This is the first in a series of blogs and has the aim of informing, advising and giving best practice when implementing an RFID System. As with the adoption of any new technology, key concerns amongst new adopters include cost, lack of understanding of the benefits and pitfalls, and stories of failed applications and procedures. What happens if I chose the wrong product to suit my application?
Over the coming months we will look to answer some of the questions with the aim to take the mystique out of RFID and show you a way to simplify the processes and systems for an RFID solution.
In particular we will be looking at the UHF based solutions for industrial applications.
Let’s start at the basics….What is RFID?
RFID is an acronym that stands for Radio Frequency IDentification. Basically you have a small electronic chip with built-in memory, and this electronic chip is fitted to a small antenna. This microchip, along with its antenna, is then mounted onto a plastic substrate. As the microchip passes through an RF field, a very small current is induced via the antenna which then powers the chip. The chip detects the RF Signal and receives a request to send its data.
This is the basis for an RFID Transponder also commonly called a Tag.
In any RFID system you have a number of key parts to consider. The system will consist of an RFID Transponder, a scanning antenna, an RFID reader and finally the link between the reader and an enterprise system/PLC.
The basis for any good RFID solution is the RFID transponder. The success or failure of the system depends on a number of factors that influence how the RFID transponder reacts to not just the RF signal it receives, but also to the environment that it is located in, and what the transponder is mounted onto. The main thing to remember is that there are a vast number of RFID transponders on the market and you must select the correct transponder to suit the application and the environment that it is to be used in.
The RFID Antenna
Antennas come in all shapes and sizes and you need to select the antenna that gives you the best performance based on the environment that the antenna is installed in and the read range required to be able to successfully read the transponders. In a future blog we will investigate how selecting the correct antenna style/size can minimise the impact on the real estate required in an application.
The RFID Reader
In any RFID application the reader is potentially the most expensive initial outlay in hardware (software aside). Transponders can be relatively low cost to start with but choosing the best RFID reader can make or break a project. RFID readers also come in a variety of shapes, sizes and functionality, including a wide range of hand-held solutions. In addition you are also able to find readers that have built in antennas, and in some applications this may be a factor that needs to be considered.
During the initial planning of a new RFID system you must take into consideration future development, extensions and long-term functionality. Selecting the correct reader for the application can give you a much more rounded solution for the future.
Within any RFID solution, the ‘Serial Number’ or EPC (Electronic Product Code) must be transformed into a readable code by your software interface. If you compare this to a barcode, you have a similar string of text that needs to be interfaced to an enterprise system, PLC, database, etc. There are a number of different ways this can be achieved, and I will investigate these methods in future posts.
Why use UHF RFID in an industrial environment?
To finish off my first post, I want to discuss the key question for likely readers of this blog – what is the advantage of RFID in an industrial environment?
For me, the key advantage of RFID for industry is the speed and reliability offered over the use of barcodes. Forget the paper-thin transponders seen in clothes shops - today RFID is used widely in all manners of applications in an industrial environment. RFID has been around for many years and the technology is proven, robust and reliable. In many instances a long operational lifetime is the essential requirement for a typical installation, and passive transponders lend themselves to installations where the requirement is measured in decades (as long as you have chosen the correct hardware to meet the application).
Industrial RFID technology has been designed with low maintenance in mind, and this leads to a ruggedised design for readers, transponders and scanning antennas. This also includes transponders designed for extremes in operational temperature ranges from -50OC and to be able to survive temperatures in excess of 200OC. Many industrial transponders even offer resistance to a wide range of harmful chemicals – surviving for years where a barcode wouldn’t last months.
Many transponders available on the market have a large user memory capacity (excluding the EPC memory) which enables information to be stored directly on the transponder, making manufacturing cycles for components extremely flexible. Furthermore, RFID offers the ability to read transponders without line of sight but also at high speed with the identification of multiple objects. This is dependent on various factors, but with the software algorithms and a good reader, more than 150 tags per second are not unheard of.
What this comes down to in any industrial application is a system that will enhance functionality, boost efficiency and of most importance - give you a fairly good return on investment.
RFID Going Forward
I hope my introduction to the world of industrial RFID has been clear to follow, yet helpful. In future you can find my new blog posts on the first Monday of every month by following this link.
In Blog 2 we will look at the transponders themselves and show you the memory makeup and what the EPC does for you. If you’d like a monthly reminder of my new blog post to your inbox, just click here.
Click here to find more information on our RFID Page.
We have a permanent RFID microsite available too, and this will always be updated with the latest in HARTING RFID products, solutions and innovations in transponder technology.
Finally, if you’ve got a burning question you’d like answered in a future blog post, or a quick 140 character query – ask your question on Twitter using #SimplifyRFID, and I’ll get back to you.
Smart Networks Infrastructure Product Applications Manager at HARTING