An important part of the Tech Scan process is looking beyond any particular technology for an examination of the market in which it must succeed or fail. Many technologies possess a heavy "wow!" factor but find only niche markets among early adopters and technophiles.
For the personal computer industry, potential reasons for demand failing to expand into broader consumer markets are legion and include insufficient ease of use, inconvenience, and the imposition of additional hardware requirements. Technologies that resolve any of these roadblocks for any new product or process are worth watching. Companies that are looking to link smart card technology to the home computer are facing several of these hurdles all at once outfitting every PC in the country with a convenient, easy-to-use smart card reader is a daunting task.
Fischer International Systems Corp. has recently introduced Smarty, a token that contains no moving parts and is shaped like a 3.5-inch floppy disk. It allows a PC to read ISO 7816 and 7810 smart cards. The user inserts the smart card into the token and then inserts the token into the floppy drive of any Windows 3.x, Windows 95, Windows NT, or DOS system. The device costs $60 but is available only in Europe currently. It will probably cost less by the time it reaches markets in the United States.
The card reader will be useful for all the applications that involve smart cards, including electronic cash, collections of credit card data, medical data, personal information, and several forms of identification to prevent fraud.
The company is working with several major U.S. and European financial services firms, as well as software companies like Intuit Inc. and Microsoft Corp. A consortium that includes MasterCard, Citibank, and Chase Manhattan Bank will conduct trials involving Smarty later this year in New York City. Bank of America and Wells Fargo Bank will conduct trials by bank employees. Visa, U.K.-based Mondex International, and Sweden's Telia Group have ordered demonstration models.
Fischer International Systems is owned by Addison Fischer, its chairman, a former professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the world's leading experts on computing security. Fischer holds key patents on the device. Competitors in the smart card reader market include France's Gemplus, U.S.-based Schlumberger Ltd. and VeriFone Inc., Germany's Siemens AG, and Philips Electronics NV of the Netherlands. But the solutions from these companies are larger hardware devices requiring cables, internal BUS cards, or PCMCIA readers and cost between $80 and $300.
Smart cards are widely used in Europe but have been slow to see acceptance in the United States. Whether Fischer's floppy-disk-card reader clears enough of the hurdles to fire up the U.S. market for smart cards remains to be seen. Infrastructure to handle smart card purchases and transactions in stores and other businesses is another requirement in the equation. But Fischer's implementation is a particularly elegant solution to several objections that the market currently has to smart cards.
During the past 20 years, industrial enterprise's drive for efficiency has nurtured development of tools and techniques enabling design-for-assembly and design-for-manufacture practices. These two practice areas optimize assembly and manufacturing processes through careful planning and forethought during the design process. Design-for-service practices turned up more recently as speed and quality of service became increasingly important differentiators for many products. Market and regulatory factors are now in the process of inspiring development of yet another "design for..." practice area: the environment.
Government regulations (particularly in Europe) concerning recycling, reuse, or disposal of products and packaging are effectively requiring companies to integrate some of the environmental costs of products into the price the company charges the consumer for the product at which point, efficiency in product and packaging recycling, reuse, and disposal suddenly becomes an important priority for companies.
Boothroyd Dewhurst Inc. of Wakefield, Rhode Island, is marketing a software product, Design for Environment (DFE) , that simulates the disassembly of products at end of life and reveals the associated cost benefits and environmental impacts of a product design. DFE provides companies with a "spreadsheet" capability so they can monkey with a hypothetical production process while still in the planning stages in order to optimize recycling, reuse, and disposal costs. DFE calculates a financial return assessment of disassembly and an environmental impact assessment of manufacture and disposal.
In order to calculate the financial impact assessment, the software tallies the difference between the cost of disassembly of each part and its value as a recovered item. The system then factors in the cost of disposal of the unrecoverable portion of the product. The items with high financial return float to the top, so to speak, of the analysis as candidates for easy and early disassembly. They include not only items with high recycle or reuse value but also items that are toxic toxic items increase the cost of disposal of the final remains. DFE will automatically calculate a preferred disassembly precedence for the product's components, enabling designers to make cost-effective trade-off decisions in the design process.
DFE evaluates environmental impact using the Materials, Energy, Toxicity (MET) value assessment metric developed at TNO, a major research establishment in the Netherlands. This method derives from European procedures for Life Cycle Assessment. The material assessment considers the product or component's impact on the exhaustion of earth's resources. The energy portion examines energy-related effects like the greenhouse effect, acidification, eutrophication, and smog. The toxicity factor measures the toxic effects in terms of humans and ecotoxicity. The MET capabilities of DFE act, in effect, as an expert system on the environmental impact of products and processes, allowing designers unfamiliar with such knowledge to make informed decisions.
Although DFE is primarily a financial optimization tool, it can have the positive environmental effect of identifying economies of reuse, recycling, and disposal that are advantageous to both the producer of products and the environment-an extremely useful service for our extremely inefficient throw-away society. Many companies have discovered that recycling components and materials can beprofitable.
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Some companies are experimenting with combining changing price lists with corporate email showing customer/prospect requests. They could also be combined with projects up for bid from publications like Commerce Business Daily (for government projects) and onsale.com and other Web-based transactional services.
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