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Last week the industry was abuzz following the launch of the Item Level RFID Initiative, an alliance of major retailers that hope to accelerate the use of item level tagging in the retail arena. Retail item level tagging could utilize more than three billion UHF low-memory tags within four years.
This week, the buzz is about high-memory tags and the huge impact they could have in the aerospace industry, as well as the automotive, utility and medical sectors. In addition, smart cards and passports could become much more secure and functional by using high memory chips.
Waltham, Mass.-based Tego, a provider of high memory RFID tagging solutions, today announced the worldwide availability of new aviation-grade RFID tags for aerospace and a broad range of industrial applications. Developed by Tokyo-based Marubeni Chemix using TegoChip technology, the Marubeni TAGAT tags deliver high memory and rugged survivability for harsh industrial environments, with a 4 Kilobyte (32 kbit) TegoChip XL inside. Marubeni has purchased wafer-scale quantities to meet global demand.
“This is an opportunity for us to announce to the world that we have production-ready, in-volume tags available to the broad industrial marketplace for high memory,” says Tim Butler, CEO of Tego. “We are now in the position where we can immediately offer tags in the thousands and move into hundreds of thousands and millions within weeks.”
The TAGAT design addresses global interest in high memory RFID solutions for storing the life history of parts. With TegoChip inside, Marubeni’s TAGAT tags improve maintenance and repair operations by streamlining parts service history management, inventory tracking, and regulatory compliance.
“The Asian market has been demanding tags like this for quite a while, and we see many opportunities for these products,” says Yoshihiko Tsujimoto, RFID tag development leader at Marubeni Chemix. “The combination of Marubeni’s advanced tag technology and Tego’s chip technology opens the door to new solutions worldwide that help companies cut costs and improve operational effectiveness.”
The aerospace sector is the biggest and most immediate sweet spot for high memory RFID tags. At last week’s AIM Expo in Chicago, Boeing’s Ken Porad, an RFID pioneer in the aerospace field, said that planes will soon carry up to 3,000 RFID tags apiece, as nearly all parts begin to be tagged. Aside from tracking maintenance and part history, RFID provides huge labor savings for airlines and plane manufacturers. Boeing, for example, is using RFID in 52 pilots at various plants, including tracking work-in-process for the production of its new 787 Dreamliner. Parts for that plane are manufactured around the globe and shipped to Boeing’s production facility in Seattle. The tagged parts are then assembled in just three days. RFID helps Boeing to track those parts. (Click here for previous coverage on how Airbus is using RFID to manage work-in-process)
Within 12 to 18 months the airline industry could consume hundreds of thousands of high memory RFID tags, possibly reaching the millions depending on the applications and use cases that manufacturers adopt.
“Right now we have just the specific applications for flyable tags but there are additional applications that companies are looking to expand into,” says Butler. “Going forward, we think the projections that call for the industry to use many millions of tags over the next three to five years is a very viable estimate.”
Some manufacturers are considering using high memory tags early in the manufacturing process so they can incorporate work-in-process information onto the tags. That allows the tag to become a tool for customization as well as a repository for testing and managing information, not only for after the product is built and placed in use, but during the manufacturing process as well.
That’s one reason the automotive industry is moving into high memory tags very quickly. Given the amount of automobiles produced each year, tracking work-in-process could offer the industry huge productivity gains. “We think this will be a big area for growth in the next year,” says Butler. He says that applications and pilot projects that are starting now will likely result in using fewer than 100,000 tags initially, to eventual usage of more than a million high memory tags in the next year or two.
The rail industry is also considering high memory tags, as is the medical space, which is not so much focused on the high memory feature, but the fact that the tags meet the sterilization requirements of the medical industry.
Another potential sweet spot is smart cards across many industries, particularly where there is a need to use high memory and UHF technology and incorporate significant levels of encryption and authentication. “The need for the high memory is required for those [uses],” says Butler, who notes that the tags are ideal for passports and drivers licenses.
“We’ve already begun discussions with companies around the globe around those applications and solutions,” he says, and Tego is already demonstrating how digital fingerprints and photographs can be encrypted on passports. “All this information can be encrypted onto a passport that cannot be on them today. So the ability to crack the information on there and fake a passport could be greatly diminished. We see significant opportunity there.”
Butler says that the advent of high memory tags is akin to where the computer industry was back in the mid 1980s. “Where computers were at that point in time is where RFID is at this point,” he says. “We are transitioning from dumb tags and mainframe systems, into distributed systems where you have smarter tags and tag functionality just like PCs and laptops, to where the whole process of how information is managed begins to change. With RFID, we’re just at the early stages of that.”