Companies Find Workarounds for RFID Roadblocks

Sophisticated RFID readers can be foiled by, well, foil, but RFID trials at Gillette, Philip Morris and Kimberly-Clark are finding ways around that.

Retailers and consumer goods manufacturers experimenting with RFID are still seeing higher-than-expected error rates, but they are starting to work out low-tech workarounds, according to a major European RFID analyst company that has analyzed about 1,400 recent radio-frequency identification trials.

The most common problem has been reader interference coming from either metal or fluid, which was a major problem for The Gillette Co. in trying to scan its razor blades, said Raghu Das, a managing director at IDTechEx Ltd., which created the report.

Even Philip Morris International Inc. found that the thin metal on the paper wrapping it uses to surround certain cigarettes was causing problems, Das said.

He added that the tobacco giant admitted that the paper—perceived as enhancing freshness—didnt serve any purpose, but that it would have been too expensive to redo the packaging.

Kleenex-maker Kimberly-Clark Corp. accidentally discovered a simple workaround, Das said. During normal assembly-line operations, all pallets are fully shrink-wrapped. The machinery that does this slowly spins the pallet around.

The company discovered that an RFID scan taken during that rotation delivered much more accurate reads, Das said, apparently because it allowed the reader to "see" the tags from different angles and grab the best view.

But testing also has raised the possibility that putting more distance between the tag and the interfering material by using certain kinds of shrink-wrapping or substrates (surfaces where labels/tags can be printed or placed) could play a role in reducing errors, Das said.

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