A growing number of OEMs are using embedded RFID to make the tracking and management of their products easier – for both customers and themselves. In this post, we break down everything product developers need to know before getting started.
Selecting a Tag Based on Intended Use
The most important step when deploying RFID is to consider how you or your customer will use it. There are many applications for RFID, and each one has unique objectives and requirements.
Here are some of the most common:
- Device pairing & validation
- Enabling the customer to track the device
- Enabling the OEM to track the device either internally or for maintenance or life cycle management
- Tracking a device through a process, like sterilization
- Supply chain management
Focusing on end use and business processes will determine what performance attributes you need in the tag. For example, a device validation application will require a tag with security features to prevent counterfeiting. If you just need general asset tracking, then a longer read range will be required.
Once you’ve identified the business processes, there are a number of factors to consider when selecting a tag.
To achieve reliable performance, an RFID tag has to be compatible with the surface to which you mount it. This is because certain surface materials like metals interfere with RF waves.
For example, if you need to mount a tag on a metal surface, you’ll need a multi-surface or mount-on-metal tag. If you mount a tag designed for non-metal surfaces onto a metal surface, the tag won’t work at all.
It’s also worth considering how the materials surrounding the tag will affect readability. In spaces with high quantities of metal, metallic interference can reflect and alter radio waves. Moisture can also cause interference, as it absorbs RF waves.
There are a number of environmental conditions that impact the choice of a tag. Adverse chemistry, rough handling, vibration, dust, weather, heat cycles and extreme temperatures are all conditions a tag might face when mounted to a device. For tracking assets in extreme environmental conditions, you’ll need a tag with enough durability to withstand the punishment without hurting performance.
Within a single application, a tag can be used multiple ways. The business process and the way people will use the tag will inform the tag you need.
For example, RFID tags for servicing applications will require different read ranges depending on how technicians use them. If they use them to identify devices sitting on their desk, you’ll only need a read range of 1 foot. But if the service technician needs to identify one unit in a room of 100 units, you’ll need a long range tag.
Once you’ve designed your device, you’ll need to find a place to mount or embed the RFID tag. If you’re far along in the development cycle, there likely isn’t much flexibility to alter the product to accommodate the tag. So, you’ll have to select a tag with a geometry that fits the device.
This involves answering a few questions:
- Where are you going to mount the tag?
- What direction does it need to face?
- How will you mount it?
In situations with tight geometric constraints, working with a custom tag can provide a give and take that makes it easier to embed the tag in your device.
The goal of deploying in RFID is to achieve a return on investment. RFID can provide that return either directly to the OEM or indirectly as a feature that makes products more attractive to customers. Often, that means trying to get the most functionality at the lowest price.
For product developers, tag selection is constrained by price, which must be low enough to still deliver a solid ROI. Because of this, projecting your potential costs and returns is an essential part of selecting a tag.
RFID provides two important benefits. First, it reduces the amount of labor in a process by automating the collection of data. How much labor time RFID saves is a major driver of the ROI for RFID. The other benefit of RFID is improving the accuracy and timeliness of data. No more data input errors and no waiting for someone to sit at a terminal and transcribe the data from a worksheet. Information is accurate and delivered in real time. Calculating the ROI of this benefit is a little more difficult, but there is no doubt about the value of highly accurate and timely information about your company’s products.
When to Use Custom Tags
Sometimes an off-the-shelf tag can’t meet the requirements of an application. Finding the right combination of materials, durability, geometry and read-range in a ‘off-the-shelf tag’ is a big ask. Fortunately, you can engineer your way out of this by developing a custom tag that has exactly the right combination of attributes for your application.
The path to developing a custom tag can be difficult. You will want to partner with a firm that has substantial RFID experience, and a track record of solving the types of problems you face. You will need a product development partner who can create custom designs at the lowest possible cost. Often, customers need the development process to go quickly, as well.
Some vendors with the right design skills and experience have very high volume thresholds, like one million units, before they engage in custom projects. Fortunately, there are vendors with low cost, speed and the right design skills out in the market.
If you’re using a custom tag for a product you’re developing, you’ll need to be able to work closely with the custom tag design. Because of this, many product developers partner with RFID providers in their time zone, speeding up the development process while making it more interactive.
Embedded RFID makes the tracking and management of OEM products much easier. But, to achieve the optimal result, product developers will need to integrate RFID tags in a way that optimizes the performance of the system.