How can print service providers (PSPs) take advantage of the growing market for radio-frequency identification (RFID) and printed electronics? Prior to 2012, the cumulative number of RFID tags sold over the past 65 years was 15.1 billion. Some 20 percent of those were sold in 2011, according to...
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How can print service providers (PSPs) take advantage of the growing market for radio-frequency identification (RFID) and printed electronics? Prior to 2012, the cumulative number of RFID tags sold over the past 65 years was 15.1 billion. Some 20 percent of those were sold in 2011, according to market research firm IDTechEx. Another nearly 4 billion tags were sold last year. Talk about growth and potential!
As I reported in the Graph Expo Official Show Daily publication last October, within the printing industry “PE” was known in proofreader circles as the acronym for a “printer’s error.” In this second decade of the 21st century, however, PE has developed new meaning, as in printed electronics. It is the next big thing, say industry watchers, with the global market expected to reach $24 billion by 2015. PE is growing at such a thundering pace, in part, because of its numerous benefits over conventional electronics—lower costs and simplified fabrication, to name just two. This former experimental field has become a highly industrialized segment with huge market potential. No longer fiction, the technology has become scientific fact.
In 2012 the worldwide RFID market was valued at $7.67 billion, up from $6.51 billion in 2011, IDTechEx reported. This figure includes tags, readers, and software/services for RFID cards, labels, and key fobs, which are a type of security token (small hardware devices with built-in authentication mechanisms). And it includes both passive and active RFID. IDTechEx predicts that the RFID market will grow steadily over the next decade, rising fourfold to more than $26 billion in 2022. There has been strong growth in passive UHF tag demand with Impinj, Avery Dennison, and others emerging as leaders. Others, such as Smartrac, have been acquiring companies to create RFID businesses.
Yet when most of today’s commercial print firm owners and managers hear about the RFID and printed electronics opportunity, they think of highly specialized applications -- and rightly so. Included on my resource list for this story was Zebra Technologies, a global leader in barcode printing and real-time locating systems (RTLS) technology including printers, RFID, software, and supplies. But when I contacted public-relations agency Ogilvy/Chicago to set up an interview, I was told that commercial print firms are not a vertical market that Zebra takes seriously so far as asset-tracking is concerned. “I don't think we would be able to really contribute to your piece,” assistant account executive Katie Sarott responded in an email earlier this month. “We do not work with printing firms.
“Zebra supplies printers to businesses who use them for many different industry needs,” Sarott went on to explain. “Zebra also offers RFID solutions to businesses who require visibility into their inventory/assets to increase efficiency and business processes. Our clients are typically not print service providers; rather healthcare, government, manufacturing, etc. businesses.”
In retail, RFID is seeing rapid growth for apparel tagging. This application alone demanded 1 billion RFID labels in 2012, with another 1.35 billion tags forecast for this year, said IDTechEx. But executives at Avery Dennison also declined to be interviewed for this story, citing similar supply-chain reasons. Given the article’s focus, “I don't think we can add anything to the mix,” wrote Scott Jones, marketing communications manager for the firm’s Retail Branding and Information Solutions.
Meanwhile, RFID in the form of tickets used for transit demanded 500 million tags in 2012. Worldwide government demand is a big reason why RFID orders are up as much as 10 percent, IDTechEx said. Many local municipalities are committing to non-stop road tolling and library tagging, while national governments increasingly are buying national ID cards, passports and other forms of RFID.