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Emerging Scanning Results: Radio Frequency Identification Devices

PATH Roadmap Applicability:


Advanced Panelized Construction


Energy Efficiency in Existing Homes


Information Technology


Whole House & Building Process Redesign


RFID systems consist of a number of components including tags, handheld or stationary readers, data input units and system software. The tags are the backbone of the technology and come in all shapes, sizes and read ranges including thin and flexible "smart labels" which can be laminated between paper or plastic.

Radio Frequency Identification Device RFID creates an automatic way to collect information about a product, place, time or transaction quickly, easily and without human error. It provides a contactless data link, without need for line of sight or concerns about harsh or dirty environments that restrict other auto ID technologies such as bar codes. In addition, RFID is more than just an ID code, it can be used as a data carrier, with information being written to and updated on the tag on the fly.

The idea for Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technologies has been around for decades, but their application has been held back in part by the expense of the tags, which ranges from just under $1 to $20. Now the potential cost has dropped to about a nickel, as sponsors of the commercially funded Auto-ID Center at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have figured out ways to produce cheap chips in quantity based on developing standards. 

  • With businesses lining up behind the effort, large-scale production may not be far off. Since the Auto-ID Center was founded three years ago, membership has grown to 67. In addition to the four companies mentioned above, sponsors include Coca-Cola, the Department of Defense, Kraft, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer. If Procter & Gamble fully embraced the concept, it alone could account for about 2 billion chips a year.

  • Large retailers such as Wal-Mart will create a cascade of demand for RFID tags and the hardware and software needed to use them if those companies push business partners to adopt the technology for improved supply-chain coordination.

  • Depending on the outcome of an upcoming test, Home Depot Inc. says it could eventually put RFID tags on all of the 50,000 products it sells. If that happens, the home-improvement chain envisions asking manufacturers and distributors to join the initiative.

  • Unilever is conducting a three-phase trial of RFID technology, based on the Auto-ID Center's developing standard, that involves testing the tags on pallets, cases of goods, and eventually individual items.

  • The Auto-ID Center is slated to publish a complete standard in the second half of next year.

  • Unilever is working with pallet rental company CHEP International to develop reusable shipping pallets with built-in RFID tags and with RedPrairie Corp. on applications for warehouse management that work with RFID tags.

  • Old Dominion Freight Line Inc. is using RFID tags on 12,000 pieces of trucking equipment to control inventory in its freight yard, track shipments, and monitor employee productivity.

Application to PATH Roadmaps

RFID technology has application to the Information Technology Roadmap project. Like barcodes, RFID can be useful in supply chain applications for tracking materials and inventory control. Some of the advantages over barcodes include the ability to be read from greater distances, in low light conditions, and without a clear line of sight. Other applications in housing construction are easily imagined. For example, with the ability to store more data on the chip, it might be possible to provide digital installation instructions, MSDS sheets and product specs with each product. Workers could use a hand-held device to extract this information as needed. If data on the chip could be economically modified prior to shipment to the job site, then individual products could be specifically linked to coordinates on the building plan. This would help prevent installation errors that currently discourage builders from using multiple variations of a product in different locations of a building.

Current Status of Technology

RFID systems have been in widespread use for over 10 years in transportation applications (rail car tracking, toll collection and vehicular access control). However, in the past they have been relatively complex and expensive, clearly far too expensive for application to building materials. Developments in recent years include the simplification of tag construction and lower production costs. Proponents of the technology are suggesting that large increases in production volume could drive costs from $1 to $20 per tag to 5 cents.

Contact Information

AIM, Inc.
634 Alpha Drive
Pittsburgh, PA 15238
Phone: (412) 963-8588

Savi Technology
Mountain View, CA
Phone: (650) 934-8000

CECOM (Army Communication Electronic Command)
Research and Development Engineering
Fort Monmouth, NJ
Phone: (908) 532-0353


Texas Instruments, Dallas, TX

Motorola, Rolling Meadows, IL

Intermec, Everett, WA

Phillips Semi-conductors, Eindhoven, Netherlands

SCS, San Diego, CA

Sources:, David M. Ewalt, September 30, 2002

Content updated on 4/14/2003

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