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Issue of October 2004 
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RFID

Pursuing business any time anywhere

RFID has been only too talked about in the Indian IT circle. Gartner addressed RFID concerns in their summit held recently in Mumbai. CII plan to talk about it in their forum. Indeed, Indian CIOs from across the board are showing interest in the technology. Let's take a look at why… by Deepali Gupta

Indian CIOs adopt a test based approach to any new technology…and with good reason. They weigh every solution's pros and cons. They allow the technology to get a foothold into the market instead of jumping the gun. That is exactly the phase RFIDs are going through in the Indian industry right now. “We saw the technology, found it interesting, and are now on the look out for where it can be implemented,” says KG Mohan, CIO HLL.

Vendors find an increasing number of queries regarding RFID from the Indian market. As of now RFID essentially fits in supply chain management and tracking. For instance, any supplier to WalMart has no choice but to deploy the technology.

Vehicle tracking is also popular deployment. And in the field of medicine, some of the major advantages are, tamper prevention for prescription drugs, and a reduction of smuggling rings.

Proof?

There are many possible implementations of RFID. They can be used, for inventory and supply chain management, vehicle tracking, and just for tracking articles within the store.

Presently in India, low frequency RFID technology is being used in animal tracking on farms and on the highway toll payment machines. But those are smart card solutions. India has yet to see a complete RFID deployment at an industrial level. But there are several pilots on way.

Wipro implemented a smart shelf system in an apparel shop on their campus as a pilot, using the EPC-IS Edge Server version 3.0 Beta and Alien Programmable Tags at 915 MHz. In all sincerity, that is not a feasible solution for the majority of stores in India. “It would cost about $100,000 for a big store to implement a smart shelf solution with no collision issues,” says Mani Subramaniam, Domain Head, Wipro Technologies. Nevertheless, this system can track if an item is on the wrong shelf or near the billing counter. Subramaniam suspects that this system in its current state would cause collision issues if implemented at a large scale.

The shelves used in this pilot are those of Arvind Mills. And according to Subramaniam, Arvind Mills is impressed with the solution and wish to expand it.

Possibility

Radhakrishna Pillai of SRL Ranbaxy says, “SRL Ranbaxy is seriously exploring the technology for use in the Clinical Trial market, because the RFID reduces the scope for a wrong sample.” The pharmaceuticals industry is one of the greatest hit by counterfeiting.

On the RFID, Pillai suggests, dynamic information from a variety of sources (e.g. investigators site as well as the lab) can be stored. “Technology is useful if it is affordable. After all, the business has to sustain and ROI should be clearly definable,” says Pillai. SRL may not completely break free of barcodes in the near future, but is open to pilots with RFIDs in the Clinical Trial cases.

Potential

The major potential comes from the much acclaimed no line of sight and simultaneous reading properties of RFID. For example in a case like vehicle tracking on a dockyard: at the time of entrance a tag will be attached to the vehicle. Then every time the vehicle passes the reading radius of a reader, information of where it went will be passed to the monitoring system. In a shopping mall, the customer need not empty the basket for every item to be billed. (S)He can drive the shopping cart through the point of sale, and the bill will be automatically generated.

An RFID can store upto 96 bits, which is 30 times more data than a barcode. It has the added advantage of unique serialization of every item. Its read/write functionality allows information to be update and rewritten on the tag. This provides a self-contained database or a mobile item history. Plus the RFID durability and reliability as far as reading information is concerned, make it functional for items prone to damage, typically while being shipped.

Problem

In all earnestness, RFID is not a new technology. In a way Smart Cards are low frequency RFIDs. And privacy issues, with an almost untraceable chip have been the talk of the tech circle since the 1970s. But similar concerns were once raised about barcodes…and those seem to have done wonders to inventory management.

The more important concern with RFIDs is compliance. “There are no set standards in RFIDs, to that extent compliance becomes an issue,” says Dilip Dhanuka, Patni System Computers Ltd. The lack of a common standard for both active and passive tags translates to compliance trouble between the middleware and front-end. So, implementing RFID comes with its own implementation of ERP or warehouse management system for suppliers. The frequency selection of the RFID is of great significance too.

Moreover, the cost of an RFID implementation is unthinkable for an average sized Indian business. “A full-scale smart shelf implementation will cost about $100,000,” says Mani Subramaniam. There is a clamor about the price even among the suppliers to WalMart. Then in India, what sounds a mere 40 cents still is close to Rs. 20. And till date there is no one producing RFIDs locally.

Party

Where on one hand we have the industry's top IT people looking at this technology skeptically, on the other we had the industrialists of India exploiting RFID technology to service people at weddings. Indeed, every invitation for Shubrato Roy's sons' weddings carried with it an RFID tag.

RFID was used for the security of the 20,000 invitees in senior positions from different walks of life. Each ID had a designated gate for entry and a restricted zone, so guests could not just wander in any location. In case of violation an alert was issued to the person monitoring the segment.

Deepali Gupta can be reached at deepali@networkmagazineindia.com

Tag along

Vehicle tracking using RFIDs is cheaper than using a smart card solution. Plus the read/write facility on the RFID makes it more functional. That sounds like a solution BPCL is on the lookout for.

“We are in process of selecting an implementation of RFID for Vehicle tracking in Refinery. We have found constraints in Technology suitable to our need. Currently we are still at stage of Proof of Concept,” says MD Agrawal, DGM IT, BPCL.

Based on the following assumptions:

  • The tags used in oil rich environment would be passive tags, because of danger of sparks and subsequent fire/explosion
  • The read range is limited to six feet
  • To track vehicles of medium size
  • The vehicles are moving in range of 80-120 KPH

Here is a solution:

The passive tag would operate in the UHF band between 860 MHz and 960 MHz. At the time the vehicle enters the campus the tag will be attached to a vehicle using its self-adhesive backing and it will be destroyed if tampered.

The tag can be read at distances such that readers (approx. at $1,000 each) can be placed on the side or on the tracks. The tags would cost 50 cents to one dollar each. The firm can expect the prices of RFID tags at prices below 60 cents for a volume of 5 million. For orders of 20 million or more, prices will be below 50 cents

If passive tags' read rate is not good, then active tags can be used. They would be enclosed in specially sealed gas tight containers (gas-tight means, the specific quality of a physical barrier to prevent any significant quantity of flammable gas or vapor from entering into an adjoining space.). These are called 'intrinsically safe' tags, because of the manner in which the circuit of the tag is constructed. However, this will be a more expensive solution and exact costs will vary depending on specific needs.

Solution courtesy Wipro Technologies

 
     
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