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If your organization is considering the use of RFID to track assets, this recent discussion on device costs and integration during a recent RFID WebForum should be helpful.

Topic: Device cost

Moderator: Let’s talk more about the cost of these devices and what some of the options are, and as people are evaluating this, what do they need to keep in mind.

Todd: Cost for the reader itself--and for the purpose of this conversation, we will continue to base that on UHF, or ultra-high frequency. This is what I am going to call the mainstream RFID practice today. Because it has matured quickly over the last ten years, and a lot of investment has been made in that technology, the cost has been driven down.

There are alternatives, such as HF, battery assisted passive and active. But assuming everybody wants to talk about UHF, reader prices start in the $500 range and go up from there. An all-in-one reader would be $1000. The most expensive e-port readers are probably $2000. You can also get a reader that is wireless that has sensors in it and that sort of thing for $3000 to $4000. You can get handheld readers for anywhere from $1500 to $4000. So, it is highly variable for the equipment.

The tags start at 15 cents for the lowest cost paper tags. People keep talking about the five cent tag and there are threats of that although we haven’t seen that play out in a real way. You may be able to get tags for 10-12 cents in quantity and then rigid tags go up from there, maybe a dollar or two dollars each.

Moderator:  Is this like any other technology or most technologies where the price comes down over time?

Todd: Yes. The maturity of UHF RFID certainly has come down in a significant way but it has stabilized over the last two to three years. We saw the biggest change after Wal-Mart issued their mandates in the early 2000’s. The technology was fairly expensive and the quality wasn’t there. You were getting bad tags on the order of 10% on a roll of labels for example. There were several price drops and several--many, many innovations since then and we have seen kind of a stabilization of tag and reader pricing over the last few years like I mentioned. Most of the innovation now has been in the tags.

So there are a lot more tags, a lot of alternatives in tags; tag sizes, tag performance, tag data. The amount of data that you can store in a tag goes up. The technology certainly is continuing to change more or less in the way of feature functionality. I don’t think the pricing is going to go significantly lower.

Patricia D.: Is it possible to source large volumes globally? It sounds like there are a lot of vendors out there. Has that been the experience?

Steve N.: What we have found is we like to focus on a global tag, a tag that can be read regardless of the reader frequency. There are different frequencies from the US to Europe to Asia so that is something that you do need to be aware of if you are shipping your containers around. Really when it comes to total cost what we have found is that the physics just work. It depends on how much you want to put towards it to make it work.

There is a lot more to it than just tags, readers and antennas. There is the whole idea of once you collect the data off of the tag, what do you do with it? Do you have a middleware or a back end system? We have utilized OAT as kind of our middleware traffic cop to manage the huge volume of information coming through. Then we use that to help pipe the specific data we want to our back end systems. So the development of these interfaces and things can really add up very quickly.

Moderator:  OAT is a vendor?

Steve N.: Yes. OAT Systems is owned by Check Point.

Todd: They are a manufacturer of enterprise software systems.

Moderator: Steve, are you working with any type of a firm like AbeTech to assist with evaluation and acquisition?

Steve N.: We have worked with a company called Rush Tracking. They have just gone through a couple of name changes. I think they are now Total Tracks. They have come up with a pretty interesting fork truck solution if you are trying to manage product and fork trucks on your shop floor or warehouse. They are also a full integrator as well.

Moderator:   Todd, will people be able to find some of this info on your website regarding costs and things like that? What is your website but the way?

Todd: It is and we don’t have any pricing or anything but you can see some of the manufacturers’ information there and from there you can go to their websites for additional information. Generally speaking there are not a lot of costs that are published for this stuff.

Steve N.: One of the things that we found is that most of the actual vendors of these products don’t sell directly to an end customer. You usually go through an integrator of some sort. So your Aliens, your Motorolas, InterMecs, all of those, you typically can’t go to them and set up a PO with them. You would end up working through an integrator.

Patricia D.: From some of our research, and we are pretty early in this, we were researching it and it looked a like a lot of the manufacturing went back to one company in China and it didn’t look like they could support the volumes that we needed. So I am kind of hoping that maybe there are more vendors out there that we can look at.

Steve N.: Was that from a tag standpoint?

Patricia D.: From a tag perspective, yes; not the reader.

Steve N.: Roughly how many are you looking at?

Patricia D.: Well let’s see, 30,000.

Steve N.: That is not a lot of tags to be honest with you. A lot of tags would be on the order of hundreds of thousands or millions of tags. Your biggest price breaks come over 100,000. So 30,000 tags is almost off the shelf or should be.

Todd: That is correct.

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