RFID Networking at Heathrow (Part 1)

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Last week saw the 7th RFID Network Forum take place at Sheraton Skyline Hotel, Heathrow. This biannual event has been the fount of wisdom for anyone looking at RFID to solve business issues. Its mix of presentations, discussion groups and 1:1 meetings has provided a great way of networking and being educated under one event. As the organisers of the Forum, Enterprise Events Ltd, stated, over two thousand participants have discovered the unique benefits of the RFID Networking Forum, learning from peer interaction and sharing best practice with their counterparts. Although the numbers were down this summer compared to the last event in November, the calibre of presenters was as good as usual; even if yours truly was a speaker on both days!

The event this year was over two days with the first day being a special Trade Day, with a programme of partnering meetings, sector briefings, technology transfer opportunities and feedback on market trials. The second day contained a wide-ranging programme of roundtable discussion groups led by end-users and other thought-leaders. I will discuss this second day in a later article.

The Forum opened on June 20th with the Chairman of the day, Nigel Rix of Aid Consultants Ltd., with a look back on the history of RFID as a way of putting the subject matter into perspective.

Nigel highlighted all the areas where RFID is being used and the benefits that can be derived from the technology. He saw the potential of RFID technology as enormous in terms of:

  • maximising value through understand the full breadth of implications & opportunities
  • minimising the risk of failure by appreciating the pitfalls associated with technology selection, integration & implementation

However, to achieve this all the right skills are need to brought to bear from Change management & Process re-engineering, to RFID physical implementation & Regulatory implications, to Technology integration & Enterprise systems, to Program management & Return on Investment, and finally to Corporate and social responsibility. He concluded with an apt final thought, “People do things because either they have to do it or they want to do it and can afford it. In Industry it is rare that we do something because we can do it”.

The second talk was by me (Simon Holloway). I had been asked to look at the question “To partner or not, that is the question!” So after a bit of misquoted Shakespeare, I looked at the issue that no single player in the market can provide: a complete solution to users. This proposition is based on the complexity of a complete RFID solution. RFID projects not only involve RFID technology, but also all the standard issues of any major IT project for the business with data management, integration (process definitiona and rules), project management and even change management. Additionally, I have found few organisation have really understood what they need to do with the information they are collecting and how it can be used both at the edge of the enterprise or even at the centre to provide real-time decision support.

I gave 3 different examples of successful partnering. The first of these was Microsoft with their development of RFID Middleware as part of the BizTalk Server product through the use of a partner advisory council. This resulted not only in the delivery of a product that met the requirements of all the partners, but also in a secondary effect of these same partners working together on solutions for business. The second example I used was of the partnership built between Toshiba, ADT Tyco and UPM Raflatac under the “RFID@Toshiba” banner (I will produce a more detailed article on this later in July at the full public launch). The final example was a new partnership launched at the event by 3 small consultancies called ConstructRFID.

I concluded with the statement that suppliers should not look to be a Jack of all Trades, but instead to play to their strengths. By using partners to fill the gaps in their propositions and building partnerships around joint market propositions, a more rounded and more successful marketing approach could be achieved. If you like it doesn’t matter whether you are large or smaller—partnering still means 2 + 2 = 5!!!

This month sees the opening of a new EU funding initiative—Framework 7. Richard Foggie (Assistant Director, Electronics Innovation, DTI) and Peter Walters (National Contact Point for ICT, FP7UK) gave an overview of the Framework. The fundamentals of the way the funding works can be summarised as:

  • Innovative Projects
  • 50% support—more if you are an SME, etc.—the Commission will give you their fraction of what you spend (however, beware!—I have heard from a number of sources that the Commission has been a poor payer to SMEs involved in the previous Framework 6 agreement)
  • Involving Partners from Multiple Countries—at least 3
  • Topics identified by The Commission’s Work programme
  • In response to specific calls for Proposals
  • By means of a Grant Agreement with The European Commission.

Peter Walters gave some very good guidance to prospective organisations interested in seeking funding. The key is really not to think about using the funding for short term objectives, nor to enable your company to survive—it will take about a year before you will get your first payment!! It is really about longer term knowledge generation, particularly where there are things you can’t do alone. It is about collaboration towards Standards and Interoperability as well as a way to establish and bind an expanded networks of contacts. If you or your organisation is interested in Framework 7 funding and is not sure what to do then I would strongly recommend making contact with Peter Walters.

The morning sessions concluded with Guy Peters (Project Leader – West Midlands Mobile & Wireless, University of Wolverhampton) then looked at the role of the academic partner in delivering EU funded projects. With my own connections to University of Kingston and the Institute of Technology, Tralee, I am well aware of the opportunities for industry to use academic institutes to help with research and development to solve business issues with bleeding edge technologies.

The afternoon sessions on Day 1 gave the attendees a look at what was happening with RFID in other parts of Europe. This started with a series of presentations from Hungary introduced by David Kétszeri (Senior Consultant, GS1 Hungary). The first of these looked the way RFID had been used by TEVA Hungary, a pharmaceutical wholesaler. This is a UHF approach covering from item level to pallet tracking. At item level not only is the GTIN being stored on the tag but also a unique identity number, the production number and the expiry date. The middleware used is Oracle’s Sensory Edge Server. The next presentation was from Péter Regos (Technical Advisor, Barcode System House). It looked at the state of the market in Hungary. There are a number of enquiries coming in each day but there are a number of misconceptions around the capabilities of RFID. Few organisations have the right capital allocated. Most installations in Hungary are based around closed loop solutions. The final presentation from Hungary was from Dr. Ottó Zsebok of Group 4 Securicor – Microraab. G4S have developed specialised combination of RFID and fingerprint recognition to link access control to access tracking.

August Nilssen of e-Forum Norway gave a review of the state of RFID in Scandinavia. Norway is dominated by the Oil and Gas Industry, but other live RFID projects include waste management in Bergen, ski passes from Ski-Data and auto passes for toll roads from Q-Free ASA. Norway is also using RFID to monitor polar bears in a joint project with Russia! The big project is the DOTS™ Drilling Operations Tracking System—a total system involving the whole drill pipe supply chain.

Swedish projects include:

  • Building sites covering personnel authorisation and identification.
  • Svensk Handel:
    • SHOP-ON. This is a demonstration of a fully automated check-out system including payment by credit card. The payment approval is by PIN-code or touch screen.
    • SHOP-Info. This is a national product information database.
  • Car manufacturers using RFID tagging of incoming components.
  • Swedish Steel AB: Active tags on shuttle wagons / 8 trains so as to identify shipments, products, positioning and sensor data, temperature and movement.

Danish projects include:

  • Mærsk Container management for Heineken: this involves tracking of the containers with RFID and GPS to obtain Geo fencing.
  • DanskPost:
    • Test letters for Automatic Mail Quality Measurement.
    • Lyngsoe Systems has tagged 25,000 roller cages with semi-active tags to keep track of these assets.
  • Legoland in Billund are using RFID for Child Security.
  • IKEA Children’s furniture uses RFID to provide “how to use” instructions on your mobile. This uses NFC protocols.
  • The KIM SCM-project. RFID tagged pallets to give more exact information about where pallets are located in the Supply Chain.

Finish projects include:

  • NOKIA Field Force Solution for field force personnel, this provides staff identification, tracking of task completion, access control, asset tracking and inventory control.
  • KAMO—The Mobile Guide for City Travellers (NFC).
  • Public transport information in real time (Helsinki and Oulu).
  • Finland’s Post. Pilot in 2006 tagging roll containers, passive tags. Roll-out on 200,000 roll containers in 2007.
  • AkerYards. Tracking / authorization of personnel and helmet tags.

Philippe de Matteis of DMPH Consultants concluded this section of the Forum by looking at what was going on in France. I found this interesting for what was missed as well as what Philippe told us. No mention of the use of RFID by Peugeot and Renault or even anything on what Airbus were doing in Toulouse and across various suppliers in France! The French RFID market has a large number of IHV companies providing hardware from tags to readers and printers. However there are no French companies producing RFID middleware and the specialist SI market is dominated by SMEs. Philippe told us a lot about the use of smart cards (those used by both Visa and MasterCard are manufactured in France).

The concluding session of the conference started with John Davies of UK Trade and Investment providing tips for developing international business connections. For any UK company wanting to understand how to use the government to get help with investment and trade matters this was an informative session. Particularly when you learn that between 2005–2008 R&D grants totalling $576 million are available. To summarise UKTI can:

  • Provide impartial advice on setting up in UK.
  • Fast track access to business networks, e.g. MVCE, Digital TV Group, Intellect.
  • Trade promotion services to help you exploit the UK, European & global markets.
  • Global Partnership Scheme—increasing your innovation potential by finding you the right UK partner.
  • OMIS Overseas Market Information Survey.
  • Mission visits to overseas markets and into the UK.
  • Scoping Studies.
  • Individual company Programme arrangement.

The day ended with a panel session. The panel was made up of 3 user companies who have implemented RFID. The panel consisted of: Simon Reynish, Logistics Project Manager, AG Barr; Andrew Price, RFID Project Manager, IATA; and Peter Lai, Manufacturing Development Technician, NGF Europe Ltd. I am not sure that the use of users on a panel where the audience consisted of vendors worked.

However, overall this was a great day for the suppliers in the RFID market in the UK to get together and talk and share experiences as well build new relationships. I am looking forward to the planned next event in October.