A prototype multi-protocol RFID printer was unveiled at the Frontline Solutions Conference & Exposition this week.
Intermec Technologies introduced the PM 4i Smart Printer, said to be the first multi-protocol printer in the market.
The PM 4i RFID encodes and prints onto an RFID-readable tag in any one of three different RFID standards: EPCGlobal Class O; Class 1; and the ISO RFID standard. The printer is also upgradeable to the forthcoming UHF Generation 2 standard.
The PM 4i RFID is targeted at a market with multiple versions of RFID tag standards being used by various retailers and industries as well as by the US Department of Defense. Eventually most industries are expected to unite around the UHF Generation 2 standard.
An Intermec executive said that Class 0 and 1 are not open standards. "UHF Gen 2 is a worldwide standard and not considered proprietary. Class 1 and Class 0 are ad hoc with only one manufacturer of each at the base silicon level," said Doug Hall, director of printer marketing at Intermec.
While RFID-enabled labels have the inlay or insert antenna embedded between the label layers, the final product data is encoded by the printer, said Hall. The unit also decodes to verify that the content is correct.
Until now any supplier working with multiple retailers which had different RFID standards requirements needed a different printer to encode and decode RFID content to comply with each individual standard.
The Intermec printer does not require a PC interface and becomes a programmable client on the network. "It is an intelligent device rather than a dumb peripheral. It can even support a keyboard or scanner to turn it into a quasi-terminal," said Hall.
The unit comes with an SDK using a visual programming environment for a basic interpreted language that runs on the PM 4i RFID. For example, a scale could be attached to the printer allowing the printer to change postage or print unique pricing labels as appropriate.
The device is also capable of sending alerts to PDAs, mobile phones, or via e-mail. Interfaces include EasyLan Ethernet, USB, and serial ports with parallel port and wireless Lan as options.
Samples are shipping now, with volume shipments expected early next year.
Ephraim Schwartz writes for Inforworld