Kathler, Mr. Glen

2014 Finalist: Innovation In Agricultural Science Sponsored By Dow AgroSciences Canada Inc.

RFID Tags Benefit the Beef Industry

Glen Kathler has always had a passion for gadgets and electronics. Growing up, he would build and tinker with devices, always fascinated by creating something new.

“I remember building a light-sensitive burglar alarm that scared the living daylights out of my mom when she came into my room once. I couldn’t have been more than nine or 10 at the time,” Kathler recalls.

Other than scaring his mother, Kathler attributes some of his technological predisposition to his father.

“My dad was a TV repairman in the 1950’s so electronics was probably not far from my gene pool.”

Early predisposition combined with an inspiring grade 10 physics teacher resulted in Kathler discovering he was better at mathematics than he thought and he quickly moved into the telecommunications world.

In 2008, after many years in the industry, Kathler joined SAIT Polytechnic’s Applied Research and Services Department. As the Applied Research Chair, Kathler leads the RADLab team in its work with industry partners and student researchers on Ultra High Frequency Radio Frequency Identification (UFH RFID) application and development.

“In the RFID Lab, someone has an idea that technology can help them do something better but they can’t find it on the shelf so maybe we can build it,” Kathler says.

Improving the Beef Industry

There has always been a need to identify assets and RFID technology has existed in some form since the Second World War. In the world of networking and the Internet, Wireless or Radio is seen as going the ‘last mile’ to connect locations beyond the reach of typical wire or Fiber-optic infrastructure.

“There was no actual Internet to a specific remote locations but we could use radio to go that last mile or that last 30 miles. Now as we look to connect devices as opposed to locations, I see UHF RFID as the last centimeter,” Kathler says.

Kathler’s work with RFID technology has had a direct impact on the beef industry. Canada is the first country in the world with a national cattle identification system, which sets Canada apart through improved food safety and disease prevention.

The current technology has hardware and software limitations. The low frequency tags are only readable one at a time, from very close proximity. With the speed of business today, these tags are not reliable or efficient enough to add significant value to the industry.

Kathler’s UHF RFID technology is solving this industry problem by allowing simultaneous reading of many tags and data saving on individual tags. These benefits also come at a fraction of the cost of current technology and with increased reliability.

“The beef industry in Alberta is a significant portion of the economy,” Kathler says. “If we can find ways, with technology, to improve the business and improve the return on investment for everyone from a producer on the ranch all the way up the supply chain, that is a definite win. It makes that industry more sustainable.”

Beyond Alberta Beef

This technology can be applied across the world in countries with much larger cattle populations. With an estimated 1.3 billion heads of cattle worldwide, this technology has the potential to make a significant global impact. The possibility of tracking animals for food safety, disease and meat quality through all levels from farm to plate is unprecedented.

Although there is still work to be done and hurdles to overcome for adoption of the technology, progress is being made. Like many forms of electronics, over time prices go down and technology becomes better.

Moving forward, Kathler envisions the technology becoming specified for individual components of the supply chain from ranches to processing.

“Now that we have built and improved the overall technology, how do we take it to help you?” Kathler asks.

Kathler and his team will continue to improve the RFID technology and hopefully grow the impact in Alberta and beyond. “We never say we can’t do something; we only ever say ‘how are we going to do it?’”