Texas Instruments: Tag, You're It

By Mel Duvall  |  Posted 2002-12-01
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Talk to anyone at Texas Instruments (TI) in the Radio Frequency Identification Systems (RFID) division, and they'll quickly point out that the technology is far from new. In fact, RFID systems have been around in various shapes and forms for about 40 years.

But RFID-based systems are just entering the mainstream. And some suggest the technology could become as common as bar codes and credit cards.

Venture Development Corp., a research firm, estimates sales of RFID tags and related systems reached $951 million in 2001. Analyst Mike Liard believes TI captured the biggest portion of sales, but it's still only about 10% of the market.

Retail is a prime market for RFID, with The Gap, Marks & Spencer, and Prada among the early adopters.

Thomas Durovsik, CEO of FreedomPay, a firm implanting RFID payment systems in a number of retail settings, cites several factors behind the technology's rise. First, it's been proven in such arenas as access security control. Second, there's increasing demand to trace the lifecycle of a product, such as a component in an auto. Third, the technology is fast and affordable. Depending on capabilities, tags can cost from 30 to 40 cents each to about $1.

Bloomington-Normal Seating Co., a Bloomington, Ill., manufacturer of seats for automakers such as Mitsubishi, began putting TI RFID tags on seat components earlier this year. Kent Sulzberger, information systems assistant manager, says the tags allow the company to know exactly where each component for a single vehicle is at any time. That means the company can automate data storage for the installation of items such as air bags, which must be kept for warranty and liability matters.

Sulzberger says the technology has performed well. The biggest hurdle is to get employees to follow proper procedures such as placing a tag in the right location.

Jim Hopwood, managing director for Intellident, a British firm which has been rolling out RFID supply-chain systems, uses TI largely because it can produce tags at scale, cheaply. Intellident is installing a system for retailer Marks & Spencer that involves placing more than 1.2 million RFID-tags on plastic totes used for picking and sorting food. The technology reduced by 84% the time it takes to identify items in a container—a process that used to be completed by bar code scanning. Hopwood rates TI as an "excellent" business partner in the project. "They listened to our issues and addressed any concerns."

Reference Checks

Executives listed here are all users of TI's RFID technology. Their willingness to talk has been confirmed by Baseline.

Kent Sulzberger
Assistant Manager, Information Systems
(309) 452-7878
Project: Auto-seat manufacturer uses RFID systems from TI to track seat parts from beginning to end of assembly process.

Thomas Durovsik
(610) 902-9000
Project: Has installed RFID-based payment systems in fast-food restaurants, such as McDonald's, as well as vending machines in corporate cafeterias. Key feature is ability to collect loyalty rewards.

Irwin Thall
Sales Manager
(818) 897-1111
Project: Company is deploying TI RFID tags in wristbands to provide roving identification. Has system in use at Six Flags Over Georgia, which allows patrons to pay once to use lockers throughout the park.

Gerald Rakestraw
Director, Operations
(770) 413-5300
Project: Atlanta-area amusement park runs attraction called The Great Barn Game that uses RFID-based wristbands. Patrons play a series of games, such as "harvesting crops," and their combined scores are collected on the RFID bands.

Mark McTrustry
Applications Engineer
(330) 965-6390
Project: Youngs-town, Ohio, company supplies conveyor and assembly belt systems for auto manufacturers. Began using TI RFIDs about two years ago.

Jim Hopwood
Managing Director
(44) 161 436-9950
Project: Installing TI RFID system at retailer Marks & Spencer involving more than 1.2 million tags. Has also done projects for Unilever and the Millennium Library in Norwich, England.

Company Information

Texas Instruments
12500 TI Blvd.
Dallas, TX 75266
(972) 995-3773


Vice President, General Manager RFID Division
Oversees sales, engineering, manufacturing of radio frequency ID (RFID) products. Joined TI in 1972, and has been involved with RFID division since its inception 11 years ago.

Manager, RFID Global Business Unit
Heads up marketing, sales and engineering initiatives for RFID transponders and reader systems. Joined TI in 1985; worked with Ford Electronics on mass-production use of RFID transponders in a vehicle immobilizer system.

Senior VP, President Sensors & Controls
Responsible for operations of TI's $1 billion sensors and controls division, which includes its RFID products.

TI designs and manufactures semiconductors, digital signal processors and analog integrated circuits. The sensors and controls division manufactures electronic controls as well as RFID systems.