Like a few other technologies of the fourth industrial era, radio frequency identification (RFID) has been around for some time. Now though, thanks to falling costs and improved reliability, it is fast becoming a technology of choice in smart factory track and trace applications associated with product recognition and automated data capture.
Two key advantages of the technology are that RFID tags do not need their own power supply and they do not require line of sight to operate correctly. Additionally, processing the tag’s information takes just a few milliseconds and the data can be modified over the lifecycle of the device.
With RFID, data becomes an asset along the entire value chain, allowing manufacturers to leverage information using the new digital infrastructure that supports it. As a result, producers have at their disposal real-time decision-making support to manage just-in-time production processes and gain deeper insights into optimisation and quality control. Since data follows the tag through the value chain, it can be configured with specific customer information as well, which enables new ways of adding value.
In manufacturing, RFID tags enable an environment where components, products, machines and workers operate more effectively together. This creates new opportunities for individualisation, even in mass-production, because products can tell machines what action is required at any given step. After each process stage, the machine can update status by writing to the tag, before sending the product on down the line. Tags can even be accessed once the product is in its package, thus creating the possibility to customise things like language and other country-specific requirements. Interestingly, if spare parts are also tagged, these same machines can also authenticate their own spares during maintenance, making sure that the correct replacement is in the right position, bringing the percentage of unplanned downtime towards zero.
Turck Banner is a company that has invested in the future of RFID technology because it understands the value of being able to track products through the entire manufacturing process, including delivery. When used in manufacturing, tags allow producers to track through which stages of the process the product has been, which checks have been performed and the current configuration. The bonus is that with read/write tags, all this information stays with the tag until it is overwritten.
With its BL ident RFID system, Turck Banner has developed a modular system that supports multiple fieldbus interfaces for easy integration into existing systems. According to the company’s application engineers, the trick to implementing a successful RFID project is getting the basics right. For instance, choosing the correct tag for the application is crucial as HF tags have a range limit of about 1 metre, while this can be extended to several metres if a UHF tag is substituted. Other considerations include region-specific regulatory requirements, the type of surface on which the tag is to be mounted and the amount of on-tag memory required.
All of this and more is described in detail in our cover story this issue. You’ll find it at http://www.instrumentation.co.za/14257r.
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