Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Five Years Later, National Animal I.D. Program Still Struggles for Final Outline

Charlene M. Shupp
Special Sections Editor


LANCASTER, Pa. — When the U.S.’s first case of mad cow disease or BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) was discovered on Christmas Eve 2003, suddenly a national animal identification program rose to top priority for animal health. In the years since, the national program has struggled in its efforts to meet the needs of consumers and producers.

Steve Hershey, a dairy farmer from Manheim, addressed the April Agriculture Issues Forum here last week on how new animal identification technology has benefited his farm and where the National Animal Identification System, or NAIS, is at today.

Hershey told the audience at the Farm and Home Center that since his childhood days on the family’s century-old dairy farm he has been a lover of animal records. In a time before computers, he tracked the production of his father’s cows by plotting the monthly production records on a graph. He said the first drive for animal identification came in the form of a visible identification to avoid cheating on milk testing and brucellosis testing.

The identification solution was the small metal tags that grace cow’s ears. The problem was the cows could lose the tags easily and they were hard to read.

Also, there was not a sound record keeping system of what farms were issued what numbers. If a problem arose in a slaughterhouse, the only information that could be verified was the state where the cow was born.

The Hershey family moved to RFID (radio frequency I.D.) tags in 2004 as part of a pilot project from DHIA.

“Animal tracking is something of a concern worldwide,” Hershey said. “Especially in America because of how much animals move.”

To highlight the importance of accurate tracking, he cited a hypothetical example of a diseased animal at the Farm Show that is not discovered until after the show and all the animals have returned to their farms or moved to the next event.

Since the first case of BSE, animal tracking has had mixed results. The first BSE cow’s herdmates and offspring were relatively easily found through tags. However, two subsequent cases in the U.S. were not as easily tracked because of the failure of sound recordkeeping at the farm.

The plan was to give every animal location a premises identification number and the animals RFID tags so the U.S. and state agriculture departments could perform a traceback on all diseased animals within 48 hours.

However, as Hershey has found out, the issue has struck an emotional chord with some livestock and horse owners. Most people he said are mainly concerned with privacy. It’s a concern he believes is misguided.

“We need to make sure that people get the correct information” about NAIS, he said, noting that much of the information on the Internet regarding the proposed programs is incorrect. However, if people are performing a simple search it could be the misleading information that they read and base their opinions on.

Hershey concluded there are legitimate concerns out there and that armers need to be upfront and address them.

“Let’s just face it, there is no such thing as privacy in America anymore,” he said. His take home message about technology is how the information is used. The RFID tags, he said, utilize the same computer scanning technology as the Easy Pass System on the Turnpike. The turnpike commission is considering ticketing Easy Pass users that reach their destination “too fast” based on the mileage traveled. A recent lawsuit by a Pittsburgh couple claimed that a satellite imaging program has reduced the value of the home — however, anyone can go to the county assessor’s Website and search their address and discover the price paid for the house and the county’s rating on the residence.

While Pennsylvania has a premises ID program, the overall national program has stalled. Species have been broken down, Hershey said, with cattle receiving the highest priority; goats, swine and chickens medium priority, and horses and sheep low priority.

USDA “has backed off on their animal ID program. It is not as ambitious,” he said. Instead of forcing a farm to use RFID tags, they are asking for an animal identification program that enables a tracking of animals either by metal tags, breed association ID or RFID.

Technology in identification will be driven not by animal tracking, but by herd management needs, according to Hershey. RFID tags can help farmers with tracking cow production, sorting and recordkeeping.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

RFID's Elusive Market - FromKrystin Stafford 04.21.08, 2:40 PM ET

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology has been widely acknowledged to have the potential to significantly change the consumer packaged goods industry. The reality has yet to live up to the high expectations. Could 2008 be the year?

RFID is wireless technology that links "tags" (transponders) with "readers" (receivers). The tags contain information that can be read by a reader in range. For example, if you flip through a new book, a small, shiny square may fall out from between the pages; were someone to walk out of the store without paying, that little square--an RFID tag--could alert the staff.

In 2003, Wal-Mart (nyse: WMT - news - people ) mandated that its largest suppliers put RFID tags on cases and pallets. Pundits expected the consumer packaged goods industry to quickly adopt the technology, both to benefit from RFID use in supply chain management and to maintain standing with retailers.

However, results were not as expected. Wal-Mart installed RFID in distribution centers more slowly than anticipated, and some suppliers voiced concerns about the expense of RFID and the low returns associated with the investment. Five years after the mandate, Wal-Mart's RFID efforts have shifted focus. Widespread adoption of RFID in the consumer packaged goods industry isn't likely to occur until a sufficient value proposition emerges. This value proposition is likely to be found where the expectations are highest, using RFID to track each individual item in the supply chain by acting as a high-tech bar code.

Recall that bar codes themselves were a significant technological innovation. The bar code system took decades to be adopted, yet today it is pervasive. Retailers such as Wal-Mart have good reason to push for RFID use--they stand to benefit significantly from it. Whether for loss prevention or to enhance the consumer experience, retailers have clear jobs-to-be-done for which RFID is a solid solution, and therefore they have an incentive to adopt the technology.

As for consumer packaged goods, the lower margins and higher volume of most consumer packaged goods do not easily allow for the expense of RFID on an item-level basis. That is, the value proposition for the consumer packaged goods industry to use RFID for item-level supply chain management is not yet sufficient. Other challenges have included technological issues, high start-up costs, and issues associated with network effects. For example, the "good enough" bar for RFID applications was initially quite high. Getting the tag and reader advanced enough to perform at the necessary level has taken considerable time and resources.

However, the main challenge to widespread adoption of RFID technology is network effects. While RFID can be used without substantial networking infrastructure, its real benefits come from software functionality and applications in a network. This means software must be further developed and significant financial investments made to create the infrastructure needed to support the widespread use of RFID technology.

Another network-effects challenge is that RFID technology becomes more effective as networks grow, which will reduce costs and create more cohesive, comprehensive networks. However, because RFID has not been widely adopted and the networks are not robust, it does not make sense to some to adopt RFID yet.

It is hard to imagine that RFID will not one day be a global standard for supply-chain management. However, in the short term, different uses and more attractive value propositions continue to emerge. These include the kinds of low-end applications typical of early-stage technological innovations--such as using RFID to track promotional displays to ensure proper placement and display times--applications where "good enough" gets the job done. These lower-tech applications are also less sensitive to network effects and could even serve as a catalyst for RFID to move into the mainstream in the consumer packaged goods industry in the future.

Will the right conditions be in place in 2008 for RFID to take off in the consumer packaged goods industry? Most likely not. In 2008 we are more likely to see RFID continue to expand in lower-tech applications that may help move it into the consumer packaged goods mainstream in future years. The lesson: New technologies rarely achieve immediate industry-wide adoption, and in fact, many never achieve it at all. A more effective initial approach for new technologies can be finding niche applications that can serve as a beachhead for expansion into larger markets.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Microsoft Broadens RFID Integration

The company's latest BizTalk RFID software aims to foster management and integration of RF-based applications across the enterprise.


Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) this week unwrapped a beta version of BizTalk RFID Mobile for developing mobile applications in a variety of business sectors.

The new platform contains multiple, compatible technologies and development tools to help customers develop applications for existing systems, Microsoft said Thursday. Its partners for BizTalk RFID Mobile include Intermec Technologies, Motorola, Psion Teklogix, Samsung, and Unitech, according to Burley Kawasaki, director of product management in the Connected Systems Division at Microsoft.

While the new RFID development environment is in private beta now, it's expected to be generally available by the end of the year.

Microsoft also unveiled Thursday the BizTalk RFID Standards Pack, for customers to seamlessly integrate their RFID solutions with Electronic Product Code (EPC) global ratified standards, including Tag Data Translator (TDT) and Low Level Reader Protocol (LLRP) standards.

"Microsoft BizTalk RFID Mobile underscores the company's long-term commitment to deliver extensive service-oriented architecture (SOA) and business process management (BPM) capabilities as part of the overall Microsoft application platform," the vendor said, in a statement.

BizTalk Server 2006 R2, Microsoft's SOA and BPM technology, handles certain RFID functions, including device management, data filtering and business rules, electronic data interchange, and is interoperable with line-of-business adapters. BizTalk RFID Mobile used jointly with BizTalk Server 2006 R2 extends RFID business processes to Windows CE and Windows Mobile 5.0 applications, the vendor said.

These sorts of hybrid combinations are a natural for Microsoft and its customers, according to John Fontanella, VP of research at AMR Research. "The ability to operate at the edge in real time opens up opportunities that can only further enhance RFID's value," he said, in a statement.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Airbus Trials Showing Strong Results

The aircraft manufacturer has decided to permanently roll out an RFID application for tracking jigs, and has also launched other RFID pilots for tracking work orders and tools.

By Mary Catherine O'Connor
April 16, 2008—Airbus has decided to permanently roll out one of the many RFID applications it had been testing in recent months, says Carlo K. Nizam, the company's head of value-chain visibility and RFID. According to Nizam, Airbus has also begun two other RFID technology trials.

The RFID application the aircraft manufacturer is deploying tracks the location of the large metal frames, known as jigs, that it uses to transport large aircraft sections between a total of 13 manufacturing and assembly facilities. Workers employ a cargo loader to move a jig onto and out of a huge cargo aircraft, dubbed the Beluga because it resembles a whale.

To load parts onto the Beluga, workers use transport frames known as jigs.

Airbus launched a pilot program last year at an assembly plant in Hamburg, Germany, in which an RFID interrogator mounted on the cargo loader collects the unique identifier encoded to a passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tag attached to each jig . In back-end software, the company associates the tag's identifier with the part or parts being delivered on the jig.
The system is intended to provide Airbus with quick access to the jigs' location, based on their most recent tag reads. Because each jig is designed to accommodate a specific airplane part, it needs to be promptly unloaded and returned to the proper facility according to a tight manufacturing timetable. If not, Nizam says, the delay could negatively impact an aircraft's production schedule.
"In the past, we've had little visibility about what was where," Nizam says regarding the jigs. Previously, he notes, the company had only used manual methods—sometimes as rudimentary as a worker walking out to a storage area—to determine the frames' locations.

"We were very happy with results of the Hamburg pilot," Nizam says, "so management gave approval to move forward" and deploy the technology permanently. This deployment will begin at the Hamburg location, then expand to the 12 other facilities to which the Beluga delivers aircraft sections and subassemblies. Airbus is attaching tags from Intermec and Confidex to the jigs, as well as mounting EPC Gen 2 interrogators made by Feig Electronic to the cargo loaders.
According to Nizam, Airbus also recently launched two other RFID-based technology pilots. One trial is aimed at evaluating the use of RFID for tracking work orders, replacing a method that currently involves a combination of bar-code scanning and manual data entry. The company hopes using RFID can both help employees more quickly confirm each step in the process, and also make it easier to locate assembly parts and accompanying paperwork in storage in the event of production changes.

Carlo K. Nizam

Airbus is employing passive RFID Gen 2 hardware for the pilot, attaching the tags to the work order documents. The firm began the pilot early this year and plans to continue running it until mid-May. At that point, it will decide whether to deploy the system on a permanent basis. A second pilot, which commenced in January at an Airbus facility in Broughton, England, is a tool-tracking application. For this project, Airbus is employing a combination of passive RFID Gen 2 and active Wi-Fi real-time location technology.
"We are looking to see if RFID-enabled processes improve the handling of tools," Nizam says, citing three specific applications within tool tracking. One is an automated means of checking RFID-tagged tools into and out of a storage facility, intended to track the location of tools, as well as the person or group using them. Another application uses RFID tags attached to tools to locate the tools within a facility. And the third involves the use of RFID to track each tool's usage, to establish its maintenance and calibration schedule.
Presently, Nizam explains, tools are put through maintenance and calibration steps based on a calendar, regardless of how often they are used. "One tool might be used 50 times in one month," he says, "and another tool [of the same type] might be used 100 times in that same month. If we know this information, then we can maintain and calibrate tools when they need it, rather than per a time basis, and this will save us time and money."

The tool-tracking pilot will run until July, Nizam indicates, at which point the company will decide whether to deploy the system permanently. Airbus believes there are many other areas within operations that could benefit from RFID, including parts lifecycle tracking, but Nizam says the firm has not yet begun any formal testing of RFID in these areas.
To help it implement its various RFID deployment and pilot projects, the aircraft manufacturer recently signed a multimillion-dollar, multiyear contract with enterprise software firm IBM and RFID software and application provider OATSystems.
The OATSystems RFID data management and asset-tracking software will run on IBM's WebSphere RFID device-management and data-filtering software. Martin Wildberger, IBM's VP of RFID solutions, says a flexible architecture makes WebSphere attractive to Airbus because the software can reside either directly on an intelligent RFID reader or on a separate server—depending on the business application—or it could be used in combination with a reader networking device.

Michael George, chief executive officer of OATSystems, says his company has collaborated closely on a number of other RFID deployments, and that its platform contains software applications designed for specific business processes that Airbus will be able to leverage. These applications include parts maintenance, asset tracking and repair and overhaul.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Alien Technology Announces New EPC Gen 2 Chip

The Higgs 3 chip is more sensitive to RF signals than earlier models, sports a read password to secure data and comes with 512 bits of user memory.

By Mary Catherine O'Connor
April 7, 2008—Alien Technology has announced the Higgs 3, its latest chip for EPC Gen 2 Class 1 UHF passive tags. In response to demand from end users, Alien has built a number of features into the chip that go beyond simple track and trace functionality, says Bill Brown, the company's senior manager of product marketing. These features include a means of locking the data encoded to the Higgs 3 chip, for privacy applications, as well as 512 bits of user memory, so users can save more than just an Electronic Product Code (EPC) to the tag.
In addition, the Higgs 3 is pre-encoded with a 64-bit unique tag identification number (TID) that comes standard, whereas the Higgs 2—which has been shipping since December 2006—supported a TID no bigger than 32 bits. By reading a tag's TID and associating it with the EPC, or with any other tag data encoded to the chip, an end user can authenticate the tag as it moves through a supply chain.
Brown says Alien engineers have leveraged the existing write password function that is part of the EPC Gen 2 standard in order to build a read password function into the Higgs 3 chip. A write password prevents an authorized third party from changing the data encoded to a Gen 2 tag, but does not prevent a third party from reading the tag's data, which could be done with any standard Gen 2 interrogator. "Our customers want the option to make Gen 2 tags unreadable through the use of a password," Brown says. Any EPC Gen 2 reader with the standard Gen 2 write password functionality, he adds, could be used to enact the read password function on a tag with a Higgs 3 chip.
According to Brown, Alien opted to give its new chip 512 bits of user memory—beyond the 96 bits allotted for an EPC—to make tags containing the Higgs 3 chip more attractive to end users looking to encode the tag with data that is associated with the product or asset to which that tag is attached, such as a chain-of-custody record, or maintenance history. Examples of applications in which end users could benefit from the additional user memory, Alien notes, include tracking airline baggage or establishing a chain-of-custody record for pharmaceutical products.
What's more, Brown says, the tag's additional memory could be used to accommodate EPCs longer than the standard 96 bits. The Gen 2 data construct allows for an EPC of up to 496 bits, he explains, and the unique identification numbers that U.S. Department of Defense suppliers must use are also longer than 96 bits.
Brown says tests conducted by Alien show tags made with the Higgs 3 chip to be 25 percent more sensitive to RF signals than those made with the Higgs 2 chip—which, he says, are 25 percent more sensitive to RF signals than other tags currently available. As the chip's read sensitivity increases, the amount of power required for it to operate, or to be activated by the interrogator, decreases. Moreover, the more read-sensitive a tag's chip is, the greater the read range (or distance from a reader) the tag can support. Last week, RFID chip maker Impinj unveiled its Monza 3 chip, which it claims is 40 percent more sensitive than other Gen 2 chips now on the market

Monday, April 7, 2008

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