For RFID Applications, Think Throughput

A common request from many engineers I talk to is the need for a “faster” RFID read/write system.  Usually, this is due to the fact they are increasing their overall line speed and decreasing the amount of time that a work in process item dwells in one station.  This is a good thing.  We all want to make more widgets faster. However, in addition to increasing the number of widgets that come off the production line and the rate at which they come off, the demand for quality has increased significantly. This is also a good thing. This certainly leads to a win-win between the manufacturer and the consumer. As the demand for quality increases so does the amount of data. Statistical process control, lineage data, build data, etc. are represented by large amounts of data. So the tag has to have enough memory and the reader has to have enough speed to keep up with the process. The amount of data transferred over a period of time is called throughput.

In RFID readers/writers, throughput is usually represented as bytes or kilobytes of data per second or milliseconds. The read/write speeds of all RFID systems are related to the amount of data being read or written to the tag. So, if high throughput is a requirement, a feature to look for in the reader/writer is the buffer size. I don’t want to get too deep into the technical weeds of data transfer, bit rates, baud rates, etc. so I will explain it from a marketing guy’s perspective. Think of an RFID system as a data delivery system. In this delivery system an imaginary tractor-trailer is what delivers the data from the reader to the tag and the tag to the reader. The trailer represents the aforementioned buffer.  The trailer or buffer can hold a specified amount of data, 32Bytes, 64Bytes and so on. This is determined by the manufacturer of the system. Semi trucks_blogTherefore, there may be two systems that operate at the same speed, but have a totally different throughput.  Back to the tractor-trailer example, there can be two semi’s going down the road at the same speed but one has a trailer that is half the size of the other and can only carry half as much product(data in this case). So in order to transfer the same amount of data, the half-size trailer has to make two trips (cycles) whereas the larger trailer makes only one. In a case where the amount of data that needs to be transferred is multiple thousands of bytes or kilobytes, that buffer size becomes more important because the more cycles or trips that have to be completed the slower the transfer.

Ultimately, speed is a relative term in the world of moving data from one point to another. In order to future-proof your production line, look a little deeper into the features of the system to make sure you’re investing in technology that is not only fast, but fast and moves a lot of data.

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RFID – It’s Not a Matter of Privacy

With the recent boom in RFID implementations by organizations all over the globe, there is a buzz in the on-line communities and social networking sites about how the technology is an attempt to invade the privacy of every “Jane and Joe” on the planet. I have to admit when I first started to come across these public concerns I just assumed this was the vocal minority being overly paranoid. However, as the technology has progressed into many different areas of our life it has become pretty clear that little has been done to address the concerns of the public. So, I am going to address a few of those concerns here.

Recently, the GM plant in Tonawanda, NY incorporated RFID into their engine production process. They simply attach a Balluff Databolt (a specialized bolt with an RFID tag embedded in it) to every engine before it goes onto the assembly line. As with many manufacturing processes the engine will go to many different stations to be assembled and tested. At each of these stations data from the previous station is read and new data is written to the tag to ensure everything in the process went as planned. When the engine is completed the information written on the tag is uploaded to GM’s database and stored. In addition, the tag is removed, its memory erased and placed on another engine that goes through the same process. The tag DOES NOT stay with the engine. And, even if it did there would be no way to secretly track your vehicle by “pinging” this tag.

The GM example is just one of tens of thousands of applications where RFID is used to ensure quality, manage the production process, and manage product recalls in the manufacturing world. So, what about other applications like in retail where clothing is tracked via RFID or the livestock or pet industry where a small RFID tag is implanted in the animal?

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