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HP To Open RFID Test Lab

Called the RFID Noisy Lab, it's designed to simulate a real-world manufacturing and distribution center. The lab opens in February.

Hewlett-Packard next month will open a radio-frequency identification test lab in its Omaha, Neb., returns facility to advance the development of RFID technology. The lab, announced Monday at the National Retail Federation's annual convention in New York, aims to simulate a real-world manufacturing and distribution center where customers and vendors can pilot and evaluate RFID technology and solutions. It's the first of several labs expected from HP in the future. The next could be in France.

The facility, dubbed RFID Noisy Lab, is part of a broader RFID initiative under way at HP designed to share with companies lessons it has learned. This year HP estimates it will use more than a million RFID tags for products its ship to retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. From its distribution centers around the world, the company already ships tagged cases and pallets to retailers and claims it has mastered the ability to read RFID-tagged cases and pallets 100% of the time on products that include HP Photosmart printer models, one HP Scanjet scanner model, All-in-One printers, HP iPAQ Pocket PCs, HP Compaq Presario desktop PCs, HP notebook computers, and HP LaserJet and Deskjet printers.

The 2,500-square-foot lab isn't set up to test sensor networks, but there's plenty of room in the 40,000-square-foot returns facility to expand as RFID systems extend from warehouses into the enterprise as companies rely on more data, says Salil Pradhan, chief technologist for HP's RFID program. Pradhan, who heads several projects at the company's Palo Alto, Calif., research and development lab, expects sensor testing will become available as customers require it. "We're focusing on RFID because that's what our customers want," he says. "The purpose of the Noisy Lab is to eventually have the ability to test all these types of sensors."

For now, the Noisy Lab will simulate a manufacturing and distribution center and include testing equipment such as a conveyor capable of reaching variable speeds up to 600 feet per minute. There's an RFID printer/write station where companies can electronically write and print to an RFID tag. The RFID portal can read pallet and case tags while a forklift moves through the station. There's a middleware server with an application from OatSystems Inc., and a pallet-wrap station on a turntable with RFID read capabilities.

Printronix Inc. will donate a SmartLine SL5304e MP RFID printer to enable encoding and printing of various RFID label sizes and antenna designs that have emerged as standards through early test programs. HP also is collaborating with several other companies to demonstrate RFID solutions, including ADT Sensormatic, Alien Technology, Applied Wireless Identifications, and Shipcom Wireless.

The industry is just at the start of using RFID technology, and the lab is helping HP understand how to become more efficient in real-life scenarios, Pradhan says. "The Noisy Lab is a place where our partners and customers can go to test their own RFID environment," he says. "They can test their own products and readers, test conveyors and read rates, then move that pilot into a real-world environment."

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