LEXMARK NOW TRACKS TONERS WITH RADIO WAVES
LEXMARK NOW TRACKS TONERS WITH RADIO WAVES
2009-09-25 at 11:09:43 am #22719
LEXMARK NOW TRACKS TONERS WITH RADIO WAVES
Lexmark Integrates RFID Solution With Toner Cartridge Based Laser Printer
Lexmark has unveiled a new monochrome laser printer with toner cartridges that also has built-in Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology.The device, which is being marketed as a solution to help manufacturing businesses track and tag their assets, can print RFID labels that provide real-time visibility, as well as regular office documents.
Designed as an add-on accessory, the RFID option replaces a drawer on the Lexmark T654 monochrome laser printer, which uses toner cartridges.”Lexmark’s newest RFID solution is leading-edge technology that helps our customers in key vertical markets, such as manufacturing and healthcare, to reduce errors and streamline processes,” said Marty Canning, vice-president of the company.”In addition, customers can also use the device to print and manage their everyday business documents, eliminating the need for and costs associated with operating multiple, single-use devices.”Meanwhile, IT Pro has praised the C736dn office laser printer for the large capacity of its toner cartridges.
Lexmark expands radio frequency ID business, sees growth opportunities
Aiming to take a larger piece of an expanding market, Lexmark International recently introduced a new generation of its RFID, or radio frequency identification, printing device.While most often associated with package tracking and inventory management, RFID is becoming a key technology in many areas as it has evolved rapidly over the last decade. It does everything from operating keyless entry devices on vehicles to helping law offices keep track of files.
RFID uses what’s called tags that include an integrated circuit and antenna that can broadcast their locations. Unlike most products that contain barcodes, each RFID tag has a unique serial number, allowing people to find that exact item. And because it broadcasts a frequency, the tags don’t have to be viewed in a direct line of sight like is required for extracting data from a bar code with a scanner.
RFID reading devices pick up the frequencies when tags are nearby and then send that unique data to data management systems. For instance, a pallet full of goods that enters, say, a Wal-Mart distribution center has an RFID tag that updates an inventory system to let workers know those goods are in that location.That type of inventory management is what RFID has become known for, but it has far more applications, Lexmark developers say, and that’s what the company is aiming for with its newest offering.”The big boom has yet to come” in the market for RFID, said Eric Calvert, Lexmark’s worldwide product marketing manager.
Lexmark’s new RFID printing option is the third such solution from the company for the market.In 2007, it introduced a standalone RFID printer. A year later, it released an RFID option that is effectively a sealed paper tray with all the technology inside that could just be added to the T64x family of printers.
In late July, the company released a new tray that can be added to the T654 family.The new RFID tray option also expanded the possibilities for customers. It now allows customers to position tags both horizontally and vertically instead of just one of the two.”We pretty much opened up the entire page in terms of the real estate on the page,” Calvert said.The special RFID paper travels through that tray and the tag is programmed while everything else is printed.”It all happens in milliseconds,” said Rick Kallop, a senior industry consultant at Lexmark and RFID business development manager. “It never stops as it feeds through.”
RFID printing has long been the dominion of thermal printers, which use heat and special paper, as opposed to laser printers and toner.The thermals often print shipping labels with RFID tags. It’s an area for which they’re well-suited, Lexmark says, because manufacturers have setups where the printer can automatically apply the tags on shipping labels and packages using blown air.”We’re almost more creating a new market than supplanting the thermals in their markets,” said Mark Underwood, a system architect in Lexmark’s laser printer division who focuses on RFID technology. “We’re going places they never could go.”And Lexmark says it’s doing it cheaper since its option costs less and also allows users to continue to print regular office documents. It also offers a wide variety of sizes of RFID paper that can be used.And because it can handle various RFID paper sizes, “we can consolidate two forms into one,” Calvert said. “It saves the end user money.”Where RFID can go
So just what can Lexmark’s RFID printers do?
Marathon bibs: RFID is now used to track times for runners in marathons and other races. In fact, Underwood says that if you trace the tags for the recent Midsummer Night’s Run far enough back in the supply chain, they were printed on a Lexmark RFID printer.Asset tags and shipping labels: Rather than have two separate forms for shipping labels and a tag to keep track of something like a computer, the Lexmark printer puts it on the same form.”Why spend 25 cents for two different labels?” Kallop said.Work-in-process tags: Take a manufacturer that has lots of pieces for its end product. The RFID tags are used to keep track of each piece.”If you’re building an engine, they put it on this engine … and they know when it’s gone from sandblasting to quality control to shipping,” Kallop said.
Electronic vehicle identification: Lexmark has worked with a foreign country at one of its main ports at which automobile manufacturers ship vehicles. The port’s employees are allowed to buy up to two cars tax-free annually.
But what’s wound up happening, Kallop says, is that someone might buy a red convertible and begin driving it to work. A few weeks later, the person would steal a similar-looking car and security guards would wave it on through since it matched the description of the employee’s vehicles.Now the cars are equipped with RFID tags to ensure employees are driving only what they paid for.The company is also working with a large metropolitan city, which it declined to name, to explore placing RFID tags on temporary license plate tags. That city, Kallop said, has different parking zones where people can park depending on their license plate. Thieves, however, have taken temporary tags for all areas and use them “so they can park all over the city,” he said.City parking employees will now have an RFID device so they can tell whether a tag on a car is actually registered to that car.
Document tracking: Attorney offices are rapidly embracing RFID to tag their files, Kallop said.The companies will set up RFID readers near their exits that set off an alarm, in some cases, if a file is leaving. Or it will take a photo, he said, of who took the file, so it can be tracked.And keeping track of documents is just as relevant at, say, a hospital, where patients’ charts can often become lost.”Right now, the number of hours wasted a day at attorney offices, hospitals and courtrooms looking for documents is just mind-boggling,” Kallop said.Using RFID, employees can take a device and walk around and it will begin to beep when it’s near the correct file.
A large law firm that adopted RFID went from having four people take two days to perform an audit to ensure all their files were on site to just one person doing it in four hours, Kallop said.The person walks around with the device and then at the end, “it will give you a discrepancy report, and then you go searching for them.”Evidence tracking: Tracking files is just one piece. Take police departments, which are responsible for maintaining massive amounts of evidence for criminal cases.Lexmark’s printer can print RFID evidence labels that can tag everything from a crow bar used in an assault to a gun.
Lexmark has partnered with a firm called FileTrail that developed a browser-based records system to help track and log things like evidence, files and more.Darrell Mervau, vice president of business development for FileTrail, said the companies’ offerings can be applied to almost any business that manages an inventory of physical items.”There really are no limits to what sort of industry can benefit from RFID,” he said, noting that it would also be right for automotive part management, inventory management for video stores, and monitoring of high-end merchandise.It could even be used to track identified human remains — “think Hurricane Katrina,” he said.
With opportunities like hospitals, police departments and more, Lexmark says the market is ripe for expansion.According to data from technology research firm IDTechEx, the RFID market was around $5.29 billion in 2008 and is expected to grow to $28 billion by 2017.Lexmark makes its money just like it does in the regular printing industry: selling the laser printer hardware and toner.”It’s a niche that none of the other guys have really attacked yet,” said Larry Jamieson of industry tracker Lyra Research. “Lexmark has a leg up. It’s another opportunity where they can own a piece of the market.”