek 9/7/2009

Budde, Paul & Harper, Phil Australia 2007 - Mobile Data and Content,- The Long Wait for 4G;Paul Budde Communication 9/2007

Nazarov, Amy “The Internet of Things” InformationWeek 9/7/200

“Ecolab, Proventix become allies in RFID hand hygiene compliance monitoring”, RFID News http://www.rfidnews.org/2011/06/28/ecolab-proventix-become-allies-in-rfid-hand-hygiene-compliance-monitoring?issue=rfidnews_20110630, 6/28/2011

“Kalorama Tech in Heatlchare Bundle” Kalorama Information A division of MarketResearch.com; November 2008

Crozier, Ry “NSW mine tests RFID thesis” itnews http://www.itnews.com.au/News/264246,nsw-mine-tests-rfid-thesis.aspx, 7/21/2011

“Flight of the honey bee played to the tune of RFID” RFID News http://www.rfidnews.org/2011/05/31/flight-of-the-honey-bee-played-to-the-tune-of-rfid, 5/31/2011

Nazarov, Amy “The Internet of Things” InformationWeek 9/7/2009


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Nanoparticles Improve Lithium Ion Batteries

We wanted to expand on our press release this morning regarding the completion of our Phase I STTR project, because this is a very exciting development.

The materials used for lithium ion batteries are expensive.  Other, cheaper materials are available, but they are not typically used because they suffer from "capacity fade" -- that is, when you repeatedly cycle (i.e., drain and re-charge) them, they don't last very long, especially in warmer environments.

Comparing battery cells with our nanoparticles (coated)
and cells without (uncoated).  After just 30 cycles in
high temperatures, the uncoated cell capacities have
dropped significantly, while the coated cells still perform
close to where they started.
We worked with the University of Wisconsin to prove that adding certain nanoparticles in a certain way to these less expensive materials deters capacity fade.

This means the less expensive materials can be used -- and this can help tremendously with the cost issues that are preventing the use of lithium ion batteries in some major applications.

We've received a lot of interest in the technology -- from a Fortune 500 company to a small but well-funded start-up.  All of these companies are working in the battery or battery materials area and each of them plan to watch carefully as we bring the technology to full commercialization.  They could very well end up being the technology's first licensees.

We will soon be submitting a Phase II proposal to fund the commercialization effort.  We should have an answer on that proposal toward the end of the year. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why RFID? - Part 2 in our RFID Series

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) has the potential to dramatically alter the way people live their lives and the way businesses and governments operate. Its impact will be especially felt in business where some foresee no less than “a business revolution”[1]. RFID systems are comprised of three things, a tag with an antenna and microchip to store data, a reader to interrogate the tag and retrieve the data, and software to interpret and organize the data as desired. Much more than a “glorified bar-code”, RFID allows tracking and identification of objects in real time; some systems even allow constant tracking.

With an RFID system, we have the ability to take nearly any object and make it “smart” or at least “smarter” by allowing it to communicate back to its reader. A basic tag allows the object to communicate its location. Some tags are combined with sensors to provide more information. Think of a tag combined with a temperature or heart monitoring sensor on a patient in a hospital. Integrated into the hospital network this could allow patient location and condition monitoring in real time throughout the hospital[2].

Some of the general benefits of RFID systems are that they allow accurate and efficient data acquisition. With the increased computerization and automation provided by an RFID system there is a decrease in manual data entry and therefore fewer opportunities for errors. As RFID systems are wireless there is less need for “cumbersome cables”, they take a minimal installation time, and have low maintenance requirements[3].

For consumers RFID should yield increases in convenience, efficiency and safety. With RFID tagged retail products and checkout readers we should see more self-service retailers, perhaps even hybrid-vending machine / mini-marts with no employees other than the ones needed to tag all the mini-mart’s products[4]. RFID enabled “Smart Cards” should “reduce consumers’ average transaction time by between 10% and 40% depending on whether purchases are made in stores or at drive-throughs”[5]. On top of quicker and more convenient shopping, products should be safer as livestock, pharmaceuticals and everything else being tracked with RFID can report to consumers the product’s history, and “pedigree”, assuring the consumer of both the safety and quality of the product[6,7]. Farther into the future there are the ideas of automated kitchens; e.g., your milk carton notifies the refrigerator that it has expired, or that its contents are low; the refrigerator, in turn, notifies you, or simply orders a new carton from the store[8]. The possibilities for RFID to change our day to day lives are numerous, wondrous and limited only by our imaginations.

While the benefits of RFID for business may not be as glamorous as those for consumers, businesses will enjoy the greatest rewards from implementing these systems by being able to (to name a few):

  • Better locate and deploy inventory in the supply chain
  • Reduce lost shipments
  • Increase sales by decreasing out-of-stocks and increasing in-store item availability
  • Reduce employee theft
  • Protect brands through ensuring product integrity
  • Better understand consumer preferences
  • Increase knowledge available to the customer
  • More quickly and efficiently facilitate recalls
  • Track, monitor and manage promotions and sales
  • Locate, track, maintain and prevent theft of company assets
  • Reduce labor’s share of operational costs through increased automation
  • Increase predictability in product demand

In addition to these more generalized benefits for businesses there are many specific benefits for different particular applications or industries, too many to name here. It is clear however that because of these benefits RFID will become a major part of business operations. Businesses will eventually need to adopt RFID in order to run more efficiently and keep up with the competition.

[1] Budde, Paul & Harper, Phil Australia 2007 - Mobile Data and Conten,- The Long Wait for 4G; Paul Budde Communication 9/2007 http://www.budde.com.au/Research/2007-Australia-Mobile-Data-and-Content-The-long-wait-for-4G.html
[2] “Diagnostics Market Research Bundle” Kalorama2009 Diagnostic Industry Bundle; Kalorama Information A division of MarketResearch.com, May 2009 pg 116
[3] “Kalorama Tech in Heatlchare Bundle” Kalorama Information A division of MarketResearch.com; November 2008; pg 37
[4] “The Self-Service ‘Buy-and-Pay’ Market” Vending and Foodservice Trends in the US Packaged Facts, June 2008.
[5] “The Self-Service ‘Buy-and-Pay’ Market” Vending and Foodservice Trends in the US Packaged Facts, June 2008.
[6] Swedberg, Claire; “Norwegian Food Group Nortutra to Track Meat” RFID Journal; July 22, 2008 http://www.rfidjournal.com/article/view/4208
[7] “RFID and UHF: A Prescription for RFID Success in the Pharmaceutical Industry” http://www.scribd.com/doc/59002369/WP-RFID-UHF
[8] Budde, Paul & Harper, Phil Australia 2007 - Mobile Data and Conten,- The Long Wait for 4G; Paul Budde