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American Apparel says goodbye to handheld readers; NXP and Impinj unveil new products at RFID Live

Last week’s RFID Live show highlighted many new uses cases that continue to develop for RFID technology. Some of the keynote highlights included BP, which has added $150 million to its bottom line by deploying 37 RFID projects throughout the company.

In addition, retailer American Apparel revealed that it is now nearly fully deployed at 254 stores and that it is shifting to a fixed infrastructure reader solution to eliminate handheld readers. Asset tracking is still a rapidly growing use case, and the Social Security Administration shared how RFID has reduced the time it takes to track IT assets by 90 percent.

A number of technology developments were unveiled. Impinj was recognized with a Best-in-Show award for its xArray reader, which allows for scanning of a 40 foot diameter from a height of 15 feet. And NXP set the show abuzz with the release of its Ucode 7 line, which allows much faster encoding and enables greater retail deployment due to its small form factor.

American Apparel is in the process of setting up its stores for self checkout, enabling customers to make purchases from anywhere inside a store if they have an account on their mobile device. Stacey Shulman, vice president of technology for American Apparel, expects the self checkout system, enabled by RFID, to be rolled out at stores sometime next month.

American Apparel is also piloting a fixed infrastructure reader antenna solution that Schulman says will eliminate the need for handheld readers and allow store associates to spend less time on back room tasks and more time with customers on the sales floor. The solution is being piloted at two stores, and Shulman says that its ROI is already proven.

American Apparel is phasing out the use of RFID handheld readers.

The system gives American Apparel the ability to manage its store floors by zones, and to send alerts to store associates when items need to be replenished or when an item is out of place on the sales floor. It will also generate potential theft alerts.

“The way that we are doing this is through a fixed infrastructure antenna system,” says Shulman. “We have found that we can read 35,000 units in a dense environment with 98 percent accuracy in under an hour, which is better than our handhelds.

“Obviously it saves labor. The antenna system does the inventory every night for us and when employees arrive in the morning they look at a dashboard and work in their zone. It removes the employee from focusing on the back stock and allows them to focus on making sure the sales floor is presentable and well merchandised.”

Eventually, the system can be used to track item movement every 30 seconds, so goods like jeans or blouses can be tracked moving through certain zones of the store. “We are not using that function yet, but those are the capabilities that you have with the system,” says Shulman.

“We don’t need handhelds anymore,” she says. “Our goal is to get into a hands-free environment with our staff. We want RFID technology to be invisible to them and to have our salespeople selling and focused on our customers. Between customers, they can be moving product back to where it needs to go. We don’t want them walking around with a bulky scanners on the sales floor.”

American Apparel, which had deployed RFID at just over 100 stores at the end of 2012, has more than doubled that number over the past several months by rolling out the technology at more than 100 stores in 18 countries. Shulman says that the company had a very strong holiday selling period due to the inventory visibility that RFID allows.

“We really believed that RFID would help us during the holidays and it did,” she said. “If you check our public filing you’ll see that the fourth quarter came in very strong across all of our channels.”

The Impinj xArray reader

On the product front, Impinj was recognized with a Best-in-Show award for its xArray reader, which allows for scanning of a 40 foot diameter when ceiling mounted at 15 feet. And NXP set the show abuzz with the release of its Ucode 7 line, which allows much faster encoding and enables greater retail deployment with its small form factor.

“We were thrilled to have two Best-in-Show nominees this year,” said Scot Stelter, senior director of product marketing at Impinj. Stelter notes that the reader has the capability to be a game-changer by meeting the requirements for wide-area monitoring applications while maintaining backwards compatibility with portal applications.

Impinj is making xArray development kits available to 25 partners for solution development during 2013. The solutions will combine business process, hardware integration and software with xArray. Impinj expects these solutions to be used in commercial implementations in 2014, when volume rollouts will become available.

“The ultimate selection of xArray for the award and very high interest level among booth visitors validates our belief that customers are ready for passive, fixed infrastructure solutions for inventory management and asset tracking,” says Stelter.

NXP's Ucode 7

NXP says that its Ucode 7 line sets a new industry standard for performance, versatility and speed for RFID supply chain applications. The launch of Ucode 7 will enable retailers and vendors to tag much smaller items such as jewelry and also will allow tags to be read from a greater distance, enhancing stock and inventory applications. Sample ICs and labels with Ucode 7 are already available; high volume shipments will begin at the end of May.

Mark Hill, vice president and general manager at Avery Dennison, says that he knows of at least one retailer that has moved on with a significant pilot due to the availability of the NXP technology and its small form factor. Avery has partnered with NXP to deliver new inlays to its UHF RFID portfolio, and says that the initial response has been strong for UCode 7-enabled inlays, which can program 100 items in milliseconds, enabling the high-speed production of RFD tags and labels.

“A lot of people are pretty jazzed about it,” Michael Liard, vice president of auto-ID at VDC Research, said the NXP product line. “One of the main features for me is how it can enable better serialization and encoding. That was a big takeaway. It’s a big deal in terms of speeds and feeds for sure.”

Avery also announced a new solution that offers retailers the capability to print high quality graphic images and high-density variable information on UHF RFID integrated tags. The breakthrough utilizes Avery Dennison SmartFace technology, which delivers a clear printing surface without the multiple layers found in some competitor tags, combined with high graphic quality delivered through Avery Dennison’s extensive digital printing capabilities.

The development enables apparel retailers to eliminate separate RFID tags and labels and integrate RFID technology into their existing graphic tags, without compromising design creativity. Avery Dennison is the first to offer this integrated tag solution. To date, Avery Dennison has delivered over 700 million SmartFace tags and labels to the market in the last three years.

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