UHF RFID, One Size Fits All! – Really?

With the proliferation of UHF (ultra-high frequency) based RFID in the commercial and consumer markets, UHF has been seen as the mainstay now for many low-cost, long-range RFID applications. And in recent years with the desire for longer range application flexibility in the industrial sector, naturally users want to gravitate toward technologies and products with a proven track record. But can you really take the same products developed and used for the commercial and consumer logistics markets and apply them reliably to industrial applications like asset tracking, EKanban, general manufacturing or logistics?

In many of the traditional industrial applications, especially for example, WIP (work in progress) applications, the lighter designed, less robust and many times lower cost UHF RFID products used today for commercial or consumer logistics solutions may not be the way to go. One of the biggest reasons industrial RFID has traditionally been considered a unique product space for RFID (like products sold by companies like Balluff and not most of the more common commercial UHF RFID suppliers), is because the requirements like robustness, connectivity, longevity and environmental ratings of the RFID systems need to be at a level the commercial products were not meant to be applied to.

With industrial UHF based RFID, all parts of the system are built to be applied in rugged industrial environments. This includes the controller, the antennas, the tags and even the cabling. Take something as fundamental as the tags for starters. Even though there are times the more traditional label type UHF tag can used in an industrial application,

BIS U-102-05/CA-HT High Temperature UHF Tag

many times outside of logistics, these tags just will not survive repeated use without protection for the conditions they are exposed to. For example, the tag shown is designed around a hardened circuit board tag internally (also sometimes referred to as an “inlay”) with a tag shell and tag designed to withstand temperatures as high as 200° C and a rating of IP68.

BIS U-602x UHF Multi-Channel Controller

The same issues of robustness and also connectivity apply to the controller. For example, the controller pictured on the left is designed with an all metal protective shell and rated for IP 65. These industrial controllers also used sealed, protected industry standard connectors like a M8 or M12, unlike the exposed terminal strip connections, RJ45 or 9 pin D-Sub typically use on commercial or consumer rated products. Most industrial UHF controllers can communicate using the same protocols as the systems built for commercial or consumer applications like Serial or Ethernet TCP/IP, but they go much further to support industrial protocols like Ethernet/IP, ProfiNet and even Modbus TCP for communication directly to PLC’s (programmable logic controllers), allowing them to be connected directly to the control system like those used in a manufacturing process.

BIS U-302-C1-TNCB Far Field UHF Antenna

Even the antennas used for industrial UHF based RFID will typically provide greater robustness then a commercial or consumer developed antenna. These antennas will again be sealed to higher IP ratings and the internal antenna better protected against shock and constant vibration. For example, the two antennas shown on the right are designed to meet IP 65 rated industrial environments and are based on a heavy gauge rear metal mounting plate to prevent damage and provide an extremely reliable and robust mounting surface.

BIS U-301-C1-TNCB Compact UHF Antenna

And possibly one of the biggest advantages to these industrially designed UHF based RFID systems is that they will share many of the same design traits and application support as the existing LF (low-frequency) and HF (high frequency) systems already in use. In fact many of these common traits make it easier to intermix these systems into a single, interlaced design solution in many cases.

So when looking for an industrialized UHF based RFID solution, don’t be lulled into a “one size fits all” thought process because of the abundance of systems made for commercial or consumer applications, and many times their lower costs. Consider your industrial requirements just as much as you would have with any of the shorter range LF or HF RFID solutions you may have used in plant already. There are providers out there like Balluff and others that stand ready to provide that same level a reliability, robustness and support needed, but for industrial applications. Just like the saying goes for consumers, “don’t just settle for what’s out there, settle for the best”, and in this case, the best designed UHF products for solving industrial applications.

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About Mark Sippel

Mark Sippel is the North American Product Marketing Manager for Object ID and Photoelectric sensors with Balluff NA.
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