CYBRA Getting Creative With RFID Solutions
February 18, 2015 Alex Woodie
Ten years ago, when Wal-Mart first started mandating that its suppliers use RFID tags in product deliveries, the unit cost of RFID tags was seen as the biggest barrier to adoption. Fast forward to 2015, and improvements in manufacturing have dramatically lowered the cost of RFID. But it’s been the adoption of new business models that has led to an explosion of RFID use cases, according to the folks at CYBRA.
CYBRA has closely monitored the evolution of radio frequency identification (RFID) in the consumer processed goods supply chain. Back in 2003, CYBRA jumped at the chance to help its iSeries customers move forward with Wal-Mart’s RFID mandate. The first product to get on the RFID bus was MarkMagic, a popular software package used for encoding barcode labels. It was augmented to support the new generation of barcode printers that could encode RFID tags too.
At that time, adding RFID tags to pallets of goods bound for Wal-Mart distribution centers (DCs) was a largely manual effort. Those one-off efforts made the costs of compliance high, and that led to considerable resistance against the retail giant, which eventually scaled back its RFID mandate.
No worries, industry insiders thought, as soon as the cost of RFID encoding came down, adoption would skyrocket. That turned out not to be the case, says Sheldon Reich, vice president of marketing for CYBRA.
“Everybody thought there was a price point, where this DVD or pack of razor blades was worth tracking,” Reich says. “It turns out that’s just totally wrong. The retailers get the most bang for their bucks from socks and underwear and things that are fast moving–things that are not necessarily expensive, but it costs them a ton of money for handling in the store.”
If the jeans, bras, or underwear hanging on the rack is the wrong size, they will never be sold. “That was the big ‘aha’ moment,” Reich says, “especially combined with another trend: omnichannel.”
Back in 2003, nobody foresaw the huge change that was about to unfold with Apple‘s launch of the iPhone four years later. Today, the rapid adoption of smartphones and mobile ecommerce has spurred the need for retailers and distributors to be more flexible in how they cater to consumer demands. Instead of shipping all e-commerce transactions from a centralized DC, they’re able to get products into customers’ hands much more quickly by shipping them from retail stores, or allowing the customer to pick up the item at the store.
Retailers must be able to find products more quickly, which has driven a surge in RFID adoption. It’s now common to find retail clerks sporting mobile RFID readers to help an iPhone-equipped female customer track down the elusive pair of blue, size 10 tall capris. “Customers love going along for the ride with the Geiger counter,” Reich says.
Then something else happened that goosed RFID adoption even more. “The tipping point was when manufacturers decided they we’re just going to RFID all goods in the factory,” Reich says. Garments now commonly ship from Chinese factories with RFID tags already embedded into the product labels.
Today, retailers like Macy’s are finally moving to realize Wal-Mart’s product-level RFID tagging dream of a decade ago. The retail giant has a plan to implement item-level RFID in all of the product categories that it carries. It’s not there yet, but it is moving steadily in that direction.
At the same time, the big data explosion has created an even bigger demand for more granular data. The traditional uses of RFID, such as doing inventory counts in the DC or loss prevention at the retail level, has expanded to non-intuitive uses, such as tracking the movement of customers and employees within stores.
“RFID is an enabler of big data,” Reich says. “Retailers love all these data points they can get from RFID. How come this employee completes an inventory task in eight minutes versus 25 minutes for this other employee? Which products were picked up and not purchased?”
Retailers aren’t the only ones getting creative with RFID. Casinos are using them for perimeter security and to track the movement of high-value objects, such as cash carts, and even to identify individual poker chips. RFID has also made its way into the data center to track valuable IT assets, such as disk drives.
CYBRA is riding this surge in RFID adoption with a slew of new products that complement its existing MarkMagic RFID encoding software and EdgeMagic, its software for reading RFID tags. The new development at the Yonkers, New York, company has focused on hardware.
For example, the CYBRA RFID Cage is a preconfigured appliance loaded with EdgeMagic that’s designed to be a permanent RFID reader in DC environments. The RFID Cart, meanwhile, is a mobile solution that comes with an eight-hour battery. The RFID Skid is a larger reader designed to be carried by forklifts, while the CYBRA Hawk is essentially an RFID reader camoflagued as a manikin for use in retail environments.
“The new products are the result of the old lessons, our scar tissue,” Reich says. “We’ve learned a lot from literally reading 100 million tags, tens of thousands of cartons, and millions of items.”