Intermec unveils first multiprotocol RFID printer

Intermec Technologies Corp. on Monday unveiled a prototype version of a multi-protocol radio frequency identification (RFID) printer in its PM 4i Smart Printer product line at the Frontline Solutions Conference & Exposition in Chicago. Company officials said it is the first multi-protocol printer in the market.

The PM 4i RFID encodes and prints onto an RFID-readable tag in any one of three different RFID standards, EPCGlobal Class O, Class 1, and the International Organization for Standards (ISO) RFID standard. In addition, the printer is upgradeable to the forthcoming UHF Generation 2 standard.

The PM 4i RFID is targeted at a marketplace still in flux with multiple versions of RFID tag standards being used by various retailers and industries as well as by the U.S. Department of Defense. Eventually most industries are expected to unite around the UHF Generation 2 standard.

An Intermec executive said that Class 0 and 1 are not open standards.

“UHF Gen 2 is a worldwide standard and not considered proprietary. Class 1 and Class 0 are ad hoc with only one manufacturer of each at the base silicon level,” said Doug Hall, director of printer marketing at Intermec.

While RFID-enabled labels have the inlay or insert antenna embedded between the label layers, the final product data is encoded by the printer, said Hall. The unit also decodes to verify that the content is correct.

Up until now, any supplier working with multiple retailers who had different RFID standards requirements needed a different printer to encode and decode RFID content to comply with each individual standard. The printer does not require a PC interface and becomes a programmable client on the network.

“It is an intelligent device rather than a dumb peripheral that can even support a keyboard or scanner to turn it into a quasi-terminal,” said Hall.

The unit comes with an SDK using a visual programming environment for a basic interpreted language that runs on the PM 4i RFID.

For example, a scale could be attached to the printer allowing the printer to change postage or print unique pricing labels as appropriate.

The device is also capable of sending alerts to PDAs, cell phones, or via e-mail.

Interfaces include EasyLAN Ethernet, USB, and serial ports with parallel port and wireless LAN as options. Samples are shipping now through the end of 2004 with volume shipments expected in early 2005. While pricing has not been set, Hall said it will be less than US$5,000 per unit.

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