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Think Innovation

Think RFID
RFID Explained
Introduction 4

Where is RFID used? 6

Implementing/Deploying RFID 7

The Use of RFID 9

Research Activities
Queen’s University Belfast 18

University of Ulster 20

Case Studies
Ulster Carpets (Compete) 24

Kilpatrick (PPD) 25

Ashdale Engineering (SMART) 27

Invest NI and R&D Financial Assistance

START Programme 30

Compete Programme 31

Product and Process Development Programme 32

Knowledge Transfer Partnership Programme 33

SMART Award 34

Managment Information System Programme (MIS) 35

Business Improvement Training Programme 36

RFID Explained


Introduction to Radio Frequency Introduction to Microwave

(RF) (MW)

Radio frequency (RF) refers to electromagnetic The electromagnetic spectrum shown in the
waves that have a wavelength suited for use figure below covers a wide range of waves with
in radio communication. Radio waves are different properties depending on the frequency,
classified by their frequencies, which are f, of the wave. The wavelength, Ï is related to
expressed in kilohertz, megahertz or gigahertz. frequency through the speed of propagation
Radio frequencies range from very low frequency (c = Ï·f) where c equals the speed of light in
(VLF), which has a range of 10 to 30 kHz, free space.
to extremely high frequency (EHF) which has
Microwaves are usually defined as electromagnetic
a range of 30 to 300 GHz. RF Technology is
waves in the frequency region from 300 MHz
used in many different applications, such as
to 30 GHz. This means that the wavelength in
television, radio, mobile phones, radar and
free space has the same order of size as the
automatic identification systems.
components used for generation and detection
of microwaves.

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. There are both active and passive tags.

It uses radio frequency to identify objects. In its Passive tags do not have their own energy source,

most basic form, RFID requires two components: they are activated by the radio frequency field

from the antenna of the RFID reader. These chips

• a Radio Signal Transponder, or tag, that is

are intended for use in the consumer goods

attached to an object and contains identifying

industry and the trade sector.

information about the object to which it is

attached and an antenna to communicate Active tags have a power supply, which means data

that information via radio waves; stored can be read at a much greater distance.

• a reader, which creates a radio frequency field Many toll systems, for example, function on

that detects radio waves to obtain information this principle. See Appendix 1 and 2 for

in a tag. further information.

In an RFID system, there is no line of sight

requirement for product identification because
the tags do not need to be seen by a scanner.

Some form of number code is generally stored

on the transponder. It encrypts information
which is recorded in a database for access by
authorised users. International organisations
such EPCglobal are working to establish uniform
worldwide standards for this number code.

Where is RFID used?

RFID is already widely used across a broad range of industries. This table shows some RFID applications.

Industry Sector Specific Use Examples

Retail • Track and trace
• Product recalls
• Streamlined shipping and receiving
• Automated invoice reconciliation
• Shrinkage reduction
• Improved demand planning
Healthcare • Red Cross: monitoring blood banks
• Hospitals: monitoring medication routes from medicine cabinet to patient
• Pharmacy: drug recall (product pedigree)
• Prescription drugs: identifying counterfeit or falsely labelled medications
Logistics • Asset utilization: asset (e.g., containers, trucks, etc.) management,
tracking and maintenance
• Improving operational efficiencies: volume planning and automated
data capture through shipping route
• Safety and security: shipment route tracing and positive identification
of package contents
• Automated customs
Automotive • Capital asset management: container and tool management
• Part tracking: inventory management; assembly; theft control;
brand authentication; distribution; recall; recycling
• Vehicle related: car identification; access control; tire pressure
Food Industry • Mad Cow Disease/Bird Flu: cow/bird pedigree, herd/flock history
and details about the release into the food chain (Traceability)
• Restaurants: responding to outbreaks of food poisoning
Department of Defence • Supplies and materials management: track and trace;
streamlined receiving; etc.
• Military assets management: asset utilisation, tracking and maintenance
Security/Policing • Passport
• ID’s
• Criminal tracking
Airline • Baggage handling


Deploying RFID

RFID is a technology from which many uses To successfully implement/deploy RFID the
and applications can be found that can add following should be considered:
value to a business. It also requires special skills.
• Planning
Several companies in Northern Ireland have
Careful planning is essential to ensure that
already adopted and implemented RFID
the organisation benefits and to avoid risks.
successfully. Success stories are included
It will require creation of a new policy to adopt
later in this document.
the technology. Communication, education
Both local universities have extensive experience and training plans must also be in pace.
in RFID ranging fundamental research and design
• Physics
to application. Queen’s University Belfast and
Physics is a very important factor in the
University of Ulster are the best source to supply
implementation process. Selecting the right
RFID skills to the local industry. Their laboratories
hardware (tags, reader, range of frequencies,
can be used to analyse and characterise devices.
number of reader etc) and designing the
The first step in deploying RFID is to map out software are crucial. Therefore, the design
requirements and to consider if other technologies stage and understanding the business model
may be more suitable. A. SWOT analysis can are important factors for decision making
help to tease out requirements. exercises. It is essential to identify/select
the right partner to supply the hardware
Some organisations will factor RFID into their
to provide the right solution.
strategy, as RFID can be seen as part of the
Six Sigma process of continuous improvement. • Pilot
The most important factor to any organisation The pilot phase is critical. This phase is a test
is Return on Investment. for project planning. It is important to carry
out pilot trials before full scale implementation,
in order to ensure that the hardware and
software works to plan. This phase can be
used as a training step to familiarise staff
with the technology prior to full deployment.
It is essential to review the design and
specification at this stage.

• Production
The production phase or full scale phase is
the methodical scaling up of a well designed
system. If the Planning and Pilot phases were
completed with clear objectives and goals in
mind, the implementation process can be
very smooth. Project management coupled
with clear goals is a key factor. Contingency
and flexibility need to be built into the project
as this technology is new to most companies.

ODIN technologies developed the following

model to implement/deploy RFID solution.

Figure 1, illustrates 4 Ps to deploy RFID

technology - source ODIN technologies.

The Use of RFID

The Use of RFID and its applications in The once obscure acronym RFID (Radio Frequency
manufacturing, logistics and supply chain IDentification, the use of electromagnetic waves
management, retailing etc. to identify a physical object) has recently been
in the news in many contexts. In this document,
RFID is a flexible technology that is convenient,
we will try to explain how that single acronym
easy to use, and well-suited for automatic operation.
is used for a number of different, but related,
It combines advantages not available with other
technologies with distinct characteristics,
identification technologies. RFID can be supplied
and examine some of the unique analog and RF
as read-only or read/write, does not require
problems encountered in designing RFID systems.
contact or line-of-sight to operate, can function
under a variety of environmental conditions, • Unlike the barcode where identification is
and provides a high level of data integrity. limited by line-of-sight, RFID technology and
In addition, because the technology is difficult to its reliance on radio waves does not require
counterfeit, RFID provides a high level of security. a line-of-sight for identification or a straight-
line alignment between the tags and readers.
RFID is similar in concept to bar coding. Bar code
• As new applications develop, the technology
systems use a reader and coded labels that are
will continue to evolve. Growth beyond today’s
attached to an item, whereas RFID uses a reader
user-specific systems will occur as RFID is
and special RFID devices that are attached to
deployed across the marketplace and the
an item. Bar code uses optical signals to transfer
related hardware and software achieve
information from the label to the reader;
a high degree of harmonization.
RFID uses RF signals to transfer information
from the RFID device to the reader.
Radio waves transfer data between an item
to which an RFID device is attached and an • As the technology matures and applications
RFID reader. The device can contain data about proliferate, RFID will facilitate global commerce
the item, such as what the item is, what time and spur innovation and competitiveness.
the device travelled through a certain zone, • RFID technology increases visibility and
perhaps even a parameter such as temperature. accountability in the supply chain. RFID will
RFID devices, such as a tag or label, can be allow manufacturers, retailers, and suppliers
attached to virtually anything – from a vehicle to efficiently collect, manage, distribute,
to a pallet of merchandise. and store information on inventory, business
processes, and security controls.

Challenges • The collection and use of personally identifiable

information through RFID technologies
• As is common with emerging technologies, represents a key public policy challenge to
several challenges must be overcome for the deployment and use of RFID technologies.
the technology to mature to its full potential.
In the case of RFID, these challenges include: Much of this concern is with the collection,

maturation of RFID technology, harmonization use, and storage of the data rather than the

of standards for hardware/software and technology itself. Industry-driven solutions

wireless spectrum operations, privacy and are beginning to include a combination of

security concerns, and implementation operational guidelines, technical solutions,

cost barriers. As these technical and policy and educational campaigns.

challenges are addressed, RFID will likely

An RFID system consists of tag, antenna and reader,
become the system of choice for
which is illustrated below.
global commerce.

• Interoperability across various RFID systems,

companies, and countries is critical to achieving
wide-scale deployment of RFID technology.
Development of technical standards for tags,
readers, and interface systems; and allocation
of operational limits for frequency and
transmission power will determine global

• Initial system and implementation costs

are still being refined; in the near-term
this could prove to be an impediment to Each RFID system includes at least one antenna
large-scale adoption. Within small and to transmit and receive the RF signals. In some
medium-sized enterprises, although RFID systems, a single antenna transmits and
provides them with new opportunities to receives the signals; in other systems, one
compete in the global market, limited budgets, antenna transmits and one antenna receives
lack of in-house expertise, and a lack of access the signals. The quantity and type of antennas
to new technologies could act as barriers used depend on the application.
to adoption.


Reader However, it has become common within the

industry to interchange the terminology and refer
The RFID reader directs the RF transceiver to to these devices as either tags or transponders.
transmit RF signals, receives the encoded signal For the purposes of this overview, an RFID device
from the tag through the RF transceiver, that actively transmits to a reader is termed an
decodes the tag’s identification, and transmits “active” tag; an RFID device that only reflects
the identification with any other data from the or backscatters transmission from a reader
tag to the host computer. The reader may also is termed “passive.”
provide other functions. The user can change
or customise the reader’s operations to suit The tags are programmed with data that identifies

a specific requirement by issuing commands the item to which the tag is attached. Tags can

through the host computer or a local terminal. be either read -only, volatile read/write, or write
one/read many (WORM) and can be either active
or passive. In general, active tags use batteries
to power the tag transmitter (radio) and receiver.
RFID ‘tags’ are tiny microchips, in some cases These tags usually contain a greater number
as small as a grain of sand, which hold unique of components than do passive tags.
data identifying the object tagged. These tags, Therefore, active tags are usually larger in
which have a small antenna attached, are read size and are more expensive than passive tags.
remotely by an RFID reader. Depending on In addition, the life of an active tag is directly
the radio frequency used and the type of tag, related to battery life.
RFID tags can be read in some instances up
Passive tags can be either battery or
to several kilometres away, although it is more
non-battery operated, as determined by the
typical for RFID to be used in situations where
intended applications. Passive tags reflect the
shorter transmission distances are adequate.
RF signal transmitted to them from a reader or
Tags can be passive (activated when read)
transceiver and add information by modulating
or active, equipped with their own micro-battery
the reflected signal. A passive tag does not use a
and a transmitter.
battery to boost the energy of the reflected signal.
An RFID device that did not actively transmit A passive tag may use a battery to maintain
to a reader was known as a tag. An RFID device memory in the tag or power the electronics that
that actively transmitted to a reader was known enable the tag to modulate the reflected signal.
as a transponder (Transmitter + responder).


Passive Tag However, the resulting power received at the

reader is dependent on the fourth rather than
Passive tags have neither a battery nor a the second power of the distance: Prec ? (1/r4),
radio transmitter. Power to operate the tag IC and falls off very rapidly, so that receive-limited
is obtained by rectifying RF energy intercepted range may also be only a few 10s of meters.
by the tag antenna. The IC power required is
typically some 10s to a few hundred microwatts, The limited power available to the IC also limits

greatly in excess of the threshold for detection the amount of information that can be stored

for a conventional radio link operating at similar and the amount of computational power available:

data rates. Thus the forward-link-limited range passive tags can’t be expected to deal with

of a passive tag is a few meters to perhaps the array of methods used in conventional

15 meters depending on the radiated power radios to ameliorate noise and fading,

and antenna gain. such as interleaving, convolution coding,

or phase-shift-keyed modulations.
A parallel channel with shorter time constants
rectifies part of the received signal to extract The benefit obtained from all the sacrifices in

the amplitude-modulated information from the performance is a considerable reduction in cost

reader. Since there is no coherent frequency and complexity: commercial tags are available

conversion and limited amplification available, today at costs as low as US$0.20 in volume,

tag receive sensitivity is also greatly inferior with a plausible path to costs of less than US$0.10.

to that of a conventional radio, but expensive Passive tags are small and thin, and can be

and power-hungry components required by a embedded in adhesive labels and other unobtrusive

conventional receiver (synthesizer, mixer, LNA, etc.) structures, and since they have no battery they

are avoided. Finally, the tag does not transmit its are maintenance-free and have long field lifetimes.

own signal to the reader, but simply modulates

the signal that its antenna backscatters by Active Tag
changing the antenna impedance.
Active tags are architecturally-conventional radios,
In this fashion, the tag need only provide a using a battery to power a transmitter and receiver
switching function operating at a modest rate and well as the IC. The resulting performance
comparable to the data rate (a few hundred Kbps), improvements allow for ranges of hundreds
rather than requiring oscillators, amplifiers, of meters in unlicensed outdoor operation,
and mixers operating at 900 MHz.


but size and cost are considerably higher than Semi-passive tags can be integrated with
passive tags, making active tags appropriate sensing capability. However, batteries must
only for marking of expensive assets or be replaced periodically. Battery life of up to
tracking of people. To minimize power usage, five years is achieved by careful design and
active tags often transmit infrequent short bursts, low-power signal-present detection so that
using pseudo noise-coded schemes similar to most of the circuitry is off when no interrogator
code-division multiplexing (CDMA) techniques is present. Semi-passive tags are much larger
employed in cellular telephony. and more expensive than passive tags.

These brief bursts allow for accurate time-of arrival Passive

measurements and therefore precise location of
the transmitter if multiple receivers are available;
active tags are often used to provide both
identity and location of valuable assets such
as shipping containers in outdoor storage yards.
Because they are powered, active tags can have
large memory capacities and may also store
shipping manifests and provide sophisticated Semi-Active

sensing and timestamp capability.

Semi-Active Tag

Semi-passive (or semi-active) tags are

equipped with a battery to provide power
for the integrated circuit(s), but still use
backscattered communications to avoid

a radio transmitter. Semi-passive tags can

achieve longer ranges, generally limited by
reader receive sensitivity: 10s to as much as
100 meters are realistic. Read reliability is
greatly enhanced, since the tag no longer
depends on the reader to remain powered.


RFID System in Operation technology, further discussing how RFID and

(System Integration) bar coding work together and introducing the
steps required to meet RFID compliance.
Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a
general term for technology that uses radio At its most basic, an RFID system consists of
waves to automatically identify individual items. three components: a tag, an interrogator and
RFID has been around since World War Two; software to control the data flowing through
however, it was long considered too expensive the system.
and too limited to be practical for many
The tag, or “transponder”, generates electrical
commercial applications until recently.
signals that are interpreted by the interrogator,
Mandates for its use from major retailers
or “reader”. The interrogator not only receives
and the US Department of Defense have
the signals, but may also activate them within
increased the awareness of RFID from
the tag. That’s why an interrogator is a multi­
both vendors and users.
component system: “transceiver”, RF antenna(s)
This increased awareness will likely expand and computer chip. The transceiver activates
the uses of RFID technology and, consequently, the tag and receives the information from it via
improve the economies of it – thus overcoming the antenna. In some cases, one antenna transmits
both earlier objections. the signals to activate the tag and a separate
antenna receives the data from the tag.
RFID technology in the manufacturing
environment offers the potential to enhance the The chip decodes the data before it
use of bar coding in several ways. RFID systems is transmitted to the host computer.
can withstand extreme heat, cold and even
The software transforms the data into information
chemical exposure. The tag can be read
describing the goods and orders that are
through up to two inches of non-metallic debris,
represented by the tags. Software also controls
including paint, plastic, cloth, wood and concrete.
whether data should be written, which tag should
RFID tags also increases efficiency because
contain the data and initiates the process of
direct line-of-site between the tag and the
writing data to the tag.
reader is not required.

Tags, themselves, can be divided into two groups

This white paper expands on each of these
– active and passive. Active tags contain a battery,
topics by providing a basic overview of RFID


which enables them to transmit data to identify only the manufacturer and product,
the transceiver. Passive tags do not contain not the unique item. The bar code on a bread
a battery, so they depend on the transceiver wrapper is the same as every other; however,
for activation. Both active and passive tags each loaf of bread could have a unique RFID
possess either read/write or read-only functionality. tag, making it easier to determine freshness.
Read-only tags usually function like licence plates
Another key advantage that RFID provides over
by identifying the object and pointing to more
bar codes is due to the inherent technology.
specific information stored in a database.
Radio waves travel through most non-metallic
Read/write tags allow the information stored on
materials, so RFID tags can be embedded in
the tag to be edited, locked or completely erased,
packaging or encased in protective plastic for
which makes them re-usable. Read/write tags
weatherproofing and greater durability. RFID
also store more information on the tag and
tags also have microchips that can store a
may not require a database lookup or any
unique serial number for every product
contact with an external system.
manufactured around the world.

RFID versus Barcodes

Radio Frequency Ranges
RFID is not necessarily ‘better’ than bar codes.
Just as different radio channels have different
The two are different technologies and have
frequencies, RFID tags and interrogators have to
different applications, which sometimes overlap.
be tuned to the same frequency to communicate.
The major difference between the two is that Radio waves behave differently at different
bar codes depend on line-of-sight technology. frequencies. The most common frequencies
That is, a scanner has to have direct contact for RFID systems are low- (around 125 KHz),
with the bar code to read it, which means the high- (13.56 MHz) and ultra-high frequency,
bar code has to be oriented towards a scanner or UHF (850-900 MHz). Some applications
in order to be read. even use microwave (2.45 GHz). Europe uses
868 MHz for UHF, and the U.S. uses 915 MHz.
Alternatively, RFID tags can be read anywhere
Japan currently does not allow any use of
within range of a reader. Bar code labels are
the UHF spectrum for RFID.
also more fragile than RFID tags. If a bar code
label is ripped, soiled or falls off, there is no Because RFID systems generate and radiate
way to scan the item. Standard bar codes electromagnetic waves, they are legally classified


as radio systems. The function of other radio Tag and reader makers are also trying to
services must under no circumstances be develop systems that can work at more than one
disrupted or impaired by the operation of frequency to overcome the interference issues.
RFID systems. It is particularly important Each frequency has different characteristics that
to ensure that RFID systems do not interfere make it more useful for specific applications.
with nearby radio and television, mobile services Low-frequency tags are ideal for scanning
(police, security services, ambulance services, objects with high-water content, such as fruit,
industry etc), marine and aeronautical radio at close range.
services and mobile telephone.
This is because they are less expensive than
Governments regulate the power of the ultra high frequency (UHF) tags, use less power
interrogators to limit interference with other and are better able to penetrate non-metallic
devices. The variety of interrogators available substances. On the other hand, UHF tags might
today reflects the variety of environments in be better for scanning boxes of goods as they
which they are installed: pass through a bay door into a warehouse.

• Portals: Dock doors and transfer tunnels, This is because UHF frequencies typically

conveyors, palletisers, etc. that use fixed offer better range and can transfer data faster.

devices in which RFID labels are read However, they use more power and are less likely
to pass through materials. They also require
• Portables: Forklifts, mobile carts, hand-helds,
a clear path between the tag and reader.
etc. that provide mobility


Research Activities

Research activities in RF and its applications at the

Queen’s University Belfast and University of Ulster.


Queen’s University
The Institute’s 14,000 m2 headquarters building
houses state-of-the-art laboratories, offices
and one of the largest RF (microwave and
millimetre wave) anechoic chambers in Ireland.
It is staffed by 120 academics, senior research staff,
post-doctoral fellows, research students and
administrators. Among them are 40 highly
qualified industrial and academic researchers
recruited from around the globe. In addition,
TDK - the Japanese electronics company -
has located a six person R&D unit in the building.

Located at the Northern Ireland Science Park

in Belfast, ECIT has received funding from the
European Union, Invest Northern Ireland and
the Department for Employment and Learning,
The Institute of Electronics, Communications and Northern Ireland.
Information Technology (ECIT) was established
ECIT consists of four research clusters:
in 2003 to commercialise world-level expertise
in a variety of digital communications • High Frequency Electronic Circuits/Antennas;

technologies at the School of Electronics, • System-on-Chip;

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science • Digital Communications; and
at Queen’s University Belfast.
• Speech and Vision Systems.
Its four research clusters cover areas such It plays a leading R&D role in both hardware and
as broadband wireless communications, software in the areas of advanced digital and
electronic data security, image and speech communications technology. It provides a rich
processing, telecommunications software and mixture of ‘blue-skies’ research and strategic
antenna design for mobile communications. industrial related research and development.


ECIT is already working with a number of Contact ECIT:

local companies on RFID, offering expertise,
consultancy and collaborative agreements. Enquiries about assistance with
It is capable of providing a comprehensive product development contact:
range of services customised to customers needs.
Mr Conor Quinn MBA
Business Development Executive
Facilities ECIT, Queen's University Belfast
Northern Ireland Science Park
The facilities available are of the highest
Queen's Road, Queen's Island
industrial standard and include calibrated:
Belfast BT3 9DT
• Vector Network Analysis to 110 GHz
• Power and frequency to 110 GHz

• On wafer probing to 110 GHz

• On-Chip Temperature cycling from

-65 to 200°C

• Noise measurements to 26.5 GHz.

• Quasi Optical Measurements to 700 GHz

• Large Signal Time Domain Measurements

to 40 GHz

• Vector Signal Analysis to 40 GHz

• 10m Far Field anechoic chamber

• 1.5m x 1.5m Near Field Scanner

Companies already making use of ECIT facilities

include TDK Electronics Ireland, OMMIC,
Rutherford Appleton Laboratories,
Astrium EADS and many others.


University of Ulster

bio-inspired systems, intelligent wireless

technologies and cognitive robotics.

The research is being applied to topics as diverse

as intelligent embedded systems, hybrid intelligent
machine vision systems, re-configurable
computing, hardware-software partitioning,
design automation, self-repair of complex
embedded systems, robot-robot cooperation,
human-robotic collaboration and wireless
sensory networks. The work of the group extends
from theoretical studies of computational
intelligent systems (computational neuroscience)
through to the application of the research results
in local and national industry. There is strong
and fruitful interaction with a range of companies,
and substantial emphasis on the exploitation
RFID Work within the Intelligent Systems
of intellectual property generated by the group.
Engineering Laboratory, University of Ulster
The group has attracted over £15 million research
at Magee
funding in recent years.
The Intelligent Systems Engineering Laboratory
The Wireless Technology Demonstration Centre
(ISEL) is a research group within the Faculty of
(WTDC), within ISEL, provides a centre-point
Engineering on the Magee College campus of
for wireless technology research, development
the University of Ulster. The group was founded
and demonstration. WTDC develops innovative
in 1997 and is composed of approximately 45
applications which use wireless technologies
academic staff, research associates and
in areas within the medical, industrial,
research students.
commercial and educational domains: wireless
ISEL focuses on intelligent systems in the sensory networks, supply chain management,
widest sense; including research into a range location based services, positioning systems
of intelligent and hybrid technologies, neural and gaming. These demonstrations utilise
networks, fuzzy systems, genetic/evolutionary technologies such as RFID, Zigbee, Bluetooth,
algorithms, hybrid intelligent systems, reasoning, WiFi and GPS.

The EpiCentre (Electronics Production and RFID projects include:
Innovation Centre), also within ISEL, is a • RFID and Zigbee internal
multi-million pound cross-border technology positioning systems: utilises RFID,
partnership to enable businesses in the Zigbee and WiFi technologies to implement
north-west cross border region to tap into an alternative method for indoor positioning,
the expertise of academics, specialised achieved through an integration of Wireless
equipment and research facilities. Sensor Networks and RFID technology.

EpiCentre is a collaborative venture between the • Active RFID long-range tracking: involves the
University of Ulster at Magee, the North West tracking of assets and staff with long range
Institute for Further and Higher Education and active RFID technology. The positioning system
Letterkenny Institute of Technology and is uses RFID readers and active tags running
supported by the EU INTERREG IIIA Programme at 433 MHz. It can achieve read ranges of
for Ireland/Northern Ireland. Partner institutions between 30 – 100m depending on the type
have invested heavily in facilities and dedicated of antenna used. Some of the benefits
personnel at each of the three sites. include improved security and improved
efficiency of asset management.
The primary goal of EpiCentre is to help stimulate
• Consumer RFID & NFC: uses passive tags to
innovation and growth by helping businesses in
perform predetermined operations automatically
the region overcome technological challenges
by touching an RFID tag with the RFID
and to develop new and innovative products.
reader/writer on a mobile phone. Each tag

To date EpiCentre has supported over 50 contains data that enables a mobile phone,

local client companies with hands on practical with an inbuilt RFID reader, to initiate

assistance and technological expertise. a service, such as calling, messaging,

Several of these client projects have involved browsing or recording data.

expertise in the general area of Wireless • RFID supply chain management: this project
Technology including RFID, Zigbee, WiFi and is investigating how RFID has and will continue
wireless sensors. to improve industrial supply chain management
(SCM) systems. Certain challenges exist
in replacing current strategies such as
barcode scanning technology with RFID.


This includes various aspects of RFID SCM from For further details contact:
the supplier, to manufacturing/warehousing,
to distribution/ logistics, and finally to Prof. Martin McGinnity, Director
the retailer. Intelligent Systems Engineering Laboratory,
School of Computing and Intelligent Systems,
• RFID Health Care: focuses on how RFID can
University of Ulster at Magee, Northland Road,
complement and improve access to hospital
Derry, Northern Ireland, BT48 7JL
information systems through passive RFID
patient tags. Specific challenges addressed
+44 (0) 28 7137 5417
include: cost-effective administration of
medical assets, enhanced healthcare workflow,
reduction of error-prone paper administrative
processes, real-time and accurate information
systems, and increased productivity.

RFID is an invaluable asset in ensuring the

quality and safety of perishables by providing
visibility into environmental conditions during
shipment and storage. This work focuses on
investigating how RFID can be utilised for
monitoring the condition of temperature-
sensitive objects during these stages.


Case Studies


Ulster Carpets (Compete)

The Company It is the first company in Northern Ireland,

perhaps in the UK, to apply an RFID solution
Ulster Carpet Mills (Holdings) Limited is a family in manufacturing. Developed in-house by the
owned group that has five manufacturing research and development team, PSYLO is a
plants and a world wide sales, marketing and significant technological advancement.
design network. The largest subsidiary,
Ulster Carpet Mills Limited, (UCM) is based in The patented technology enables Ulster Carpets

Portadown, Northern Ireland and employs over to exceed the needs of the marketplace,

500 people. It manufactures high quality woven focusing on surpassing colour and design

Axminster and Wilton Carpet, and has become capabilities for woven carpets and providing an

the world's second largest Axminster producer. enhanced degree of service excellence to clients.

Ulster Carpets production facilities are now at

The Challenge an unrivalled level of automation and efficiency
and allow the organisation to maintain a clear
• Reduce waste
and renewed focus upon the future direction
• Higher loom efficiency of investment to the local Portadown area.
• Removal of cost adding operations In essence this revolutionary development
clearly illustrates Ulster Carpets commitment

Invest Northern Ireland to UK manufacturing and further enhances

Intervention the company’s competitiveness on an

international platform.
RFID project was support by Invest Northern
Ireland under the Compete Programme.

The Benefits

• Reduce waste.

• Increase staff productivity.

• Better machine utilisation.

Ulster Carpets developed an RFID solution

in-house including both hardware and software.


Kilpatrick (PPD)

The Company • During development, Kilpatrick discovered

that Calor UK used barcodes as a means of
Kilpatrick Ltd is a Cookstown based company tracking LPG cylinders and were unaware
developing vending systems for use primarily that RFID was a superior alternative. Calor
on filling station forecourts. The company is asked Kilpatrick to examine this technology
continually seeking to improve its product range area on its behalf.
and identify niche areas where the outcome of
product development would prove successful.
Invest Northern Ireland
The Product / Service
• Invest NI’s Technology Advisory Unit (TAU)
The company has designed the ‘365’ - a secure, worked with Kilpatrick on its CE Marking
self-service 24 hour fuel vending system aimed programme and ensured that the 365
at automating the retailing of fuels (e.g. coal, system complies with EU health and safety
charcoal, peat, LPG cylinders etc on petrol station rules and environmental legislation.
forecourts, convenience stores and holiday
• Detailed guidance on LPG storage regulations
parks etc. It will help to eliminate shrinkage of
in France was researched and the findings then
these theft-prone products as it adopts a range
provided to Kilpatrick and its French customers.
of secure payment methods thus reducing the
In addition, Invest NI assisted in identifying
reliance on staff-assisted sales.
a local company to equip the 365 system
with solar power capability, enabling the
The Challenge 365 to be sold into off-grid locations,
such as European campsites
• To address export markets, Kilpatrick had
• TAU sourced information on current worldwide
to demonstrate that the 365 system met
RFID developments as applied to LPG cylinders.
legislative requirements, particularly in the
TAU also identified a number of potential
area of product safety and especially in the
technology partner companies in Europe
EU region
and North America.
• Kilpatrick had to familiarise itself with
LPG storage regulations in France in order
to secure sales to this market region.


The Benefits

• The company can now CE mark its product

and is familiar with the requirements for
similar marking of any future systems.

• Concerns raised by their French customers

were addressed and the associated market
can confidently be targeted.

Kilpatrick identified an RFID technology partner

from Switzerland and implemented this technology
within its product. This led to a significant
business opportunity, which generated business
worth many millions of pounds.

Ashdale Engineering

The Company Development of this has been kick-started by
a Smart Award from Invest NI. Ashdale has
Ashdale Engineering Ltd has emerged as developed Ashtrak as a multi- functional asset
Northern Ireland’s leading company for industrial management tool for use in any commercial
automation solutions and is moving forward environment requiring timed auto identification
with an ever improving and impressive array with task lists and user prompts.
of services and products.
One particular application has linked health and
Formed in 1977 with two employees and safety inspection and reporting requirements
representing suppliers of photoelectrics, of local council play park maintenance to staff
emergency lighting and fire alarms, the company management and asset maintenance by using
now represents some 30 principals and has added RFID tags and hand-held terminals. The back
a service and commissioning department, office function is automatically updated and
a systems division, and an in-house training facility. easily configurable and can be modified by
the departmental manager to reflect daily
Ashdale has been able to count on its
requirements whilst retaining the integrity of
established list of ‘blue chip’ customers to
the information for possible future legal purposes.
fuel natural expansion while basing its strategy
on understanding customers’ problems and The data collected is easily synchronised
providing a complete solution with continuing with the central system on return to base.
support and customer service. Auto identification provides full timed traceability
as all pieces of equipment have been tagged
The Product with either RFID tags or barcodes. If the
information collected indicates a need for
Through the company’s pro-active approach to further action such as a maintenance activity
new technology, mobile computing was brought this can be automatically structured to generate
to the forefront and bespoke applications have an action list. A full checking history is available
been developed for customers. A need for an for each item, or each checker should it be
“off the shelf” application to address all aspects necessary to confirm particular events possibly
of equipment inspection has been identified. related to a health and safety issue or an
employee activity log.


The Challenge Invest Northern Ireland

Ashtrak can be paperless and still retain full
reporting and accountability. It can be tailored The project was supported by Invest NI
to suit any asset control requirement using under the SMART Award Scheme.
the latest technology and integrated into most
existing software. Development of this product
was supported by Invest Northern Ireland
under the SMART Programme.

It can be configured to use a wide range of

bar code and RFID technology ranging from
conventional bar codes to the two dimensional
info dot which contains up to 20 times the
information of a traditional bar code. Equipment
and communications have also progressed
so that rugged scanners, signature capture
(for acceptance or authorisation applications),
Bluetooth (for remote applications), GPR/GPRS
(for very remote applications requiring location
information), and large screens (for lots of
information) can all feature in a typical application
to reflect specific requirements and improve
the functionality of the software.


Invest NI and R&D

Financial Assistance
The following Invest Northern Ireland R&D assistance is available.
Please contact your Client Executive prior applying to any assistance.


START Programme

The Start programme aims to increase the shorter if required. Projects are usually either
amount of industrial research undertaken 'company only' projects or partnership projects,
by Northern Ireland based companies either involving a company and a local university
on their own or in partnership with (or universities) and/or another company.
Northern Ireland universities
In very exceptional circumstances, 'university only'
projects can be supported if no Northern Ireland
How it Works industrial partner can be found, the proposed

A Start project is a planned period of research research is relevant to Northern Ireland industry

that aims to: and the research is multi sector in its application.

• Gain new knowledge which will be used in the

development of new products, processes or Eligibility
The programme is open to Northern Ireland
• Bring about a significant improvement in based companies, which are Invest NI clients
existing products, processes or services and Northern Ireland universities.

The programme is managed on an open call basis

and provides financial assistance in the form START Support for RFID
of discretionary grants, loans or investments.
START support may be applicable to assist
The rate of assistance will not normally exceed
industrial relevant research projects involving
50 per cent of eligible project costs and there is
innovative ‘blue sky’ research on RFID technology.
no maximum project size. A typical Start project
will run for three years, but can be longer or


Compete Programme

The overall objective of the Compete Eligibility

programme is to help local companies
become more competitive by providing Compete is open to Invest NI client companies only.
support for developing innovative market If you are not a client company please contact
led products and manufacturing processes. your Regional Invest NI office. Compete is open
to Northern Ireland businesses engaged
in manufacturing - or about to engage
How it Works
in manufacturing, and to internationally
Compete is run in two distinct phases: tradable service businesses.

Phase I - provides an opportunity for

Compete Support for RFID
businesses to plan the project in some detail
and present a complete proposal to Invest NI. Compete support may be applicable to assist new
Support is at a rate of up to 50 per cent product or process development projects involving
of eligible costs to a maximum assistance innovative applications of RFID technology.
of £15,000.

Phase II - support is up to 40 per cent of

eligible costs to a maximum of £250,000
(less any phase I support).


Product and Process

Development Programme
The Product and Process Development (PPD) • Sub-contract
Programme is designed to support smaller • Intellectual property (patents, trademarks etc)
Northern Ireland businesses. This programme
• Materials (consumed during the production
aims to encourage small businesses in developing
of a prototype or during tests/trials)
innovative new market-led products and/or
manufacturing/production processes. • Trials and testing

The grant is dependent on the nature of

Expertise is available within Invest NI to
the company and the product/process costs.
assist companies to draw up a project plan
Maximum grant for this type of project will
(including definition of project costs).
not exceed £35,000.

A grant of up to 40 per cent will be considered

PPD is open to Invest NI client companies
on eligible project costs which may include:
with 50 or less employees only. If you are not
a client company please contact your Regional
• Market/technical research
Invest NI office. The programme is open to
• In-house costs (labour, production,
Northern Ireland businesses engaged in
technical, design)
manufacturing - or about to engage in
• Consultancy manufacturing, and to internationally
tradable service businesses.


Knowledge Transfer
Partnership Programme
Knowledge Transfer Partnerships is Europe’s Benefits for the knowledge base
leading knowledge transfer programme, helping
businesses improve their competitiveness and Through Knowledge Transfer Partnerships
productivity through better use of the knowledge, academics are able to:
technology and skills that reside within the UK
• Develop business-relevant teaching materials;
knowledge base. Knowledge Transfer Partnerships
is intentionally flexible in delivery, allowing • Identify new research themes and

projects to vary in length between 12 and undergraduate and postgraduate projects;

36 months and the knowledge base partners • Publish high quality research papers;
eligible to participate include universities, • Contribute to the Research Assessment
further education institutions, research and Exercise (RAE) and rating of their department.
technology organisations and public sector
research institutes.
Benefits for the Associate

Benefits for the company partner Knowledge Transfer Partnerships can:

Business performance outputs vary considerably • Help graduates enhance their career prospects
from case to case, given the rich variety of projects, by providing an opportunity to manage a
however the latest information shows that, challenging project central to a company’s
on average, the business benefits that can be strategic development and long term growth;
expected from a single KTP project are: • Provide top class training and development
in business management and leadership skills;
• An increase of over £290,000 in annual
profits before tax; • Offer an excellent chance of permanent
employment at the end of the Partnership
• Creation of eight genuine new jobs;
(over 75% of Associates are offered
• An increase in the skills of existing staff. employment on completion of their
project and overall 60% accept).



The overall objective of Smart Award is to • Smart stage 2 – if you win a Smart stage 1
stimulate the creation of new, innovative award and successfully complete the project
businesses and to help existing small businesses you may apply for a Smart stage 2 award
improve their competitiveness by developing for further support to assist with the
new products and processes to the benefit development of a pre-production prototype.
of the national economy. Smart stage 2 awards are non-competitive,
and assistance is available at up to 40% of
There are three types of assistance aimed
the eligible project costs, up to a maximum
at supporting different types of research
of £150,000. Assistance is paid retrospectively
and development projects:
after expenditure is incurred and defrayed.
Projects must take at least six months,
• Smart Micro – is competitive and assists
and no more than 36 months, to complete.
individuals or micro firms (up to 10
employees) to develop a simple low cost Smart stage 2 offers a streamlined application
prototype of an innovative product or process to Smart stage 1 winners continuing their
process with the project lasting 6-12 months. product/process development, provided that
Support is made available at 50% of eligible the application is made within 6 months
project costs. The maximum award is of completion of the Smart stage 1 project.
£10,000 and is normally paid quarterly Please note that assistance under Smart
against claims submitted. stage 2 is not automatic and is dependent
on a negotiated process of approval.
• Smart stage 1 – is competitive and assists
individuals and small firms (up to 50 employees)
to carry out a technical and commercial
feasibility study lasting 6-18 months.
Support is made available at 75% of the
eligible project costs. The maximum award is
£45,000. If justification can be demonstrated
one third is paid up front to the winners and
the remainder is normally paid quarterly
against claims submitted.


Managment Information

System Programme (MIS)

The MIS Scheme aims to improve the quality What are the costs?
of management information through the use
of Information and Communications Companies with up to 50 employees,
Technology (ICT). Typically this requires the potential funding is up to 40%.
implementation of ICT solutions to improve
Companies with more than 50 employees
business processes and automating the
funding will normally be reduced to 25%.
flow of information through the business.
(eg. financial, CRM, production, ERP, MRP, Maximum MIS expenditure is 40% of
document management, etc) £140,000 (£56,000) for companies with up
to 50 employees; 25% of £140,000 (£35,000)
How it Works? for companies with over 50 employees.

Following an initial company visit, a nominated

ICT advisor compiles a report detailing the
costs of the proposed project along with The MIS programme is open to Invest NI
recommendations as to its viability. If the clients only.
application is successful, a letter of offer is
issued to the company and Invest NI monitors
RFID Support
the spend once the project gets underway.
MIS support may be applicable to a client wishing
• Software costs
to implement an RFID system. The MIS support
• Implementation costs could cover the software, implementation and
• Training in the use of the software training (of the software) for an RFID system.

(Hardware costs can not be funded)


Business Improvement
Training Programme
The Business Improvement Training Programme for significant improvement in performance.
can help companies to improve business Companies seeking support for these projects
performance by providing practical and must undertake a Business Health Check within
financial support for training and development six months following agreement. The level of
activities aimed at raising the skills levels support will be negotiated on an individual
of managers and workforces. company basis.

Benefits What are the Costs?

By improving the skills of managers and The costs involved are those associated
other employees, companies can benefit with the training and development activities.
in a number of ways: Training needs are determined by the company
and support available may be both practical
• Increased productivity
and financial. Practical help includes advice
• Improved products and services and guidance on best practice, implementing
• Reduction in waste and overheads training infrastructures and training linked
to national/industry recognised standards.
• Increased profit and turnover

• A more flexible and motivated workforce Financial support is available towards the cost of:

• Course fees
How it Works
• PAYE wages/salary costs – agreed support
Companies seeking support must have undertaken level applies to all eligible salary/wages costs
an Invest NI Business Health Check and are for companies with up to 250 employees.
required to submit a training programme, For companies employing in excess of 250
together with costs, which is linked to improvement employees the support level applies to 50%
projects contained in an integrated action plan of the salary/wages costs
agreed with the company. • Travel and subsistence

Assistance may be available for company • Training materials

projects which can demonstrate the potential • Mentor support for small businesses



Support is aimed at companies involved in

manufacturing or tradeable services that are
engaged in exporting or import substitution,
and, hotels and licensed guest inns certified
by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.

Where/When Does
the Programme Run?

The Business Improvement Training Programme

runs continuously and applications for support
from eligible companies may be submitted
at any time.

If you require this brochure in an alternative format
(including Braille, disk, audio cassette or in minority
languages to meet the needs of those whose first
language is not English) then please contact:

Invest NI’s Equality Team

T : 028 9069 8390/8268
Textphone : 028 9069 8585
E-mail :


Bedford Square
Bedford Street
Belfast BT2 7ES
T : 028 9023 9090

F : 028 9043 6536

Textphone : 028 9069 8585