When RFID technology first came upon the supply chain scene in 2005, there was quite a bit of hype attributed to the technology. Similar to the introduction of the bar code label, this technology had the potential to deliver untold benefits in the ability to once and for all connect the identity of a physical item with supply chain inventory tracking, planning, and analytical software applications. There was much hype, driven by the infamous Wal-Mart and U.S. Department of Defense RFID mandates requiring suppliers to conform to tracking, as well as all sorts of technology companies who recognized the potential of this technology. Our timing however, was somewhat premature.
The context of RFID as one other option for deploying sensory network tools was overshadowed, while the economics of RFID investment were not attractive, and the momentum stalled. The promise of RFID tags in the five cent per tag range that could justify item-level tagging were just not evident in the time horizon, and RFID deployments have for the most part been limited to asset and specialty item tracking.
It is interesting to note however that technology developments for RFID are continuing, and that goal is getting closer toward achievement. The ability to reach the elusive five cent goal, in my view, was pegged more toward printed label technology rather than semiconductor device laden tags. Avery Dennison for one has been rolling out various RFID printed labels targeted for specific industry and product sectors. An article penned by Steve Johnson of the San Jose Mercury News notes that another company, privately-held Kovio, is about to launch what is believed to be the first manufacturing plant for printed semiconductors.
Founded originally in 2001 by scientists at MIT, the company has now shifted its focus from flexible displays to printed semiconductors. It is also interesting to note that the article also notes that Hewlett Packard has also been working on various printed electronics applications. While Kovio’s planned labels are not as complex and powerful as many other RFID chips, its CEO notes that the biggest benefit is cost, well within the five cent per tag range or lower.
The message for our community is to not give-up on RFID as another potential enabling technology for deploying sensory networks. Printed semiconductor technology is advancing and similar to all other silicon-based technologies, there will come a time where the economics of RFID item tagging will come into play. The question will be when.