Avery Dennison has opened a technology center at its European HQ in Oegstgeest, Netherlands, to showcase RFID and intelligent labeling developments.
The I.Lab demonstration suite allows users hands-on experience of how RFID works in a retail environment, from automated stock taking to helping shop assistants quickly find the correct garment in a crowded storeroom. In addition there are demonstrations of how RFID enables supply chain efficiency and traceability across a wide range of industry sectors.
Avery Dennison is an established player in the RFID sector. With more than 800 RFID-related patents, the company claims to be the world’s biggest manufacturer of UHF RFID systems, backed up by a global base of manufacturing and technical support.
The opening of the I.Lab center represents an important change in how Avery Dennison envisions RFID technology capabilities, with the materials business now fully involved in marketing and selling RFID business solutions through its converter customer base.
‘This allows us to match our materials science expertise with our smart label and tag expertise,’ explains Rob Verbruggen, communications director at Avery Dennison. ‘Through our converter customers we can address the consistently growing need for intelligent label applications in different segments.’
In fact it is relatively easy for label converters to enter the RFID label market as an Avery Dennison partner, as Tony Fazhev, RFID product manager at Avery Dennison Label and Packaging Materials, explains: ‘Label printers will need to install a delam/relam system like the Tamarack unit, then laminate a dry inlay which Avery Dennison can provide. We can also supply pressure-sensitive wet inlays in either clear or white, and these can be printed directly, just like a standard laminate.’
Fazhev notes, however, that the inlays are delicate and susceptible to handling and electrical damage on the press, so need to be handled with care. Typically this requires careful set-up of a rubber-coated nip roll, and ‘soft’ web and rewind roll tension. Ionizing bars are needed to control static, and press operators should also be grounded. Both in-line and off-line testing modules will be required to ensure that inlays are still ‘alive’ when they reach the final customer.
To support label converters looking at these new opportunities, Avery Dennison has launched the Intelligent Labelling Solutions initiative, which spans a wide range of smart and intelligent label applications from digital printing to chip-based systems.
Michael Sanders, senior product line director, Select & New Growth Platforms, at Avery Dennison, states that the opportunities opened up by intelligent labeling are enormous, and with the right support converters can create significant breakthroughs:
‘Converters are familiar with widely adopted barcodes and QR codes, including item-level customization using digital print – and this portfolio simplifies material choices as mass customization grows and label batches shrink.
‘However, there is also huge untapped potential for more sophisticated technologies such as RFID.’
RFID options include ultra-high frequency (UHF) inlays, commonly used for item level tracking and visibility, and near-field communication (NFC) inlays, increasingly being used for consumer engagement and payments.
‘Packaging can be about far more than shelf impact – it can also transform logistics and enhance the consumer experience by enabling the connection to the digital world and the Internet of Things,’ continues Sanders. ‘We are excited about the growth potential for converters made possible through intelligent labeling.’
Sanders picks out several areas where the technology is especially important.
‘Inventory accuracy and supply chain optimization are the first important drivers, helping businesses to ensure a more effective logistics process by using RFID to track anything from a single item to an entire pallet.’
Product safety and product authenticity are two further focus areas. ‘Product expiration dates can be monitored far more easily using RFID, with commercial benefits that include first-in-first-out stock management – important in segments spanning everything from food to tires.’
Content communication is also important. ‘Consumers can gain additional value through personalized content such as recipe suggestions, giving brands a valuable marketing opportunity. An RFID label can even be used to prompt re-ordering of food in a smart domestic fridge.’
Real world applications
The I.Lab at Oegstgeest allows converters to see how these technologies work in practice – and demonstrates how Avery Dennison’s Intelligent Labels investment has begun to transform multiple industries, from retail and apparel to food. The company’s goal is to harness its label converter customer base to expand intelligent labeling technologies to other areas such as beauty, food, automotive, pharmaceuticals and aviation.
Over the past ten years, Avery Dennison has driven change in the apparel market, kicked off by UK retail giant Marks and Spencer adopting RFID for inventory tracking.
Initially developed to drive efficiencies and increase inventory accuracy, RFID technology is now being used to drive interactive experiences; from ‘magic mirrors’ – thanks to partners like Oak Labs – to triggering unique item-level experiences and self-checkout. These can all be experienced in the I.Lab.
At an item level, RFID tags were originally supplied on hang tags, but because these could easily be torn off, the tags and antennae can now be concealed inside the garment label.
Avery Dennison’s success in the apparel market has been linked to its close working relationship with Internet of Things (IoT) specialist Evrythng, first announced at Labelexpo Americas 2014.
Avery Dennison’s Janela technology, powered by the Evrythng Smart Products Platform, equips apparel and footwear products with a unique Cloud-based identity that allows products to capture real-time data and enhance the consumer’s experience. Effectively, every product has its own URL, which facilitates this interaction.
Another sector in which Avery Dennison has been successful is airport baggage tracking. In 2016, the company partnered with Delta airline to launch a global RFID bag tracking system, enabling the carrier to achieve up to 99.9 success rate in monitoring bags through screening, sorting and transit. Bags are scanned with no line of sight while the tags are moving through the collection and delivery process at the airport.
The chip can be programmed with flight destination changes, and includes a user app to tell the traveler when and where the bag will be delivered.
An interesting aspect of the Delta project is that Avery Dennison worked out the overall concept with Delta, but worked through its converter partners to deliver the full solution: a perfect example of how converters can enter the RFID arena as part of a partnership team.
The food sector is another important area for Avery Dennison, and the company is working with major food retailers in the UK, Europe and United States to replace manual or barcode-driven track and trace systems with high-speed RFID technology. Trials have reportedly led to up to 20 percent reduction in food waste by increasing visibility throughout the supply chain.
An important tool on the perishables side is the TT Sensor Plus and TT Sensor Plus Gen 2, a powerful smart label tool developed by Avery Dennison for supply chain management which logs time and temperature, and acts as an alternative to the bulky temperature data loggers commonly used. Key applications will be in the pharma as well as food sectors.
Avery Dennison and its converter partners are also exploring potential applications for RFID technology in the automotive industry. For example, engine parts could carry a service history on an RFID chip, not only telling the garage which parts are due for replacement, but ordering the stock as well. RFID-labeled tires are now an established application.
RFID also has applications in streamlining complex industrial assembly processes, for example during dashboard assembly.
‘In all these areas our converter customers already have great contacts with the end users, who they are already supplying with labels,’ says Rob Verbruggen. ‘We can work with both converters and their end users to see how all this fits together to make a complete RFID system. We can also give technical advice to converter on handling RFID inlays in everyday production.’