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RFID technologies are growing in prominence with the rise of smartphones and technologies such as NFC. IAA interviewed Quah Sien Kian, assistant manager, Daifuku on their involvement in the RFID sector. By Mark Johnston

IAA: What are some of the biggest developments happening now in the RFID sector?

Quah Sien Kian (QSK): RFID is one of the most popular technologies that most companies would like to explore in order to improve productivity. RFID is used mainly in item-level tracking, whereby a chip is attached to the item-level, and its movement and accountability are being tracked whenever these chips are scanned by fixed or mobile RFID readers.

RFID comes in two main categories, namely Passive RFID and Active RFID. These two technologies differs mainly in their transmission range, form-factors, and cost. Passive RFID reading range is typically only up to 10 metres, and its tag can be very small, and is generally inexpensive. In contrast, Active RFID reading range can go up to 100 metres, it needs a battery to operate in a beacon mode, and tends to be bulky, and relatively more expensive.

One of the biggest developments happening in the Active RFID sector is the capability to track the indoor location of assets to a sub-metre accuracy (ie: accuracy below one metre). Conventional RTLS (Real Time Location Systems) can only locate assets with greater than one metre accuracy, but with recent technological advancement for the past one to two years, RTLS chipset with sub-metre accuracy is made possible.

Another interesting development of Active RFID would be the use of Apple’s iBeacon Technology, to track proximity of Smartphones. With the launch of Smartphones, and Apple’s iBeacon Technology, we see a huge potential in the retail sector making use of this technology to enhance the shopper’s experience, whereby marketing or campaign information can be sent directly to the shopper’s smartphones, whenever they are in close proximity to a merchant’s merchandise or booth. This is achieved by installing inexpensive beacons at strategic locations of the merchant’s store, and smartphone apps receive data from these beacons via BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) to determine their proximity to these beacons.

Passive RFID has been a more popular choice to date, due to the fact that the tags are much cheaper, and their form-factors are smaller as compared to its Active RFID sibling. The market has been demanding an indoor-location system that can track Passive RFID tagged items. I can see a trend towards this technology. And there are several RFID providers already heading towards researching this technology.

IAA: How has the RFID sector evolved over the years and what future do see for RFID technology?

RFID can been seen everywhere. It was created many years ago. The door access system in most offices, the EZ-Link card that we use in MRT turnstiles, the facility to borrow and return RFID tagged library books in National Library. All these are RFID, and they are still being used to date.

This is the era of Smartphones, and I can foresee the industry incorporating more and more RFID technology into Smartphones. Most Smartphones have already adopted NFC technology to date, allowing the individual to make payments, access secure doors using their devices.

In the future, a smartphones maker may even go to the extent of adopting an indoor RTLS chipset, allowing accurate indoor-GPS to be possible in shopping malls, hyper-marts, museums, libraries, and so on.

IAA: What technologies has Daifuku developed in relation to RFID technology?

Daifuku is a systems integrator of RFID Solutions. We gather requirements from our clients, and design and build the total RFID Solution for our clients to help them achieve maximum returns using RFID.

For Passive RFID we get our hardware from our partners, and build the software in-house to piece up the entire system to suit to our customers’ needs. For Active RFID, we designed and developed our own hardware and software, to provide indoor location tracking of assets/personnel for our clients.

We believe strongly that each customer is unique, and as such aim to deliver a fully customised and tailor-made solution for meant for each of our clients, leveraging on the latest RFID technologies available in the the market.

IAA: Cards & Payments Asia 2015 was held recently, what did the company demonstrate and how do these products and technology fit into your overall strategy for the region?

We have conceptualised a few ideas and will be demonstrating these ideas with fully functional systems, to shows how the general public can make use of RFID to improve productivity. Just to list a few:

  • We showcased a RFID refrigerator, that shows how inventory can be tracked real-time in a cold environment.
  • We also showcased our RFID surgical tools system, that allows surgical tools to be properly accounted for, in order to ensure no tools went missing after a surgical operation.
  • We showcased our RFID Tool Box to demonstrate the ability to tag all assets regardless of their size, material, and form-factors. The tool box also comes with a GPS and GPRS, so we can know the location of the tools real-time from our PC or Smartphones.

We hope that these concepts can create awareness to the general public on how RFID can be better utilised in Singapore, especially with the labour-crunch in Singapore, where productivity is highly encouraged.

IAA: What are some of the opportunities and challenges that exist for your company in this region, especially in regard to RFID technology?

With the support from Singapore government to improve productivity as a whole, I foresee it is good opportunity to get more companies try out this technology to help them achieve higher productivity, and to solve their labour-crunch.

The Singapore government has been very generous in giving grants (PIC, ICV) to all companies, both SMEs and MNCs, to implement schemes to help them improve productivity. As such the opportunity in Singapore is good.

Challenges would still be the relatively high cost of RFID tags as compared to conventional barcode labels. In this region, businesses tends to compete strongly against each other in terms of cost, and productivity is commonly hard to measure tangibly , as such take-up rate for RFID is still low.

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