Issue: Jun 2007


RFID network-connected readers deployed globally projected to grow beyond 100 million



Ashley Stephenson is Reva's chairman and co-founder. Automotive Industries spoke to Ashley and asked him about what makes Reva's RFID's products unique

by John Beckman

In June this year the Chelmsford, Massachusetts-based Reva Systems Inc won the Massachusetts Innovation & Technology Exchange or MITX Technology awards in the IT Operations category for its radio frequency identification network infrastructure products. Two weeks later Reva announced a 200 site rollout at METRO Group retailers in Europe where it's technology is the key component that has allowed Metro to move forward from pilots to production-scale implementations of UHF passive RFID for inventory management and goods processing. Reva Systems develops RFID network infrastructure products that allow customers to deploy scalable solutions in any environment. The company's products are used by a wide range of industries such as automotive, aerospace, contract manufacturing, electronics, logistics, retail and health-care. Reva counts Sony, METRO Group, Hewlett Packard, Foxconn, Jabil, Dow Corning and Boeing among its customers.

In May, the company announced that Intel will provide Reva's Low Level RFID Reader Protocol or LLRP developer's kit and test tool to reader vendors that used Intel's R1000 radio chip. This is in addition to the ongoing LLRP development activities Reva and several leading reader manufacturers started earlier this year. LLRP is an EPCglobal standard for reader control and communications that is paving the way to industry-wide reader interoperability. Reva is at the forefront of this standards evolution, but also realizes the market will develop at its own pace, so in the meantime their products support an extensive set of interfaces to existing reader models.

"By collaborating to advance the adoption of LLRP, Reva and Intel are enabling equipment vendors to provide standards-compliant solutions to end users that achieve the scalable performance, configuration and manageability required by enterprise wide deployments. For the end user, standards-based solutions spawn vendor competition leading to technology improvements, innovation and value pricing providing both the reader choice and technology reliability that enterprises require for RFID production rollouts," says the company.

Reva says that the proliferation of RFID is inevitable as the promise of commercial benefits across industries is realized. With the number of network-connected readers deployed globally projected to grow beyond 100 million within the next decade, the RFID reader is poised to become the most numerous and densely deployed device in the enterprise networks of leading corporations around the world.

"To date, RFID pilots have typically been limited in scale or based on proprietary technology requiring custom implementation. As RFID moves into multiple-application, enterprise-wide deployments, the ability to scale rollouts is critical. Reva applies proven networking principles similar to those employed in LANs, wireless LANs, and storage-area networks (SANs) to integrate RFID operations with existing enterprise infrastructure for rapid, repeatable, and reliable RFID deployments. By adding a layer of networking intelligence to local networks of RFID readers and tags, Reva's Tag Acquisition Processors (TAPs) enable scalable, enterprise-wide RFID adoption, accelerating RFID technology investments as the RFID marketplace drives to meet next-generation requirements," says Reva.

Earlier this year, Dow Corning, which manufactures silicon-based products including adhesives, sealants, rubber and lubricants started using RFID in its Auburn, Michigan manufacturing plant to monitor the various processes it uses in creating several of its products. The project began in November 2006. In the first phase of Dow Corning's RFID implementation, TAP appliances are used to aggregates RFID data collected during a variety of manufacturing processes. That data is then passed to a backend SAP system and data warehouse.

Integrating RFID with additional ERP application components is expected to provide Dow Corning additional benefit such as triggering an email alert to a customer that an order has been fulfilled. At the other end of the spectrum, RFID will be able to trigger a red light to indicate that products are being put into the wrong truck or components are being placed in the wrong staging areas.

"The use of RFID within the four walls and surrounding campuses of manufacturing plants create many requirements for an expandable, sustainable infrastructure. Today, RFID in manufacturing environments is typically associated with closed-loop applications and many automotive manufacturers have built internal RFID systems based on proprietary technologies. However, many implementers are finding value by tying internal processes to external and customer related processes through RFID. Additionally, the decreasing cost and increasing reliability of solutions based on global standards such as the ISO 18000-6C (Gen2 UHF passive RFID) protocol are driving the adoption of a new generation of RFID systems. These solutions incorporate both fixed/portal type readers and handheld/mobile readers to facilitate tag data capture at many locations. And, most companies envision incremental use of RFID over time as they expand the number of tracking locations, deployed readers and consuming applications across their enterprise. The Reva Systems Tag Acquisition Processor (TAP) delivers the scalable infrastructure platform that enterprises can depend on to generate value now and in the future in any manufacturing facility," says Reva.

Ashley Stephenson is Reva's chairman and co-founder. Automotive Industries spoke to Ashley and asked him about what makes Reva's RFID's products unique.

AI: What makes Reva unique in the crowded RFID market?

Stephenson: Reva's products are standards-based purpose built RFID appliances that provide a high performance, reliable RFID network infrastructure solution. This is in stark contrast to most of the other players in the market which are proprietary software running custom programs on a general purpose PC. Their approach works fine for niche applications and pilots, but just aren't architected to scale.

AI: What has been the impact of Reva's collaboration with Intel?

Stephenson: Intel's decision to get into the RFID market really moves the industry forward. We've worked with them on their reader chip introduction which is bringing a better price - performance standard to the broader reader market for both fixed and handheld / mobile readers. This stimulates adoption and drives interest in scalable solutions such as ours as companies gain the confidence to rely more on RFID for critical business processes.

AI: Apart from Dow Corning, how have other manufacturing companies used your RFID infrastructure products in their facilities?

Stephenson: RFID is about enabling tracking and visibility so we have customers like HP, Flextronics and Foxconn using our products to coordinate systems that use RFID tags for WIP tracking, order build accuracy and order fulfillment accuracy. They are integrating RFID into their base manufacturing processes to streamline operations and control component inventory. We also have an innovative application running at Sony where they tag items in their distribution process to ensure they've picked orders correctly, but they then also video tape the order packaging and shrink-wrapping process, read tags on items as they do this and burn the RFID tag data into the video to provide proof-of-shipment and a video record for supporting customer service.

AI: How are you seeing UHF passive RFID being used by automotive companies?

Stephenson: Different types of RFID have been used in the automotive industry for years from smart key fobs to various WIP tracking applications. With the standardized UHF passive RFID that has emerged, we are seeing automotive companies re-visit some of these areas, but mostly they are looking at new processes and areas of their businesses where tracking was always a good idea, but the mechanics of doing it didn't make sense. Tool tracking and MRO items within factories is right at the top of that list. We are seeing companies that produce products in the automotive supply chain tracking tools from manual gauges to hydraulic hoists and air guns. The next area we see activity is merging components onto the assembly line. Tagged components coming from suppliers that are managed in a JIT manner need to be tightly tracked and monitored. We are also seeing finished goods tracking, hazardous materials tracking, and even smart work stations that are triggered to the RFID badges of operators. The uses for RFID especially when it can be leveraged across trading partners and purchased at attractive price points are virtually endless.

AI: What do you think is going to fuel the demand for RFID products over the next few years?

Stephenson: We are starting to see enterprise growth, industry growth and eco-system growth. What I mean by enterprise growth is - as more and more companies bring standards-based RFID into production environments you will see growth within those enterprises. Deployments to support a single application like tool tracking are being leveraged into an infrastructure that supports multiple applications like equipment tracking, WIP tracking, safety monitoring, order verification, JIT management and more. We see 1 or 2 sites at a company expanding to 10 or 100 sites and within each site we are already seeing 2 or 3 readers headed to 20 or 30 readers. In fact, we have customers who are talking about 75 to 100 readers at each site and a year ago they only had 3 readers operating in a moderate pilot setting. Industry growth is built on the success of the early adopters. In retail for example, as Metro in Europe and Wal-Mart in the US become more successful, their peers are following. Eco-system growth is particularly appropriate to industries like automotive and aerospace where as the primary manufacturing companies adopt the technology it tends to work it's way up and down the supply chain. Material and component suppliers start to support the manufacturers and then they push the technology through their own operations while downstream customers start to see benefits in areas like maintenance processes and repair parts. The sheer number of applications, number of companies and number of sites that can benefit from the intelligent use of RFID coupled with the price, performance and scalability that can be achieved with approaches like Reva's RFID infrastructure leads us to believe that the adoption rate over the next few years is going to be incredible.

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