Surfing the smartphone wave

EMBEDDED tags and a smartphone scanner have propelled a Victorian surfboard maker into the new millennium.

EMBEDDED tags and a smartphone scanner have propelled a Victorian surfboard maker into the new millennium.

Once a cottage industry, the Australian surfboard market was smashed by a wave of low-priced, mass-produced imports in the past decade.

But one artisan decided to ride out the tsunami by adopting technology better known for mobile payments, to keep track and improve delivery of his bespoke creations.

From Marshall, near Geelong, Josh Dowling's custom surfboards take a fortnight and 30 separate fabrication steps to make. Until recently the process was documented on a dog-eared specification sheet taped to each board.

The low-tech approach continued in the JD Shape's office, with the customer records system comprising an email archive, scribbled notes, and pictures on his Facebook page.

For surfing buddy and apps developer Stephen Franklin, Dowling's back-of-the-envelope operation was the perfect test bed for a production control app using near-field communication (NFC) tags and a smartphone scanner.

NFC short-range wireless technology requires a distance of about four centimetres to initiate a connection. It allows small amounts of data to be shared between an electronic tag and an NFC-enabled device.

NFC is employed in mobile payment systems, including MasterCard's PayPass and Visa's PayWave; which aim to speed payment at point of sale by allowing customers to tap their card or phone at the checkout.

Franklin's app is used by Dowling to enter order details on his Android phone and transmit them to the tag embedded in each surfboard. At each stage of manufacturing, customer information and design specifications can be retrieved.

Camera, search and share functions within the app also enable Dowling to find and send images of previous boards to customers deliberating over the minutiae of their latest design. For diehard surfers, a new board is an emotionally driven purchase and requests for progress reports are common.

Photos can also be posted to Facebook or Instagram.

"The app will allow it to be a little bit more streamlined for me," Dowling says.

"Each board is discussed pretty intensely - a lot of emails back and forwards."

Franklin said that while scanning technology was not new, past attempts to employ it in the surfboard industry had centred on proprietary systems that were out of reach for small players like Dowling.

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