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Ruggedised and apparel RFID becomes popular

24 September 2008

The IDTechEx Knowledgebase of over 3,500 RFID projects in 109 countries illustrates how this market of over $5 billion is rapidly diversifying. For example, ruggedised RFID tags have long been sold in volume for opening your car door at a distance and for industrial laundry. However, in the last six months, most of the sellers of disposable UHF labels used in the retail supply chain and on air baggage report a rapid increase in requests for ruggedised versions.

Ruggedised and apparel RFID becomes popular
Ruggedised and apparel RFID becomes popular

That usually involves the capability of working on metal in addition to the ability to withstand mechanical, chemical, thermal and electromagnetic abuse. Such tags are therefore often referred to as on-metal tags and most of them rely on thick plastic, with some employing clever electromagnetic materials as well.
Compare the use of disposable tags for retail apparel with tags fitted for life in laundry. In both cases it is done simply for stock control. The next phase is to combine the best features of both in order to provide many other paybacks and consumer benefits. Tagging of rented apparel and linen is carried out by over one hundred commercial and dedicated laundries in military establishments, hospitals, casinos and so on. It is well established. Over 150 million items are laundered by industrial laundries across the world and some items, such as uniforms, are replaced and re-tagged within one year. New versions of laundry tags take the form of small buttons and colour matched discs.

In addition, IDTechEx have a clearly demonstrated business case for disposable tags on apparel in the retail supply chain. Over 200 million of these disposable apparel tags are being fitted this year and one hundred times that number is in prospect in ten years time. About 60 retailers and their suppliers are now copying this and wondering why they did not do so earlier, such are the benefits in profit and customer service.

Emboldened by the success of Marks and Spencer in the UK and many others, impressive fashion and retail groupings in Germany, Italy and Japan are now trialling the many other potential benefits that can be realised if we move beyond RFID simply for stock control of apparel.

This calls for testing to establish which potential benefits are worthwhile. An affordable tag must be created that is neither the disposable apparel tag of today nor the heavy, ruggedised laundry tag but something combining the benefits of both, typically in a light weight, thin, woven designer label fitted for life.

An RFID tag in a designer label must withstand dry cleaning, washing machines and irons. In other applications such as electrodes in refining and being set in concrete, ruggedised RFID tags are variously withstanding hot acid mist, extremely alkaline environments and more. Even UHF tags, traditionally among the most sensitive to metal and water nearby, are being used on metal computer equipment and in wet environments when specially made for the purpose. In future, about 1% of UHF tags will be made in this way and their premium price means that they will represent at least 10% of the market. Enhanced systems are often needed as well for these challenging applications and sensing may be involved.

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