What was the reason for Zebra and SAP to strengthen their collaboration in RFID technology?
Hohberger: In March 2004, SAP and Zebra decided to capitalize on our five year partnership and with the customer in mind, decided to create a direct connection between our two respective RFID products. At the time, SAP was developing its RFID Technology – SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure and Zebra had just announced the availability of our first UHF product in the market — the R4MPlus. Many things have changed since that early decision to partner including an aggressive product launch schedule (Zebra currently has seven RFID printer/encoders available on the market today with more coming soon).
Zebra developed a partnership with SAP as a result of our customers’ needs to do bar code labeling from SAP. In 1999, Zebra and SAP Walldorf partnered to create Zebra’s BAR-ONE for mySAP Business Suite. This product was the first bar code labeling solution available to SAP customers. Today, we have since sold thousands of BAR-ONE for mySAP Business Suite copies and recently released a version that supports Unicode,a critical component for SAP’s multi-national customers.
With which specific competencies and products do Zebra and SAP contribute to the partnership?
Hohberger: Zebra has four RFID printer/encoders that offer a direct connection to SAP AII including the R110Xi, the R170Xi (the only 6’ printer available on the market today) for North America. Also, the RPAX4 print engine offers a direct connect for print and apply applications from SAP AII. Zebra partners with companies who incorporate our print engines into their high-speed print applicators. We also are in the process of introducing our R4MPlus printer/encoder for Europe. When released, it will be the only printer/encoder that will offer a direct connection to SAP AII in Europe. Direct connection to SAP AII is an ideal way to begin encoding RFID tags in pilots or slap-and-ship type implementations.
What is the goal of the collaboration?
Hohberger: The goal of our joint collaboration was to provide seamless connectivity for our customers. Since Zebra and SAP are installed in more than 90 percent of the Fortune 500, creating an out-of-the-box connection was the right thing to do for our customers. As mentioned earlier, there are implementation requirements where a direct connection is not a logical choice due to a high number of devices (RFID wall-mount reader, hand-held scanner, a scale, and so on.) In those situations, device management software is needed to manage the communication between the devices. SAP is partnering with several companies that offer device management software and many of those companies also sell Zebra RFID printer/encoders.
How do Zebra and SAP Research cooperate?
Hohberger: SAP Research and Zebra have done joint research in the areas of privacy, authentification, and encoding technology. They are working on a project idea about multi-model ticketing that will provide a multiple tagging and encoding technology for tracking and tracing resources including people for airport management. In addition to this, SAP Research and Zebra currently seek for opportunities on joint government funded research projects to extend their research activities towards government organizations and further partners.
To what extent do currently non-existent internationally uniform RFID-standards influence the development work?
Hohberger: In fact, international RFID standards are being developed under ISO and IEC Joint Technical Committees SC17 (financial cards) and SC31 (item management). There are ISO/IEC 14443 and ISO/IEC 15693 standards for financial smart cards, fare collection, and identity cards. The multi-part ISO/IEC 18000 series has defined RFID devices for operation at frequencies smaller than 150 kHz, 13.56 MHz, 433 MHz, 860-960 MHz, and 2.45 GHz. This includes all aspects of the RF interface to the device, and addresses compatibility with the diverse international radio regulations.
EPCglobal has submitted their Class 1 Generation 2 (“Gen2”) specification to ISO, and it is currently undergoing fast-track approval to become ISO 18000-6c.This process should be completed in 2006. Additional ISO/IEC standards have been or are being developed that specify data structures and mechanisms to permit multiple applications using the same frequency and tag type to coexist in the same environment. This is important in applications like airline baggage handling, where reading a bag tag may also result in reading additional tags on products, library books, or smart cards, contained within the bag itself.
An important aspect of the ISO standardization process is that it provides a proven mechanism for identifying the relevant patents and intellectual property that read on the practice of each ISO standard. This is a critical step in the global deployment of UHF RFID for supply chain management.
It seems that some industry sectors push the use of RFID more than others. What industry sectors do SAP and Zebra focus on entering the RFID market?
Hohberger: We focus on Consumer Products and Retail Supply Chain Management, Defense and Military Supply Chain Management, Parts tracking in Aerospace, Engineering and Automotive Industries, Commercial trird-party Logistics, Parcel Handling, Pharmaceutical Labeling, Medical Applications, Security and Access Control applications.
Do different industry sectors have different requirements related to the use of RFID? How does Zebra address those?
Hohberger: The table shows some of the commonalities and differences between the applications for the industry sectors mentioned above.
Zebra Technologies provides a broad range of printer-encoders and label applicator print/encode engines supporting both 13.56 MHz ISO transponders and the UHF EPCglobal Class 0, Class 1 and in the near future also Generation 2 transponders. We also provide applications-specific media for a number of these applications, and information to customers and label convertors allowing them to design application specific media for use in Zebra printer/encoders.
Do Zebra and SAP collaborate with further partners in their joint RFID activities?
Hohberger: Zebra is well known for the strength of its partner program – PartnersFirst. Zebra has a specific program for RFID Value Added Resellers that is a subset of the PartnersFirst program. There are several RFID business partners that we have in common with SAP including Peak Technologies, Acsis, Inc., and Catalyst. Each of these companies resells Zebra printers or RFID printer/encoders into the SAP space. These business partners work with SAP end-users on a daily basis to provide solutions for their Auto-ID business needs. The value that these business partners bring is SAP expertise, hands-on knowledge of Zebra hardware, and can provide a complete Auto-ID solution for SAP implementations. We also partner with handheld manufacturers that sell hardware into the SAP space including Symbol Technologies with whom we have a strategic business relationship. Also, Psion Teklogix and LXE are members of our PartnersFirst program and resell our mobile printers, bar code printers and RFID printer/encoders with their hardware.
Is the collaboration limited to certain regions, for example the US market?
Hohberger: Zebra and SAP are collaborating on a global basis. The majority of companies adopting RFID at this point are located in North American and in Europe. Zebra’s RFID printer/encoders are showcased at several SAP demo centers including SAP Labs in Palo Alto and SAP America Headquarters in Newtown Square with Acsis, a Zebra PartnersFirst program partner, Accenture and Symbol Technologies.
What user groups are addressed with the combined SAP-Zebra-solutions?
Hohberger: RFID projects involve almost everyone in the company from the CIO to Logistics to Quality to Merchandizing if RFID is being placed on package design. RFID may involve people who manage vendor relationships with retail companies. It could also involve the person in the IT group that manages EDI with suppliers. It’s a multi-disciplined approach within the company. The key executives involved in the implementation are frequently the CIO or the Head of Logistics.
Who implements the RFID-solutions in the companies? Who supports them during the implementation and integration phase?
Hohberger: If a company is doing their own internal project, then most of the time, a special projects person is assigned to lead and manage the project from within the company. This person may come from IT or business management. If the company does not have internal resources to manage the project, then companies bring in a services company to lead the project such as a Global Consulting Firm, an Integrated Services company, or a traditional Zebra PartnersFirst program partner.