CYBRA Brings Supports for RFID Tag Printing to OS/400 Servers
April 6, 2004 Alex Woodie
CYBRA is close to shipping a new release of its MarkMagic software that supports the generation of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags from AS/400 and iSeries servers. Large manufacturers and distributors are facing mandates from retailers and the government to begin including RFID tags along with barcode labels. When MarkMagic 5.1 ships, next month, it will support the generation of RFID tags from OS/400 servers, even if the RFID tags, printers, readers, and standards aren’t available yet.
Up to this point, most MarkMagic users have been concerned with designing compliant barcode labels and connecting their OS/400 servers to barcode label printers. When Wal-Mart asked its top 100 suppliers last year to start including RFID smart labels on all shipments by January 1, 2005, many MarkMagic users became eager to start producing RFID labels from their OS/400 servers, says Sheldon Reich, vice president of marketing for the New York City company. “There’s a lot of interest in RFID, but it’s frustrating,” Reich says. “The specs are changing. . . . It’s definitely a moving target.”
Today there is simply not enough RFID hardware on the market to drive massive RFID roll-outs, according to Reich. RFID label manufacturers, such as Alien Technology, are still ramping up production capacity to meet the expected demand. RFID label printers are not being manufactured in quantity yet, “and we don’t necessarily have an EPC-capable reader today,” he says. At the center of all this lies the Electronic Product Code (EPC) for RFID labels, which will be the electronic equivalent of the Universal Product Code (UPC) for barcodes. The EPC standards body, EPCglobal, is still hashing out final specifications.
If Wal-Mart’s suppliers don’t make the January 1 deadline–and a report issued last week indicates that most probably won’t–it will not be for a lack of RFID-aware middleware on the OS/400 server. And because CYBRA is an OEM supplier to supply chain software vendors Manhattan Associates and SSA Global, whose software is used by a large number of Wal-Mart suppliers, a good percentage of Wal-Mart’s top 100 suppliers use CYBRA software, according to Reich. “For our customers, it’s a no-brainer,” Reich says. “We’ll support RFID the same way we support multiple barcode types.”
In light of the less-than-concrete EPC standards today, and the desire of companies to move forward with RFID projects nonetheless, CYBRA is emphasizing the flexibility of its RFID support in MarkMagic 5.1. “Customers will not have to commit to one technology and then change their solution six months later,” Reich says. “The benefit of using MarkMagic for source encoding of RFID is that customers will not only achieve RFID compliance today but also be able to keep up with the changing compliance requirements as the standards evolve, without modifying their application software.”
The company says it will offer support for Class 1 and Class 0 RFID labels when MarkMagic 5.1 ships, and says it has plans to eventually support the Class 1, Generation 2 EPC standard that Wal-Mart is pushing. MarkMagic 5.1 will support RFID printers from Monarch, Printronix, and Zebra Technologies, with more planned for the future. MarkMagic 5.1 will support RFID labels from Alien Technology, as well as Matrics Class 0 read-write tags, Texas Instruments TagIt tags, Philips I-Code tags, and Inside Technology Pico tags. MarkMagic will also support ISO 15693 tags, which are based on a competing European RFID standard.
CYBRA will deliver RFID support as an optional add-on module when MarkMagic 5.1 ships, following the COMMON conference in May, Reich says. The timing of MarkMagic 5.1 will be a little unusual, given that company has yet to make MarkMagic 5.0 generally available. But the demand for RFID is very strong right now, so the company decided not to hold up development of Version 5.1 while Version 5.0 is still in testing. “Customers have signed up and want it [RFID support] as soon as it’s available,” he says. “When we started development, well over a year ago, we almost chased the wrong standard by chasing ISO 15693.”
One of the new features in MarkMagic 5.0 is an optional print monitor that automatically kicks off a MarkMagic barcode label job whenever a spool file appears or a new record is added to a particular file. MarkMagic 5.0 will also support the creation of PDF documents with searchable text and scan-able barcodes. The Java-based label designer for MarkMagic, called the JMagic Client, will also see enhancements in iSeries connectivity, ease of re-design, and field tracing. MarkMagic 5.0 will also support 2-D barcodes for the first time, including the Data Matrix, MaxiCode, and PDF 417 standards.
The RFID module available with MarkMagic 5.1 will cost $1,500 above the basic MarkMagic license fee, which is $3,995. For more information, go to www.cybra.com.