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What if every consumer product had its own digital identity? How many items would need to be tagged to make this vision a reality? Items that require labeling include everyday consumer products (such as clothing, food, and household items), a wide variety of business assets (such as tools, equipment, documents, and medicines), and all packaging and returnable shipping items used in the supply chain (RTI). Digital identities make managing and using all of these things more efficient, potentially reducing the use of unsustainable natural resources.
Let items have digital identities and connect to the Internet of Things, RAIN RFID technology is the first choice. Systems and people are able to manage, interact and reach a variety of everyday things through this technology. Several markets, including retail, aviation, and automotive, are already adopting RAIN RFID technology. Other industries such as healthcare, logistics, food and package services are also in the early stages of using RAIN RFID.
According to the RAIN Alliance, RAIN RFID usage is growing strongly. An estimated 21 billion RAIN RFID tag ICs were delivered in 2020, a 15% increase from the previous year. So while billions of items are labeled with this label every year, RAIN Market Research reports that the market potential should actually be in the trillions.
The evolution of tagging strategies
Many industries have already adopted RAIN RFID tags, but the process of attaching a tag containing a digital identity to an item is completely separate, adding an extra step to the manufacture and packaging of the item.
We have witnessed the evolution of RAIN RFID tags from the supplementary part of the item to the important part. In other words, in the future, everything will have a digital birth certificate.
Embedded RAIN RFID Tag: Digitized Birth Certificate
Embedding RAIN RFID tags on product packaging or on products has various advantages.
From a manufacturing perspective, the embedded RAIN RFID IC omits the step of manually affixing labels on the finished product, resulting in a more streamlined production process.
From an operational standpoint, giving each item a unique RFID identification means that items can be tracked throughout the supply chain, distribution, retail, all the way to the end customer, and even recycling. Companies can also improve inventory efficiency and process transparency—two essential elements for operations such as “order online, pick up offline” (BOPIS) and omnichannel selling in the e-commerce era.
Going a step further, the adoption of embedded RAIN RFID means that companies can provide after-sales and warranty services more efficiently, as warranties and other ownership rights can be retained even if the item is resold, returned or recycled.
Remove bottlenecks and support growth
Despite the general understanding of the label manufacturing value chain, there are still some barriers to capacity assurance as smart label adoption continues to deepen. The toughest of these should be encoding, or personalization, assigning each item its unique digital identity.
Whether the RAIN RFID tag is part of an external hang tag or embedded into the item itself, writing a unique identifier is often the last step on a production line or high-speed packaging machine. This can create a bottleneck. Combined with the expected increase in the number of labels, it’s clear that scaling to support growth could become a real challenge.
How to keep up with demand
In general, the earlier in the supply chain, the more economical it is to implement personalized labeling (i.e. establishing a link between physical goods and digital identities). Ideally, personalized labels should be implemented at the manufacturing stage.
There are two ways to implement this label, one is outsourced and the other is done in-house:
Manufacturers use third-party companies as service agencies to encode labels in a completely independent link. Manufacturers must realize that this link also includes the management of digital identities, ensuring that the identities of two items of the same type are not duplicated. This is a very important link and can add to the complexity of outsourced tasks. Price tags and exterior hangtags will likely continue this approach.
ŸDone within the company
Coding can be done at the packaging stage or on the production line. This requires data connectivity, data management, reliability assurance, and subtle changes to existing processes, thus requiring a production-grade solution. The advantage of this is that companies can tailor their own products, eliminating the need for outsourcing steps, and delivering more quickly and flexibly.
RAIN RFID’s ability to connect everyday objects to the Internet of Things continues to gain market recognition, so there will be increasing demand for products designed with RAIN RFID as a core identity and products with digital birth certificates. As labels transition from being a product supplement to being part of a product (or at least product packaging), label coding demand will grow significantly. To better meet demand, product manufacturers must decide to outsource coding, or make coding part of their own production chain.
Director of RAIN RFID Solutions, NXP Semiconductors
Through close cooperation with the company’s partners, his vision is no longer limited to the IC field, but is aimed at the development and implementation of complete solutions. James has over 15 years of experience in RFID technology representing companies throughout the supply chain, including hardware manufacturers, system integrators and end users.