Ask the Expert:
Solving: How To Reduce Cost And Complexity In RFID Ecosystems
Terry Pruett has been building channels, directing product management, and creating marketing campaign messaging in the Auto ID business for 30 years. He played a critical role in the genesis of the Monarch Marking channel, and ran global printer marketing for both Printronix and Zebra. For the last 12 years, he has been engaged in establishing the partner channel for Alien Technology, a channel that he founded in 2005.
Terry, thanks for sitting down with me to talk about Alien’s latest data collection solution. I read the articles about HYDRA and it seems like such an elegant and simplified approach to networking and managing an RFID ecosystem. What market conditions drove Alien and SensThys to this solution?
Managing data collection has long been a stumbling block in the advancement of RFID ecosystem implementations. One of the challenges we hear from customers is that they are being overwhelmed by the complexity of initiating an RFID infrastructure program. Of course, this core issue of complexity tends to create an exponential increase in cost, which undermines the base benefit of implementing the system in the first place.
For the last several years, Alien Technology has been focused on this core issue, and we have been addressing it by degrees. The release of the ALR-F800 in 2016 was the first step, bringing unprecedented memory, processing power, and ease of implementation to the fixed reader market. Earlier this year we released the F800-X, which is the first RFID reader that also can serve as a combination system controller and application processing computer. And now, the F800-X companion piece, the Alien Hydra series. HYDRA presents a solution that is affordable, flexible and easy to implement, while at the same time representing a truly revolutionary concept: the true merging of ALL RFID read data into one central repository that combines reader management, DATA management, and business application processing.
Could you try to explain HYDRA in layman’s terms for us?
Let’s start with the basics. Historically, RFID systems have failed for one of two reasons:
- They are too small and thus do not collect enough data at enough data points
- They are too complex and the customer becomes concerned about the cumbersome nature of it all
When combined, points 1 and 2 create a system of widely distributed, expensive smart readers that essentially are each an independent stand-alone system on their own!
So historically, an implementation includes really smart (and expensive) readers at various points in the workflow. Having 50 readers is equivalent to having 50 unique implementations or 50 different “brains”.
What we’ve done here is to simplify the data flow process by eliminating many of these powerful smart readers and substituting them with “workerbee” readers. These workerbees do a great job of reading tags and simply forwarding the data to the main reader, which we like to think of as the system “brain”.
Our HYDRA system functions more like the human nervous system with a bunch of “sensors” – equivalent to nerve endings that all feed data back to the primary reader. The primary reader has been programmed to share the select data with the customer’s backend MRP and ERP software systems already in place.
So, I guess the savings come from using multiple “simple readers” and one “master” reader? I’m assuming that the simple readers are less expensive than the “big brain” reader, is that correct?
Dana, the savings are two-fold.
- Yes, you’re correct – to give an example, where each master reader could cost $3000 (including antennas) with (50) readers installed throughout a warehousing system, HYDRA enables the use of simple readers – or the “nerve endings” as we’re calling them (ALR-F3720 and ALR-F3733di aka Hydra and Hydra+) – which could cost between $845 and $1500 (including antennas. Just doing the math on this example – and please DON’T HOLD ME TO THESE NUMBERS – the hardware costs for a (50) reader system in a distribution center could come in under $80K versus previously where the hardware alone could cost over $150K. That’s a big savings.
Our cost calculator (for 50 readers) vs a $1500 competitor reader is $19,773 for Hydra/F800X vs $40,242.50, a 51% saving. If the competitive reader is $750 we will save 35%!
- Now let’s talk about ancillary costs such as cabling and installation. Without the need to run AC/DC wiring as in a traditional full scale cabling system, we’re able to daisy-chain readers with simple PoE+ wiring leading back to the ALR-F800-X. Also, keep in mind that RF cables aren’t needed due to the reader’s integrated antenna. This can save between 8-56% on typical RFID installation costs. Obviously, the larger the implementation, the greater the savings.
So, it seems like this is a different concept for collecting RFID data. Are you still able to collect massive data, or are you sacrificing bandwidth for scalability?
As I said earlier, for years, Alien’s Reader Engineering Team (and Marketing) has been focused on making RFID fixed hardware implementations simple, affordable and easy to execute. With HYDRA, the ability to increase or decrease the amount of data collected based upon the customer’s need at that moment or at that data collection point. We believe that by reducing cost and complexity we are rightsizing for the potential of the technology and the needs of the customer.
Keep in mind, data is easy to collect – a reader collects everything. It’s the software that parses the data and only passes along what is required at that moment and at that location.
We offer the ability to collect everything – but only pass along data that is relevant and meaningful.
When you say “pass along data that is meaningful and relevant” – how does the customer receive that data?
The client can determine what data is transmitted from the brain (Hydra) into their existing enterprise systems along with the ability to trigger additional data, and additional readers at any point in time. We can integrate with SAP, Oracle and a slew of other MRP/ERP systems used in supply chains globally.
Where is this being used? And which industries do you see embracing HYDRA?
Let’s look at two scenarios:
- Retail is primed for this. Everyone is concerned about the omni-channel, fulfilling online orders and having sufficient inventory in distribution and fulfillment centers. For example – imagine a retail fulfillment center with 50 dock doors and 150 rows of distribution stacks. With HYDRA, we are feeding data from hundreds of points using simple POE cable and delivering that data from each individual reader to the ALR-F800-X which is communicating with the customer’s MRP/ERP systems. Simpler installations, delivers data more quickly.
- Work in Progress – we have an auto manufacturer committed to using our HYDRA system. This is where the system reveals it’s versatility…and the versatility is our “secret sauce”. By combining parts-tracking (receiving at dock door), WIP tracking and returnable-item tracking (equipment tracking – totes, bins), all outbound and inbound shipping and receiving relates to inventory usage. Understanding your inventory, what’s been received, where it is in the process of manufacturing and where it is being shipped is the big win.
I’m blown away by this solution. It’s simple, flexible and it reminds me of that saying:
“How do you eat an elephant”
I know, I know…ONE BITE AT A TIME.
For more information about Hydra contact:
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