In a nutshell, smart labeling generates additional data that is not seen on the physical label or tag. This process typically involves an antenna or microchip, and the data might be linked to the Cloud.
Avery Dennison maintains several divisions intended to support this market. The largest division is RBIS (Retail Branding and Information Solutions), which features products for apparel and footwear, among others. RFID technology plays a huge role in this space.
“In RFID today, we’re all about intelligent labels, basically putting something–usually a microchip–in with the printed media,” explains Elizabeth Sowle, manager, RFID applications test at Avery Dennison’s RBIS division. “We’re working with antennas and chips and putting something besides printed information on that ticket or label. We have a large portfolio of RFID inlays, UH (ultra-high frequency) inlays, and we have a portfolio for NFC inlays, as well.”
RFID UHF tags incorporate 865 MGHZ or 915 MGHZ frequency bands. These tags propagate a signal across distance, allowing a user to read tags or labels from 2” up to 40 feet. “This is really great for retail because you can take the population of an inventory of items instead of touching or scanning the bar code of every single one,” adds Sowle.
Meanwhile, the company’s NFC technology features coil tags that are often seen in credit cards, security clearance badges, and smart phone technology. This point-to-point communication system can link a smart device with a label, allowing for the track-and-trace of pharmaceuticals. Avery Dennison’s TT Sensor Plus technology involves the use of NFC technology to track temperatures, a valuable offering in the foods and pharma spaces.
For Avery Dennison, the benefits lie in accuracy. “It’s amazing, the speed and the accuracy of the process,” says John Powell, vice president of Avery Dennison’s Americas services and systems integration division. “The accuracy level on the bar code scans is about 70%. With RFID, we’re bringing it up to almost 99%, and there are a lot of other values going into that for the retailer. That’s really where the ROI is on the store side.”
Avery Dennison utilizes a number of labs and technologies to authenticate data and ensure the quality of the labels and tags. Tim Hill, RFID systems engineer/electronic designer at Avery Dennison, deals with data integrity in one of Avery’s labs. “A customer gets a roll of labels, and you know it’s going on a specific product. We make sure that the printer, or whatever device they’re using to encode it, actually encodes the label or tag in the proper place. You have to tell the printer–per position–which label to look at. The reason that’s so important is because you don’t want to print something on one label and encode something different. We make sure the printer sees the correct label and encodes it correctly. The reason antennas are different is because they go on different substrates.”
The inlay is subsequently moved across the coupler or the antenna by 1/10” at a time. Bad encodes are struck out on the printer.
When developing and testing products, calibrated fixed tests are performed in anechoic chambers. This controlled environment prevents reflections and dead spots when comparing smart tags. “We’re able to very precisely characterize tags against each other,” says Sowle. “As we’re bringing on new chips, we can see what the improvements are, and when we’re creating new products and new antenna sizes, we can see those improvements. We start with the tag itself and put the tag on different materials to see how it reacts.”
Smart labeling and tagging has become a core focus for Avery Dennison. It partnered with PragmatIC, a flexible solutions provider, in late 2016 to accelerate the deployment of intelligent packaging solutions. Avery Dennison is utilizing the technology in its comprehensive inlays portfolio.
To connect these solutions, Avery Dennison has developed Janela, powered by the EVRYTHNG Smart Products Platform, to enable apparel and footwear products to have unique, serialized labels. The products are then connected to EVRYTHNG’s IoT cloud-based software. According to the company, it will digitize a minimum of 10 billion apparel products.
With the potential for lower prices, this technology could gain steam in the near future. According to Avery Dennison, the prices are nearly one-third of what they were a decade ago.
“The growth over the years has been astronomical,” says Powell. “We’re doing more than two billion tags a year, so it’s grown from eight years ago, and it’s grown consistently. If the price drops, absolutely you’ll see adoption.”