02 Nov Wisconsin plant is part of NCR's global RFID initiative
Viroqua, Wis. — A former paper converting plant in this southwestern Wisconsin community is part of the giant NCR Corp.’s push to become a major global player in radio frequency identification.
The plant, part of NCR’s Systemedia group, produces various types of labels and thermal transfer ribbons embedded with RFID chips that NCR says overcome challenges posed by the technology. The labels are intended to add efficiencies to supply chain management above those expected to come from RFID tracking of crates and pallets, which retail leader Wal-Mart has mandated for top suppliers. The chips in the labels can hold a variety of information. Their data can be anything from expiration dates to manufacturing, shipping, and even nutrition information.
As any follower of RFID knows, the expected efficiency from RFID has been slow to come due to a myriad of technological challenges. But where there are challenges, there are opportunities. And NCR sees huge opportunities in RFID. The global technology company’s products and services include ATMs, retail systems, data warehouses, IT services, and paper and ink supplies for printers and other workstations – all which are involved in RFID initiatives
Investment in RFID
NCR’s 2004 annual report, noting the fragmentation of the printer-related products market and reduced demand for those products, calls for a continued shift toward growth areas, including RFID products. Its investment in RFID technology includes “TransitionWorks,” a newly expanded radio frequency identification (RFID) demonstration center in Atlanta that recently opened, with a similar center set to open in Europe in 2006.
Earlier this month, NCR launched an RFID “one-stop-shop” for its European operations, offering companies on that continent a spectrum of RFID products and services from manufacturing to consumer contact areas, such as contactless payment methods, self-checkouts and kiosks.
The company’s belief in RFID is further evidenced by its recent hiring of William Nuti to the posts of president and chief executive officer (CEO) of NCR. Nuti served since December 2003 as president and CEO of Symbol Technologies, where he positioned the company as a leading supplier in the RFID industry.
“RFID is a business revolution where companies can see ROI within 18 months, with supply chain cost reductions of 20 percent and inventory reductions of 20 percent,” said John Greaves, NCR’s vice president of RFID solutions.
Viroqua initiative in its first year
Based in Dayton, Ohio, NCR employs approximately 28,300 people worldwide and had 2004 revenues of nearly $6 billion. Its RFID initiative at the Viroqua plant, which employs more than 100 people, got rolling in January as part of an evolution of the facility that opened in 1968 producing paper rolls. A part of the Systemedia group of NCR, Viroqua’s is the only Systemedia facility engaged in custom label converting, said plant manager Jim Sheaf, who noted the evolution of the plant from its original days.
“Originally established as a forms and paper roll converter, the eventual installation of flexographic equipment has resulted in a migration to label manufacturing,” said Sheaf. “This facility was engaged in 2004 to support engineering efforts and research multiple converting techniques surrounding insertion of RFID inlays into pressure-sensitive label material. A final selection was made in late 2004, and the process line was established in January 2005.”
Other NCR plants may soon be joining in the process, to “scale for global needs as the marketplace demands,” said John Hourigan, the director of corporate media relations for NCR.
All five of NCR’s divisions are working on aspects of its RFID initiative. The Systemedia Group is also working on data-capture hardware and on professional services such as integration. The Financial Services Group is working on contactless payments for shipments. The Teradata group is working on data warehousing and analytics.
Overcoming the challenges
NCR says the labels and thermal transfer ribbons it produces at Viroqua overcome some of the challenges of RFID tags. Industry observers point out that about 20 percent of RFID chip-embedded labels typically fail to communicate their data. Additionally, electrostatic discharges involved in labeling processes can harm RFID chips.
NCR has developed a way to check labels and remove bad ones during production, so the labels that are shipped to market are nearly 100 percent readable, the company says. And it has a patent pending on a process that it says eliminates static electricity in and around its thermal transfer ribbons, thus protecting them from static electricity.
Explaining the process that the plant uses to embed the RFID tags into labels, Hourigan said: “A pressure sensitive substrate is delaminated. An RFID tag is inserted between the facestock and liner. The substrate is re-laminated back together, and a final label configuration is die cut into the substrate. The product is wound into roll form to be used by customers through various printing or application equipment.”
It’s a long way from the company’s founding as National Cash Register more than 120 years ago. But just like those old cash registers in their day, it’s still about bringing efficiencies to the market.
• Read more about RFID in previous WTN stories:
Pacific Cycle rides full speed into RFID
Tommy Thompson to get RFID implant
The key to finding RFID’s ROI
UW-Madison workgroup helps state companies tap the power of RFID