Big Blue began shipping printers capable of producing both traditional bar codes and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags earlier this year, but so far, only companies in Singapore and Australia are able to take advantage of the technology in this region.
Mike James, Asia-Pacific general manager for IBM Printing Systems, told ZDNet Asia: "Today, only the authorities in Singapore and Australia have finalized the approved operating frequency for RFID application. For the rest of the (Asia-Pacific) countries, approval is still pending."
According to James, IBM's Infoprint 6700 family of printers "are ready to 'read' RFID tags (used) within a span of frequencies". "However, it is the country's authorities that need to set a frequency to 'write' RFID, and this differs across countries," he explained.
The printers use IBM's Power processor to encode information onto the RFID chips. Using the Power processor, the Infoprint 6700 can perform certain operations "as much as 60 percent" faster than previous IBM models. "This (speed) is essential to handle the amount of information going back and forth between the printer and the RFID chips," said James.
Available worldwide except Japan, the Infoprint 6700 thermal printers are available in three models, R40, R60 and R80, capable of printing 4-inch, 6-inch and 8-inch RFID labels. Companies that want to print RFID labels will have to buy an RFID module, which is sold as an option.
However, IBM currently offers the RFID option only for R40 models in Asia because most companies in the region today print 4-inch labels. Big Blue will provide the RFID module for the other two models as and when there is demand for the larger 6-inch and 8-inch formats. The list price for the R40, with RFID module, is about US$6,000 for a basic configuration.
The Infoprint 6700 printers with RFID option are aimed at companies that manage a supply chain or can benefit by implementing RFID technology, according to IBM. These include the retail, transportation, manufacturing and consumer products, healthcare and government sectors, James noted. RFID applications can help companies improve the authentication, management and automation of information as it moves across a company's supply chain.
According to Big Blue, the printing application can be integrated with a company's existing ERP (enterprise resource planning) infrastructure. The Infoprint 6700 R40 can also integrate with IBM WebSphere middleware so customers can view the entire RFID supply chain from a single location.
Several large retail and manufacturing customers "have purchased or evaluated" these printers, James said.