Since it’s that time of year when everyone is offering predictions, I thought I would share one of my own: radio frequency identification (RFID) technology will be used by every retailer, hospitality provider, and healthcare provider in the next couple of years. In fact, thanks to the fast innovation of some very smart engineers, I suspect we’ll see RFID adoption rates increase significantly this year.
If you recall, it has only been six months since Zebra introduced the Zebra RFD40 UHF RFID Sled. And now, there are Premium and Premium Plus versions that boast Wi-Fi™6 and OtterBox uniVERSE connectivity!
This means your front-line workers can now attach a super powerful RFID reader to practically any Zebra mobile computer or third-party smartphone and read up to 1300+ inventory or asset tags per second from up to 20 feet away with industry-leading accuracy! This is a big deal, especially if…
- their (or your) job is to improve inventory management, the customer/guest/patient experience, or worker efficiency levels.
- you must find a way to speed up order fulfillment and increase your returns fraud protection amid ballooning e-commerce and m-commerce sales.
- your customers/guests/patients expect short check-in and checkout lines and fully digital transactions.
These new Premium and Premium Plus RFID Sled options are also going to be a big deal to IT teams responsible for managing front-line workers’ devices.
The Zebra RFD40 is the first handheld RFID sled in the world to have Wi-Fi technology built into the sled, which means it is very easy to remotely manage and configure no matter which mobile computer form factor or OS platform you decide is best for your business and team. IT can deploy firmware updates over the air (OTA) and manage all RFD40 Premium and Premium Plus Sled configurations remotely using an Internet of Things (IoT)-based interface. This is so valuable whether there are thousands or dozens of devices in your fleet.
Plus, there are now two ways for field-based associates to physically connect the sleds to their mobile computers without having to send them in for retrofitting:
- eConnex™-enabled adaptors enable the RFD40 Sled to electronically connect to current and future models of eConnex™-enabled mobile computers, including dozens of Zebra Android™ devices.
- OtterBox uniVERSE adaptors enable them to easily slide on and slide off a wide variety of smartphones running Android™ and iOS operating systems. The adaptor also enables you to ditch Bluetooth® connectivity in favor of a USB connection to the sled. Plus, smartphones using the connected OtterBox uniVERSE adaptor can be charged by the sled when inserted into the universal cradle.
And both options allow for fast pairing, even when devices aren’t physically connected. Just use NFC tap-to-pair to initiate the Bluetooth 5.3 pairing process.
If a hotel concierge or hospital nurse is using a consumer smartphone today and switches to a Zebra mobile computer tomorrow, no problem. They can make the switch in a few minutes without needing any tools, specialized expertise or IT assistance.
RFID Reality Check: Is an RFID Sled Right for You?
If you’re not yet sold that your business needs – or can afford – an RFID solution right now, consider how simple and beneficial RFID sleds can be as well as the consequences of sticking only with barcodes.
Though you can use barcode scanners to ring up items, process contactless payments, verify identities and the like, they aren’t as fast at inventory counts or asset locationing as RFID readers. The speed and volume of RFID tag reads is simply unmatched.
But it’s not feasible to give your workers a handheld mobile computer with a built-in barcode scanner and a separate, dedicated handheld RFID reader, especially when they need to move fast between tasks. And not all facilities or operations are going to benefit from fixed RFID readers. That’s why universally compatible RFID sleds have become so popular. They transform the mobile devices your workers already have in hand into RFID readers in a matter of seconds, making them an affordable and flexible entry point to RFID-powered data capture, decision-making and workflow automation.
Just look at how dramatically Crystal’s retail operations – and its shoppers’ experiences – have improved since it started transforming its associates’ Zebra mobile computers into RFID readers using the Zebra RFD40 Standard Sled. And once you see how Brazilian retailer Havan has improved order fulfillment using the previous generation Zebra RFID Sleds, you can imagine what is possible with these new state-of-the-art models.
There are at least 30 different uses cases for RFID we’ve identified in retail, hospitality and healthcare alone, and there are additional inventory and asset management use cases that have been proven by government entities, public safety agencies, and utilities in both warehouse and field environments. There are also many tasks that can be fully supported by the 1D/2D barcode scanning capabilities of the integrated SE4100 imager integrated into the Zebra RFD40 Premium Plus RFID sled. (Did you know the Zebra RFD40 sled also features the industry’s only tri-function, user-programmable trigger, allowing the device to be configured for multiple unique workflows?)
So, if you’re looking for a way to ease into RFID and secure a fast return on investment, or optimize your already established RFID operation, it’s worth taking a closer look at the three new RFID sled options Zebra now offers. I don’t recommend relying solely on website info, though. After reviewing these resources, set up time to speak with a Zebra representative about your specific situation. They can make a tailored recommendation based on your specific application, current and planned mobile solution roadmap, inventory/asset tag situation, desired outcomes, and more. They’ll also help you run a cost-benefit analysis with tangible numbers you can use to demonstrate the financial impact of an RFID investment. That way, you’ll have everything you need to build the business case for other decision-makers who may not be sold on RFID, either.
Though, as I mentioned in my opening prediction, I bet it will be easier than you think to secure buy-in. RFID is going to be to as central to track and trace, inventory management and digital transactions as the barcode has been the last 50+ years.