In my research on the RFID middleware market, I came across a number of vendors that were new to me. In a series of articles, I will provide a short overview of these products. The fourth of these is Loftware, who market enterprise printing solutions.
Loftware was founded in 1986 and therefore is one of the original organisations working in the barcode and RFID market. They have their headquarters in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in the USA. They have IHV partnerships with all the major printer players in the RFID market, including Alien, AWID, Intermec, Matrics, Printronix, ThingMagic and Zebra. Loftware also have ISV relationships with 3M Supply Chain Solutions (also known as 3M Highjump) and Oracle. They have an SI relationship with IBM Global Services.
Their stated experience is some 20 years of producing solutions for the automotive industry. Customer case studies include: Drugstore.com, Johns Hopkins, and American Pharmaceutical Partners (APP) in the healthcare sector; Goodrich Corp. in Automotive; Cannon Business Solutions, Harley-Davidson and Jessops in Retail; Sentai Software and Flextronics in Logisitcs.
The Print Server acts as a middleware component between medium to large-scale business systems and marking devices such as barcode and RFID label printers. The Print Server prints labels and RFID smart tags generated by any ERP/MRP and/or WMS systems. It includes interfaces that allow it to work with applications that are hosted on diverse operating systems including UNIX and Microsoft Windows Server. These host applications that offload barcode label and RFID tagging to the Print Server which translates the request into device specific code before sending it to the printers. The Loftware Print Server includes an RFID Reader Module that supports RFID reader hardware via a .NET API. This provides a common language for these RFID readers regardless of the hardware and tags being used.
The RFID Reader Module also comes with a Reader Simulator. This allows an implementation team to create, test, and troubleshoot their reader solutions without recreating a production environment.
The Connector establishes a high-speed 'connectivity bridge' between enterprise applications and the Print Server. The combination of the two products enables enterprise applications to generate barcode and RFID smart labels across large networks of thermal-transfer printers.
Loftware Label Manager is a barcode printing software application that allows the user to design and print barcode labels in a 'stand alone' environment that does not require integration into larger business systems.
Figure 1: Loftware product architecture example (Source: Loftware)
In the opinion of Bloor Research the following represent the key facts of which prospective users should be aware:
- With the Print Server, application programmers no longer have to write and maintain device specific code every time a labelling requirement changes.
- The Print Server provides some important runtime features concerned with error handling:
- Print jobs are automatically recovered and restarted in the event of an unscheduled system shutdown.
- Client programs are notified of system shutdown so that they can take appropriate action.
- If a printer is offline for any reason, jobs are queued and printed when the printer comes back online.
- The Connector supports 'Filters' being setup which cause it to retrieve or calculate any data that is missing from the request 'on-the-fly' at print time.
- The Reader .NET API provides full control of readers for pallet operations and for the verification of smart labels.
- The complete solution provides support for EPCglobal-based mandates and includes support for SSCC, SGTIN and SGLN.