SAMSys puts RFID readers in SATO printers

SAMSys Technologies Inc., provider of radio frequency identification (RFID) hardware solutions announced this week that it has completed a full integration of its RFID readers into SATO America’s line of RFID-enabled printers.

SAMSys’ technology, along with ultra-high frequency (UHF) chips embedded in the “smart labels” or RFID tags, enables SATO’s RFID printers to print the labels and program the chip inside the label at the same time.

These “super labels” are like the combination of an RFID and barcode tag, or RFID tags that have a human-readable component laminated on top of them, according to Cliff Horwitz, chairman and CEO of Toronto-based SAMSys.

As the industry moves into a greater adoption of RFID, Horwitz said the need to have the human-readable component built into RFID tags would diminish, but for now, the so called “super labels” are essential.

“What I think is envisaged, particularly as a result of some of the mandates that have been issued over the past eight or nine months by Wal-Mart and the DOD (Department of Defense), is that there will be [that] human-readable label containing all of the standard data that is currently being integrated into such labeling on the outside of every pallet-load of goods,” Horwitz explained.

“But, there also needs to be an RFID component integrated into that label such that the electronic data can be interrogated using an RFID reader. I think we will see that becoming a greater and greater emphasis…a gravitation away from the human-readable and into the electronic. But certainly, I think in the near term the human-readable is critically important,” he added.

The label can be read by an EPC Class 1 reader or by human-readable label printouts, which would allow for reading operations to be done automatically. Thus, according to SAMSys, would result in reduced labour costs and improved accuracy of the data collected.

Another benefit of the new “smart labels” is that the information stored on many of them can be changed throughout their lifetime, which would eliminate the need to remove and re-label various items, SAMSys said.

The labels from SATO’s RFID-enabled printers were designed for applications including anti-theft, asset tracking, supply chain logistics, baggage tags and factory automation, explained the company.

Because SATO is a global organization that focuses on various vertical and geographical markets and also because there are a number of different standards and protocols used in RFID, the company wanted to make sure that it was going to be able to offer a solution that follows multiple protocols from the RFID standpoint but also capable of supporting the various frequencies in the various parts of the world that the company does business, said Jan Svoboda, product manager at SATO in Charlotte, N.C.

“With SAMSys’ product, we have a product that supports multiple protocols and is currently able to be used not only in…North America, but also…Europe,” Svoboda said.

Since Wal-Mart came out last year and expressed its desire to have all its cases and pallets identified using RFID, SATO has been working with the retail giant to develop a solution compatible with Wal-Mart’s needs as well as the needs of its suppliers, Svoboda explained.

He said that SATO has recently placed one of its products in Wal-Mart’s RFID lab in Bentonville, Ark. where it is available for testing. SATO has also been actively working with many of Wal-Mart’s top 125 suppliers that are looking to start using RFID by the beginning of 2005.

When it comes to RFID technology taking over completely from the barcode, Svoboda said that isn’t likely to happen soon, simply due to the benefits that can be gained from the barcode that still aren’t yet proven with RFID technology in the retail sector.

“The advantage of the barcode label…is that you not only have the barcode data, [but] you also have the human-readable data. If you get in a situation where the barcode’s not scannable or your scanner isn’t working and you cannot scan the data from the barcode, you still have the option of doing it the old way by visually copying it down from the label,” Svoboda explained.

“If you look at RFID technology, [however], there is really no way you can extract the data out of the RFID tag any other way than using the RFID reader.”

He added that because the technology is new to retail, there hasn’t been enough information collected regarding real-time data, performance data and tag quality and life data that would allow the industry to purely rely on the RFID tags alone.

“We believe that most people are going to stay with the existing compliance labeling system and add the RFID portion to that compliance label,” Svoboda said. “So, now they will have a redundancy system or they will have a barcode label with barcode human readable and they’ll have the RFID tag in there which can be taken advantage of by people who are utilizing…RFID.”