Tracking Packages with RFID

Intelleflex will incorporate temperature monitoring into its InfoSure tags in a cold-chain monitoring solution to be launched later this year. “We are working with application software providers and system integrators to bring a full cold-chain solution to the market,” says Richard Bravman, chairman and CEO. Bravman described the company’s solution at the Truth In Technologies forum at Stony Brook University (Long Island, NY) in October, sponsored by AIDC 100 (Automatic Identification Data Capture).

“There is going to be a mixture of environments and a range of cold-chain use modalities. These will employ active-tag solutions for continuous shipment monitoring and semipassive-tag technology, where the monitoring is RFID-enabled, but intermittent,” he says.

Bravman says the battery-assisted tags with extended-memory capacity deliver advantages for asset tracking and for packaging tagging scenarios.

The firm’s tags and readers are multiprotocol, supporting semipassive and Gen 2 passive protocols for tag/reader communication. They therefore can operate in environments where passive and semipassive tags are intermixed. Tags perform in either mode with extended read-write memory of 64 Kb, compared with 96 to 200 bits of memory in a standard passive tag. Sixty kilobits of tag memory can be segmented into 1-Kb blocks for individual password protection.

“The I-Beam readers operate with semipassive tags and Class 1 (passive) tags that we and other parties manufacture. The readers feature enhanced receiver capability to support the long-range reading of semipassive tags and handling the tag’s extended memory,” says Bravman.

“We are committed to a standards-based interoperability of our equipment with other vendors, and we are willing to provide information on the protocol to other vendors for building capabilities into their readers to work with our tags,” he says.

Boeing has selected Intelleflex to supply RFID tags for labels that will be affixed to the most frequently serviced parts on its next generation of aircraft. Two thousand Intelleflex tags will be onboard on each Boeing 787 aircraft.

For this application, Boeing is using Intelleflex passive Gen 2–compliant tags, with 64 Kb extended memory for storing the entire maintenance history of the part directly on the tag.

“Boeing maintenance personnel will have all the information about the part on an updatable tag. Extended memory opens up a whole different mode of use. On a passive tag, you can store some ID information, along with perhaps a serialized number. Much more meaningful information can be stored in a 64-Kb tag,” he says.

With tag battery assist, semipassive systems improve read range and performance. The battery provides power for amplifying the inbound signal from the reader, and powering the chip up to operating mode. “The forward link from the reader to the tag is what sets the practical limits of passive tags that operate on the power derived from the reader beam.

“Both semipassive and passive modes communicate from the tag back to the reader identically, through backscatter. Because we have a relatively weaker signal coming back (from a farther distance), we had to enhance the performance of the I-Beam reader,” he says.

InfoSure tags in battery-assisted semipassive mode yield operational ranges of up to 300 ft, comparable to ranges supported by active tag systems. (Passive UHF tags operate in the 10-ft range.)

Bravman says that semipassive tags will provide value for certain package line-tagging scenarios. Cases and pallets can be tagged with semipassive tags in mixed protocol packaging environments where “the ability to read and write both types of tags is critical.”

For example, passive tags on cartons are scanned, and the data are collected and stored in a single battery-assisted tag on the pallet. The single pallet tag can contain “the entire electronic manifest of what is loaded on the pallet.”

“We see applications where semipassive tags might operate at the carton level or even down to the unit level. I believe that we will find use cases with strong ROI potential for tagging (with semipassive tags) down to the unit level, where you want to track an extended amount of information for high-value product,” he says.

Intelleflex’s main focus is in asset tracking-type applications where semipassive technology hits “a significant new price/performance sweet spot” between passive and active RFID technologies, says Bravman. Uses include vehicle tracking, high-value manufacturing process control, and personnel security and access control.

“The cost of active RFID tags, their larger size, and their relatively shorter battery life are factors that have stymied the rollout of RFID for these functions,” he says.

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Intelleflex integrates the extended memory and multiprotocol capability into a single chip, that reduces tag cost and power consumption. Tags are priced at $5 in 100,000 unit quantities, compared with active tag costs in the $25 to $35 range.

Bravman says the semipassive solution is in the early deployment stages. “We expect to launch pilots in the first quarter, when we will be ramping up to general availability quantities,” he says.

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