IBM Jumps Into RFID Hardware

IBM's new printer for RFID labels, due out in September, appears to be just the beginning of its involvement in the technology.
IBM is preparing to enter the hardware market for radio-frequency identification technology with the September introduction of the Infoprint 6700 R40, a thermal printer designed for companies migrating from bar-code labels to RFID labels for shipping.

The Infoprint 6700 R40 includes IBM WebSphere software, which supports the transmission of shipping information from business applications to the labels. As an RFID-chip-embedded label passes through the printer, an IBM Power processor encodes information onto the chip, such as manufacture date, destination, inventory data, and product-handling details. The Infoprint 6700 R40 also prints a bar code on the paper label as a secondary source of supply-chain information.

IBM doesn't supply the RFID labels. However, its new printer appears to be just the beginning of its involvement in the technology. There will be other printers and hardware with RFID capabilities in the future, says Doug Oathout, VP for the IBM printing systems division. "We will look at the market and see where RFID goes," he says. "The printers don't have to be thermal. Laser printers are possible."

An RFID-enabled Infoprint 6700 R40 printer, which was developed with the help of printer manufacturer Printronix Inc., will sell for $5,525.

AMR Research says market leadership for RFID technology is still up for grabs. "Zebra [Technologies Corp.] is the leading vendor, but the market for RFID technology is so immature that any of the players--Printronix, Sato, or Intermec, for example--have an opportunity to take a leadership position," said AMR Research analyst Dennis Gaughan in an E-mail to InformationWeek. "I don't think IBM views this as an opportunity to become a market leader in printers, but instead a way to provide a more complete solution for its customers and a single point of contact for both hardware and software."

IBM also has expanded services through its security and privacy consulting group to provide workshops geared toward companies that gather information from RFID, sensor, and other technologies in supply chains.

Program information will include policy and procedure assessments; design and implementation of privacy-optimized RFID systems; and development of policies, design principles, communication, and employee education and awareness programs. The cost for the two-day session at a customer's location starts at $10,000.

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