RFID continues to get more popular on the factory floor — as manufacturers seek a reliable way to track the location, condition and quality of their production tools, raw materials and finished goods. A recent Aberdeen Group survey of more than 200 large manufacturers found the planned growth in RFID technology over the next couple of years would exceed 40 percent. As Russ Klein, Aberdeen’s director of emerging technology research, explains, manufacturers want to know they have “the right asset in the right place at the right time.” Both active and passive tags can help on that score, each in its own way. Klein says the biggest increase amongst manufacturers will likely involve active tags, which can hold more of the data that’s useful in factory automation systems. Klein also sees a strong growth potential for hybrid tags that integrate RFID with a sensing capability — such as temperature or shock. These hybrid tags tie into the manufacturer’s desire to not only track the whereabouts of individual items on the shop floor, but also to collect data that reveals the item’s condition or quality. Here’s a look at three recent product developments that have some implications on the factory floor.
Radio Frequency Tryout
A new evaluation kit from Impinj will let you find out whether UHF tags and readers will meet your RFID requirements. Mendy Ouzillou, Impinj’s RFID product line director, says the kit came about as a way “to turn the marketplace’s misconceptions about UHF upside down.” Some of those misconceptions involve UHF’s ability to read liquids or metal items. Another has to do with the suitability of near-field UHF for item-level tagging in production environments. With the kit, end users can assess these emerging UHF applications for themselves — as well as evaluate the more common pallet- and case-level tagging. Available for $3,250, the GrandPrix Evaluation Kit includes one of impinj’s readers, two far-field antennas, a near-field antenna, application software and a sample pack of UHF tags for pallet-, case- and item-level tagging applications. “The kit provides meaningful, application-specific evaluation data for all RFID use models — from the dock door to the front door,” says Ouzillou.
UHF and HF Update
RFID systems from Siemens Automation & Drives have been evolving to meet the demands of manufacturing environment, according to Alex Stuebler, business manager for factory automation. One development is a new metal-mount UHF tag. “It’s a response to increasing demand for tags that can mount on metal products,” says Stuebler. So far, those tags have been used mostly on metal containers of one kind or another, but Stuebler believes the metal-mount UHF has some potential for item-level tagging of metal parts in automotive, aerospace and other plants that produce high-value metal components. In the HF arena, Siemens has revamped its Simatic RF300 line to make it simpler to integrate into production lines and factory automation systems. Among the changes, the company has reduced the footprint of the reader substantially. “The latest reader is at least half the size, if not two thirds smaller, than our original reader,” says Stuebler. Siemens has also built out the number of interface modules available for the RF300. In addition to ProfiNet and ProfiBus communications favored by Siemens, the system will also talk to a wide variety of third-party control systems, Stuebler says.
RFID Goes Modular I/O
Turck has come out with a new system that promises to make it easier to incorporate RFID capabilities into new and existing factory automation systems. Called “BLident,” this modular RFID system has built-in I/O capabilities. Think of it as an RFID “slice” for use with the company’s existing BL platform of IP 20 and IP 67 modular I/O. According to Mark DiSera, Turk’s RFID product manager, the system allows a single network node to support up to eight RFID channels along with analog and discrete I/O. The BLident system, which is built on the 13.56 MHz HF standard and uses FRAM-based data carriers. DiSera says the system reads and writes data at 0.5 ms/byte. “That’s incredibly fast for an inductive system,” he says, noting the system can handle production line speeds as fast 10 m/s assuming read distances up to 500 mm. The system uses carriers that work up to 210 C. The speed, temperature and I/O capabilities make the system a good fit for applications that have challenged RFID capabilities in the past. DiSera says the system, which was introduced in Germany last year, has seen use in fast-packaging applications and automotive component production. He says, it’s even gone into some automotive paint lines, whose high temperatures would have wreaked havoc with lower-temperature data carriers. BLident supports PROFIBUS-DP, DeviceNet, Modbus-TCP, PROFINET and EtherNet/IP. A variety of standard non-programmable gateways and CoDeSys programmable gateways are available.