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A Living Lab For RFID Testing

Four partners, including logistics company Tibbett & Britten Americas, launch a lab they say will let companies assess and test RFID in a real working warehouse environment.
Logistics company Tibbett & Britten Americas revealed Monday a new testing lab for radio-frequency identification projects. Connect Logistics Services Inc.'s distribution warehouse in Edmonton, Alberta, will serve as a "living" lab for RFID assessments.

Connect Logistics, the third-party logistics provider for the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, has expertise handling many products that contain liquids or have metallic packaging, which is typical of the liquor industry. Alcoholic beverages are some of the most challenging merchandise to tag with RFID chips because liquid absorbs and metal blocks the RF waves, making it hard to get accurate readings of the tags, says Kapil Bahadur, technology group director of IconNicholson, a professional-services firm that's partnering with Tibbett & Britten on the project.

"We know that if RFID works with liquids and metallic-type packaging products, if we see that we get 100% readability, we know that it will work for everything else that has a similar kind of component," says Jim Hyslop, VP of research and development for Tibbett & Britten.

RFID will be integrated into Connect Logistics' regular operations that handle liquor, wine, and imported beer distribution in Alberta. The equipment at the lab will continue to be subject to shocks and vibrations just as it would during normal warehouse operations, adding a further reality check to RFID deployment conditions.

In addition, Tibbett & Britten will allow its customers to test products in Connect's "living" lab to solve tagging and palletizing problems and to train their own staffs on RFID usage. "We call it a living lab because it's going to be part of the ongoing operation; it's not a separate corner that is walled off where you do testing," Hyslop says. "We will be setting up a predetermination area, where we will define what is the optimal way to read a product that is tagged as it comes into the warehouse."

IconNicholson says part of the process is coming up with compliance specifications for how companies can configure product pallets to maximize accuracy in terms of read rates, Bahadur says. "We are leveraging the mechanized heavy machinery as RFID portals equipped with onboard RFID antennas, RFID readers, and wireless bridges, configured and optimized to deliver the required operational performance," he says.

Raymond Corp. is also partnering with Tibbett & Britten. Raymond, a North American provider of materials-handling solutions that improve space utilization, is planning to adopt RFID after the lab is in full operation in May as part of its plans to develop a better warehouse-tracking system.

"With the way the industry is going, RFID will not only help the warehousing end of it, but it is also going to help our customers from the inception of the goods, tracking them all the way to the last stop," says Charlotte K. O'Dea, marketing specialist at Raymond. "Raymond wants to be at the forefront of assisting its customers, and we want to see how RFID works. It is an opportunity for everyone involved to test the RFID process."

Over the next two weeks, the partner companies will begin configuring the lab, which should be in operation by the third week in April.