RFID middleware – the missing link

TECHNOLOGY advances in the IT industry occur at a rapid rate, but for me two technologies stand out as having the potential to impact Australia’s manufacturing industry in the new year. More sophisticated middleware software and a shift towards SOA will encourage more manufacturers to implement RFID systems in 2008

TECHNOLOGY advances in the IT industry occur at a rapid rate, but for me two technologies stand out as having the potential to impact Australia’s manufacturing industry in the new year.

More sophisticated middleware software and a shift towards SOA will encourage more manufacturers to implement RFID systems in 2008.

In manufacturing, RFID is being used to track literally anything of value. In some companies this includes raw materials, works-in-progress, finished goods, or even equipment and employees.

Here, the high-level capability of RFID systems to uniquely identify items is no different to use in hospitals, warehouses and other industries.

In addition to tracking applications, manufacturers often leverage existing sensors and build up the sensor infrastructure to create unique process automation applications.

In these projects, the software layer is extremely important as the need to support a wide range of hardware and to be able to act on sensor information in real-time with custom business logic is a key driver for most projects.

In contrast to other industries such as transport & logistics, however, the adoption of RFID technology has been rather slow in manufacturing.

Industry experts have identified the immaturity of RFID middleware as a significant hindrance. Middleware is the software layer that links the hardware pieces to the corporate IT system, and has often been described as the glue between enterprise applications and infrastructure.

SOA Big in 2008

A Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is a system for linking resources on demand.

In an SOA, resources are made available to other participants in the network as independent services that are accessed in a standardised way. This provides for more flexible loose coupling of resources than in traditional systems architectures.

RFID solutions based on Service Oriented Architecture enable easy integration into the existing infrastructure including feeds into multiple existing applications and interfaces with system and network management software.

Many RFID projects are driven by system integrators and well-constructed project teams and may also include hardware vendors and software infrastructure vendors.

It is therefore important to engage these different groups to make sure that each part of the project team is focused on what they do best, freeing the manufacturer to focus on highlighting the specifics of the business and the goals for the project, instead of having to lead all of the technical aspects of the project.

This allows for the combination of technologies and business logic that fit together best, for bringing in the best technology for each job, and for the effective use of software infrastructure and custom business logic to tie it all together.

*Steve Dolan is director channel & alliances with Sybase ANZ.