Scan Tech 1998
This Visit Brought To You By
Scan-Tech 98 was held at the Rosemont Convention Center near O’Hare International Airport September 14-16, 1998. This was the first Scan-Tech since Advanstar, the company that publishes Automatic ID News, bought the show.
This was my sixteenth time at Scan-Tech hunting for those new gems of automatic identification technology that would qualify for The Adams Top Ten. In ferreting out the Top Ten New Products for Scan-Tech 1998, I do not stop at every booth. I use the eye of a Technical Editor to restrict my stops to those companies that, in my opinion, were showing innovative products. My choice is subjective and my own, however I do use some criteria. Products that show breakthrough technologies get the highest marks. Next, I look for products which establish a trend in the market. Finally, I look for products that offer a great price for their performance. I do include prototype products in the list if a working model is shown, and a projected production date is given. With this in mind, here is the Adams’ Top Ten New Products for Scan-Tech 1998. With that explanation, here are my top ten picks for Scan Tech 98.
Number One - ERP AND AIDC
The top spot goes to a product from Zebra Technologies, Zebra BAR-ONE with JetForm Central. Traditionally, transforming data from an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system from existing reports into bar code labels has been an extremely expensive and time-consuming custom programming task. The product is designed to greatly simplify the process. That’s what makes this product so significant. It will facilitate the integration of ERP and bar code systems.
The product allows ERP systems running under 15 different operating systems (Windows 3.x, 95, NT, IBM OS/2, many UNIX flavors, AS/400, RS/6000, to name a few) to print bar code labels with no additional ERP programming. You simply define the desired appearance of your label using BAR-ONE’s WYSIWYG label design tool. Once the label is designed, JetForm Central is used to define hooks between the BAR-ONE label format and fields on existing reports. From that point on, the ERP system controls the label printing.
Interest in ERP systems (like those from SAP, BAAN, and People Soft.) is growing, however one element that has slowed adoption has been the integration of ERP with automatic data collection systems. This product is the first ripple of what will be a growing wave of ERP to AIDC integration tools. That’s why I picked this product as number one.
Number Two - SLAM-DUNK TCP/IP AIDC
Number two goes to TCPWedge from TAL Technologies, Inc. TCPWedge software inputs data from any IP address directly into Excel, Access, FoxPro or any other Windows 95, 98 or NT application easily. It does it with the same easy as a keyboard wedge does it. The IP address becomes the keyboard. The product supports full 2-way I/O and parses, filters, formats and translates the data so it comes into the application program correctly.
TCP/IP is the protocol of the Internet, and the Internet is the network of choice for internal use and between trading partners. Use a RS232 to TCP/IP converter, and any device (bar code scanner, scale, etc.) can input data in real time into any Windows application with the help of TCPWedge. This product makes real time data collection systems over a TCP/IP network a slam-dunk and that’s why it rates number two.
Number Three - The Holy Grail of Verifiers
Number 3 goes to BarCode Guardian from Teklynx. The product was jointly developed by Teklynx and RJS and according to Jack Tedesco, VP of Business Development at RJS, automatic printer control and adjustment has been "the Holy Grail of verifiers.". BarCode Guardian is that Holy Grail.
The product consists of a verifier that fits in front of any label printer. The verifier is then attached to a serial port on a PC. The BarCode Guardian software automatically configures to the type of label being printed and the system monitors and verifies that the bar codes being printed meet compliance requirements. According to the company, over the past 4 years, Walmart has fined their suppliers over $27 million for bad bar code printing.
BarCode Guardian is the first bar code label printing system that closely integrates automatic label verification and that’s why it received number 3.
Number Four - Booth Town
Number four goes not so much to a product, but to an imaginative combination of booth design and product line. PSC Inc. wins hands down with its new trade show booth that resembles a town for showcasing the actual application of its scanner line.
The booth included a groceries store, video rental store and factories complete with water tower and broken windows. This booth town even had a park with fountain and telephone booth. The company unveiled PowerScan, the first in a family of rugged scanners from PSC in the factory part of the booth. The company also has developed a new generation of decoding software called QuadraLogic which allows the scanner to read damaged bar code. In the grocery store part of the booth, the company's QuickScan 6000 Plus retail point of sale scanner was shown along with a redesign of their customer self-scanning system.
This combination of booth design and product line earns the number 4 because it sparks the imagination of how PSC’s products are used.
Number Five - A Smart Game Of Tag
The number five spot goes to Tag-it, smart label media from Texas Instruments. The product is an innovative RFID transponder that is small enough to be laminated between layers of paper or plastic to produce low-cost, consumable labels. The new label media can be printed on by a thermal transfer printer, and the company was showing a Zebra Technologies printer that had been retrofitted not only to print bar code on the Tag-it label stock, but to program the RFID chip on-the-fly.
The tag is designed to be read up to about 1.5 meters and multiple tags can be read simultaneously without separating the multiple tags.
Tag-it’s ability to be used like standard label stock and the low cost of this RFID medium will bring the technology into a host of new applications. That’s why it earned the five spot.
Number Six - 3D-iD RFLS
The number six spot goes to 3D-iD Local Positioning System from PinPoint Corporation (now RFTechnologies) , a unique wireless system for locating, tracking and managing high-value supply-chain resources. The 3D-iD system consists of 3D-iD ViewPoint Software, 3D-iD wireless tags, fixed position antennas and cell controllers.
3D-iD uses tags affixed to the assets and a system of readers located throughout a building. Signals from the readers activate the tags and the time delay in receiving the return signal from the tag is measured. Results from at least three readers allows the system to locate the tag and display its location. The system work a bit like a transponder on an airplane.
With the introduction of 3D-iD, Radio Frequency Location Systems or RFLS have become a new AIDC product category. That’s why this product received 6th place. Editor’s note: Myself and several writers and editors from leading magazines conferred, and it was the consensus that RFLS was the best name for this new product category.
Number Seven - PDT Signature Capture
Number 7 goes to a prototype hand held portable terminal from Tohken. When I saw this scanner, the company had yet to pick a name. What makes this Portable Data Terminal (PDT) special is it’s ability to scan both 1-D and 2-D bar codes using a CCD imager plus its ability to capture signatures. Existing PDTs capture signatures by having the individual sign onto a touch sensitive screen. This is fine for most western countries, but in many other countries, it is a corporate seal or signature block that is the official sign of receipt. These cannot be used with a touch screen and image capture is the only way to electronically store the signature.
The portable signature image capture and bar code scanner from Tohken solves this international signature capture problem and that’s why it received the number 7 spot.
Number Eight - Primary Colors
Palette from Datamax gets the number 8 spot. This product is a thermal transfer color printer priced at under $8000. That makes it the lowest priced process and spot color thermal transfer printer designed for printing bar code labels. While other thermal transfer color printers use 4 print heads, the Palette uses a single print head. This eliminates problems with multiple head alignment. The printer uses a 4-pass system with a special ribbon with each printable color formed as a panel along the ribbon’s length. Each label passes over the head up to 4 times with each pass laying down a different color. Existing color thermal transfer printers use 4 separate ribbons, which increases the chance for ribbon jams and problems in loading the ribbon. A single paneled ribbon gets rid of these problems too.
This system does have a few down sides - the time to finished label is slower and the ribbon must be replaced more frequently. However, for low production runs of labels, the price is outstanding. That’s why it received the 8th spot.
Number Nine - Cordless Bar Code
Intermec and Welch Allyn jointly gets the number nine position for their new line of cordless scanners with an effective range of up to 50 feet. The products can be thought of as a cordless telephone for bar code. Up to nine scanners can be used simultaneously with as single base unit. Intermec’s version is based on their Sabre product line while Welch Allyn’s is based on their SCANTEAM products. Both products use Intermec’s PicoLink state-of-the-art 2.4 GHz radio module.
Cordless bar code from Intertmec and Welch Allyn gets number 9 for solving the problem of a corded scanner in retail and industrial applications (for example, scanning a sack of fertilizer on a cart at Home Depot usually requires salesperson contortions with a corded scanner) without the expense of a full-blow wireless LAN system.
Number Ten - Absolutely Positively Gets There
Number 10 goes to Package Track from General Data Inc., a software package tracking system for internal use. The system prints a bar code label when a package is received in a company’s mailroom and the label is attached to the package. When the package is delivered to the intended recipient, the delivery person can even capture a signature.
If premium payment is made to ship a package overnight, it’s a waste of that money if the package gets lost internally. This software product solves this problem and that’s why I pick Package Track as number 10.
Trends and Thoughts
There was one emerging trend at this year’s show - Sub-dollar RFID tags. These tag operate in the 13.56 MHz range generally and can be read and written to out to about 1.5 meters. Tiris, Philips, Gemplus, RF ID, Inc. (formerly TelsorRFID), and Tagsys (formerly Integrated Silicon Design) all showed RFID tags and technology under $1. In addition, Symbol Technologies announced a commitment to RFID-capable product platforms using tags in the 13.56 MHz ISM band. It is also quite likely that the International Standards Organization (ISO) will select this band for a variety of RFID item identification applications. RFID may have just turned the corner to finally become a mainstream automatic identification technology.
Supply chain management and ERP were the buzz-words at this year’s show. There were many more companies showing these software products, but there was a bit of a disconnect. During the show, I was a speaker at a session attended half by end users and half by VARs. I asked how many people knew what supply chain management and ERP was and no one raised their hand. I suspect that the big end users do know what ERP is and what supply chain management is, but the vast majority of end users don’t have a clue.
The definition of supply chain management adopted by the Ohio State University's Global SCM Forum is "the integration of business processes from end user through original suppliers, that provide products, services, and information that add value for customers." Some call it a "glass pipeline" with the metaphor suggesting that the status of the flow of a product from the raw material supplier, though the manufacturing up to the delivery dock of the customer is visible to everyone. "Glass pipeline" is an overstatement since many parts of a supply chain are considered proprietary by enterprises along the chain.
In a truly integrated process, every organization along the chain would electronically talk to all organizations in the chain. Drop in demand for automobiles in the show room would automatically slow down the production line in Detroit which would automatically slow down the mining of iron ore. It would eliminate under or over supply anywhere in the chain. In its pristine form, supply chain management would eliminate standing inventories or out-of stock situations. The entire supply chain becomes one large virtual organization. A neat idea with a great many road blocks unless one speculates that large customers may mandate "compliance tracking". Just as compliance labeling has forced many organizations into putting readable bar code on their products, compliance tracking may bring about the implementation of supply chain management systems. If your organization is not part of an integrated supply chain, the customer wouldn’t buy from you.
It is clear from Scan-Tech 98 that many people believe in the trend of Supply Chain Management Systems. Wide adoption of e-commerce though the Internet is certainly making supply chain integration possible. However in my opinion, unless these systems are mandated by large customers, the wide adoption of supply chain management systems will be delayed.