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Significance of UHF RFID to Industry 4.0

Posted: 25 Mar 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Industry 4.0? smart factories? product lifecycle? smartphone? RFID?

It is a crucial feature that data transfers are now done by radio and data can be read and written. It is thus possible to add data to a product during its lifecycle and to read these data off-line. Therefore, no connection to a database is required in order to obtain any relevant information. The object itself is turned into an information carrier. Additional value can be generated based on these data during the entire PLC.

The smart PCB thus becomes the backbone of the entire PLC. The transparency lost by outsourcing processes is restored using a unified technology. Instead of being just theoretical, the mentioned use cases are based on real-world scenarios in different industries where RFID technology is already used successfully. For instance, RFID-based process control and monitoring is a standard procedure in many fields including the fashion and textile industry, the paper processing industry and the steel and automotive industry.

Surprisingly, the electronics industry is still becoming aware of this issue even though its adoption is taking up speed dramatically. Some use cases have already been documented in the trade press, including Cisco (production at the Chinese EMS Jabil) and Schneider Electric with its own manufacturing site in Carros in Southern France. Lacking awareness of UHF RFID-based solutions is the primary factor responsible for the slow adoption of this technology in the electronics industry. The RFID Value Creator consortium is among the institutions trying to educate the industry.

Thanks to products like Muratas Magicstrap, the technical implementation is not a problem anymore. This product provides all the capabilities required for migrating towards Industry 4.0. As a standard SMD component, Muratas UHF RFID module can be mounted on a PCB using established pick-and-place processes. The PCB thus becomes a RFID tag and can be used as a smart object. For applications requiring traceability starting at the PCB manufacturing stage, a low-cost embedding process was developed with Beta LAYOUT. This approach is available at Schmoll Maschinen as an automated process for every PCB manufacturer or can be implemented as an outsourced process step at Beta LAYOUTs RFID Service Center. The component is integrated into the circuit using a simple copy-and-paste step during the development process. Using the Magicstraps integrated front-end circuit, an existing metallisation (i. e. the ground plane) can serve as an antenna.

Therefore, no special antenna design is required. Instead, it is only necessary to reserve sufficient space for the SMD device measuring just 3.2mm x 1.6mm. Depending on the individual conditions, a transmission range of several meters can be achieved even through the device housing and external packaging. As mentioned earlier, this does not require the device to be powered up. Instead, sufficient energy is extracted from the field emitted by the read-write device corresponding to the scanner used in bar-code systems.

Therefore, this can be considered an energy harvesting system. Looking into the future, it should be noted that a new product variant offering a digital interface will enable a serial communication with the MCU or CPU. RFID will thus become a low-cost wireless alternative to Bluetooth or ZigBee.

Value creation is a highly fragmented process in the electronics industry. As a result of the outsourcing efforts in recent years, different phases of the PLC take place at different companies. Therefore, it is very important that these players join a cost-sharing discussion.

Quite often, OEMs will draw the major benefit from using RFID technology, while contractors and partner companies must pay for the creation of the infrastructure. We invite all parties to join a fair discussion. Existing RFID implementations clearly demonstrate that all parties will eventually benefit from taking steps towards each other.

A UHF RFID-based Industry 4.0 concept will therefore also contribute to solve the problems resulting from the fragmentation process. The author invites everybody to join the RFID value creators and to participate in the active implementation of a wireless-based Industry 4.0 to the benefit of all players.

About the author
Alexander M. Schmoldt is RFID Business Development Manager Europe at Murata Management B.V.

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