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Element ID: A daring rise to the top

By LVEDC Staff on September 15, 2012

Back in the day the term, “bar code” had more to do with your conduct once the bartender turned up the lights at closing time than with routing products to and fro.

It’s a common assumption for anyone born post Reagan era that every item has a bar code on it. But that isn’t actually the case. There was a time when a business owner actually had to place a sticker on an item for sale and write the price down out it. As barbaric as that sounds, when you went to purchase it, some even unluckier sap had to actually type in the price in the cash register.

Yes, it’s true. And if Element ID Inc.’s CEO has anything to say about it, he’s going to help revolutionize the way bar codes are used in the Obama era and beyond.
Element ID designs, manufacturers and markets performance readers and specialty industrial automation systems for the continually growing RFID market.

And Element ID is a big proponent of Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation and thanks to Director of Project Development Steve Melnick and the Keystone Innovation Zone, their vision is now reality.

If that’s a little confusing, remember this: Romaine is the name. Bar code revolutions are his game.

Having fun

It’s an assumption most ambitious people improve with time, working out the kinks, developing their focus and clarifying what it means to be a success.
That’s pretty common, but not always the case. Some gifted entrepreneurs bypass those steps, but there’s no magic involved. They just outwork everybody else. They have passion, don’t take no for an answer, think big no matter what the doomsayers report, are a sponge that soaks up information. Often they know how to negotiate, thrive on competition and last and most importantly, take action when others just talk.

Element ID Inc. CEO Jack Romaine embodies all of those traits. That’s why over time he, and his company, is on a path to success.

He understands success in business follows a simple formula: Do something you love and do something people need and usually you’ll be very successful.
Years ago Romaine worked at an industrial automation company making barcode scanners.

“It was a very innovative environment,” Romaine recalled. “It was a culture of real creativity with products and that company was extremely successful in a barcode market and sold to all the top retailers, all the top shipping companies. When you really needed the best product, that’s where you went.”

That company was acquired by a large conglomerate that focused more on costs and outsourcing rather than innovation.

He left just prior to the acquisition in 1999 and went headfirst into finance for more than six years. During the time of crunching numbers he recognized fun was nowhere to be found on the ledger sheet.

“I realized I missed making things,” he said.

Using his Manhattan apartment as a backdrop, Romaine’s ingenuity fostered Element ID.

“What can I say,” he said with raised eyebrows and a wolf’s grin. “Obviously it’s not a very good place to have a manufacturing company.”

Even as an entrepreneur, he knew it wasn’t the personal cost structure that you want to have when starting a business, so relocation was inevitable.

He developed a partnership and incorporated in June 2006. Eventually he moved operations to Bethlehem. A little more than two years later in September 2008, Element ID signed an agreement with the Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone, administered by LVEDC, for a $15,000 Technology Transfer Grant. In addition to that grant, in May the KIZ provided Element ID with a paid electrical engineering intern to assist in the design, production and testing of three loop antennas for use with RFID readers systems.

In essence the project can be broken into three major segments: intellectual property, marketing and manufacturing.

But before any legal contracts were written or circuit boards were built, Romaine showed his insight into how to turn his idea into a profitable venture.

“Before we designed anything, before we bought any types of electronic components or started prototyping, we spent four months just calling customers, saying ‘is there a need for this product. Is there a place for this company? If I were to do this, what would solve problems for you?”

Right there you know this guy is good. Romaine understands business. He could be selling soft pretzels, hair conditioner or auto parts and it wouldn’t matter. He knows success is business is based on your customers, not yourself.

What is RFID?

The ubiquitous Universal Product Code (UPC) is on the way out. Welcome in its place smart labels, which are also called Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags. Put simply, RFID tags are intelligent bar codes that can interface to a networked system.

Once the domain of tracking cattle, RFID are being expanded to tracking items in a warehouse, allowing a company to efficiently document an item’s journey through their entire supply chain.

“We take that technology and apply it to helping companies reduce costs and become more efficient in manufacturing,” Romaine noted. “Specifically we take that same technology used in E-Z Pass and use it to track boxes and products as they are being built on assembly lines.”

The advantages for a business owner are obvious.

“It gives you a prime information source,” Romaine said.

The advantages RFID has over traditional bar codes are substantial, according to Romaine.

“One, is that it’s more durable, which is particularly relevant in manufacturing,” Romaine said. “Those RFID labels can last years and years. They are immune to temperature, scraping and anything else that damages bar codes. Second is that it doesn’t require a line of sight. What that means is when you go to the grocery store and the clerk is fumbling around with a can of soup trying to find the bar code and they don’t quite get the angle right. With RFID it doesn’t have that problem. They can actually be molded into the plastic, inside wood, in the container. So for a manufacturing operation, it makes it much easier.”

Perhaps the most innovative aspect of RFID is that it becomes, in essence, a moving database. The possibilities are limitless, Romaine said.

“It has electronic storage capabilities in it, kind of like tiny USB drive or a really small MP3 player that you can move files onto and off of,” Romaine said. “This you put information on the products. Where the product was produced, what is its serial number and that gives companies a lot of flexibility in what they store on it.”

As a typical product moves through the distribution channel, it goes from manufacturer to an outsourced manufacturer and then to a regional representative and a host of distributors before going to a retailer and finally, the consumer. A myriad of logistical routing problems that Romaine’s company solves.

“Most people don’t want to open up their proprietary database to other people in the channel,” Romaine explained. “Now you can put the information directly on the item. As it moves through the channel, anything that needs to be shared moves with the item, there is no security risk at opening up the database.”

Once the sale is made, Element ID wants to assist their clients in finding the best solution for their needs. Unlike The Rolling Stones, Element ID clients do get satisfaction.

“We will support our customers from your first phone call through the life of your automation system,” Romaine said. “We will help you find the optimal solution for your needs, whether you’re a small or large company.”

And that’s a lot more exciting than hanging at a bar at 2 a.m. when the lights come up at closing time.

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