RFID technology is poised for some significant advancements fueled by what analysts say will be more rapid growth in healthcare, retail, food safety, and other markets. The future of RFID is growing and expanding as more industries and companies invest in the technology. As a result, RFID is becoming more cost-effective than ever for solving real-world business challenges.
Analysts have been predicting an explosion of RFID adoption for the past decade; the market, however, has grown slowly and steadily. A Research and Markets report, though, forecasts global sourcing of RFID tags to have a compound annual growth rate of 22.4% through 2018. Yet another report puts the smart label market at $10 billion by 2020.
Some experts believe the passive RFID tag market alone will grow to almost 7 billion tags in the next year, primarily through retailer adoption of UHF RFID tags for shelf-level stock replenishment. That number is expected to grow to 25 billion tags by 2020 just for retail apparel and shoes, with even more tags deployed on high-value, high complexity retail items. Experts also anticipate rapid growth of RFID use in the pharmaceutical market for anti-counterfeiting applications.
Along with wider adoption, new technologies will help make RFID more reliable and cost-effective for a larger number of applications.
Manufacturing Innovations: Advancements in printed electronics have helped create new classes of extremely thin, flexible RFID tags that can now be combined with printed sensors, printed batteries, thin-film photovoltaic solar cells, and other technologies. With new electronic printing and conductive ink technologies, companies could conceivably print their own chipless RFID tags on site.
There are also companies working on 3D printing technology that would enable direct printing of electronics in products as they are rendered. While the printing of RFID tags directly inside products may be several years away, the technology is rapidly evolving to do so.
New Antenna Designs: The key to good tag performance is the antenna design. It’s the antenna that helps determine where and how a tag can be used, and how well it will perform. Over the next few years, expect to see new antennas and inlays as the competition for RFID antenna design heats up.
Increased Memory: Building intelligence into the tag and, by extension, the asset being tagged is another key activity. Expect tags with more memory at a lower cost to enable these “smart asset” applications. High-value assets will be an early application for this technology, as the cost of those assets will make it easier to amortize the increased cost of the more robust tags
Sensor Integration: RFID will increasingly be one part of a whole ecosystem of sensors and communication technologies that will help companies better monitor and manage assets and shipments. Passive sensors for temperature, moistures, pressure, vibration and other factors will be combined with RFID to provide even more intelligence form the edge of the enterprise.
Cloud-Based Capabilities: RFID can potentially enable a whole host of new applications in the retail, healthcare, manufacturing and other sectors, but one stumbling block has always been management of the data flowing in from thousands of tags. With cloud-based applications and services taking the heavy lifting of IT support away from the point of activity, companies can now deploy centrally managed and centrally available solutions without the traditional support and deployment costs.
The RFID industry is about to enter an exciting period in which increased adoption will provide the means for technology providers to invest in new, exciting innovations. Along with the new developments described above, advancements in materials, organic polymers, nano technology, and other areas will change the way RFID is incorporated into products. Instead of a tag attached to a garment, for example, an RFID transponder could be printed directly into cloth or packaging using biodegradable conductive inks.
The future of RFID is here, so both end users and RFID manufacturers should be prepared to leverage these new technologies and ready themselves for more widespread use of RFID.
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