Sun Mulls Pilot to Test Own RFID Compliance

Sun Microsystems learned about the challenges of metallic and wireless environments during an earlier internal RFID pilot. Now, the company is eyeing a second compliance test in its role as a Defense Department supplier.

Just like suppliers of other products, todays big IT vendors are figuring out how to cope with metallic environments, wireless interference and other challenges that can crop up in meeting customers RFID (radio frequency identification) mandates.

Sun Microsystems Inc., for example, is contemplating a new RFID pilot—possibly with one of its own suppliers—around its work as a U.S. DOD (Department of Defense) contractor.

As shown by its announcements this fall, Suns also been busy lately as a producer of RFID middleware and tools.

"But Sun is an equipment supplier, too, and we need to be compliant," Sam Liu, director of product management for RFID solutions at Sun, said in an interview with "We actually started down the RFID road a number of years ago, when we saw thered be a DOD mandate eventually."

But if there is a new RFID pilot in store for Sun, it actually will be the companys second one. Last December, Sun wrapped up a six-week internal RFID test, dubbed Project Sun Beam, at a manufacturing plant in Newark, Calif.

"We moved that one to a small section of the backroom floor because we wanted to make sure not to impact customer delivery," said Liu, whos slated to talk about lessons learned from Sun Beam as a speaker at this weeks Digital ID World show in Denver.

Fewer than a dozen Sun employees took part in the companys first pilot, and costs of the materials totaled less than $5,000, Liu told

Participants included production managers, manufacturing floor operators and members of Suns IT, engineering and client-services arms.

Sun trained manufacturing staff in how to use RFID for tracking inventory on some of the third-party components used in hardware subsystems.

Under traditional bar-code scanning methods, it had taken an operator up to two minutes to scan in information associated with I/O boards, chassis numbers and storage devices, he said. "But with RFID, we were able to lower that [number] by about 75 percent," he said.

Next Page: Lessons learned.