RFID for Industry

Even as supply chain mandates continue to push RFID into retail and warehousing, industrial applications continue to grow in number and reflect the diversity of available technologies. Why? Here are just a few reasons: Radio frequency identification (RFID) transports data wirelessly. RFID tags and readers can use information flowing in one direction or multiple directions, and they can be...


3 reasons to choose an industrial automation RFID supplier
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More about Sonrai application, photos, other RFID resources.

Even as supply chain mandates continue to push RFID into retail and warehousing, industrial applications continue to grow in number and reflect the diversity of available technologies. Why? Here are just a few reasons:

Radio frequency identification (RFID) transports data wirelessly. RFID tags and readers can use information flowing in one direction or multiple directions, and they can be read-only or read-and-write, embedded or add-on, single or multiple frequency, commercial or rugged, and off-the-shelf or customizable. RFID systems can also be implemented by original equipment manufacturers, end-users or system integrators.

With all these capabilities, Control Engineering sought to illustrate how RFID is being used in various industrial scenarios. Applications, capabilities, and advice follow.

Compactor waste control

“Businesses do a good job of tracking electricity, water, gas, and oil usage, but there’s a fifth utility that has been virtually ignored: the trash,” says Tony Romano, of Sonrai Systems, a technology solutions company focused on automated management of waste and recycling services and equipment.

Waste management is going high-tech with automated waste data collection, control systems, cellular wireless technology, Ethernet connections, dial-up modem connections, and RFID readers, according to Romano. He should know—he’s been working on expanding the vision of managing waste with Sonrai’s founder, Chris Flood.

Sonrai’s Trash Tracker solution by iQuest (a specialized integrator that helps Sonrai integrate voice annunciators, Siemens human machine interfaces, Microbox computers, and RFID tag readers) turns ordinary compactors into intelligent waste management systems. These highly automated systems can count inventory, curb back-door merchandise theft, screen hazardous materials, call for preventive maintenance, and keep trash haulers honest.

Trash Tracker incorporates a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, Siemens S7-200 PLC (programmable logic controller), and RFID readers. The PLC records time, date, and duration of when the chute door is open, what goes in and out (when RFID tags are integrated into boxes or bags), and when the container is picked up and emptied. This allows more efficient operations, with access to real-time and archived information.

Siemens and iQuest delivered the integrated system with remote access feature. “Looking at a browser, I can see the container was last serviced at 9:52 in the morning on the 18th of the month, oil pressure in the hydraulic pump is 509 psi, and the compactor weighs 381 pounds,” Romano says, ticking through a list of vitals on his computer screen. The screen is linked to the controller running a customer’s Trash Tracker. Siemens WinCC SCADA software helps Trash Tracker remotely monitor, network, and service a business’ compactor fleet over wireless, Ethernet, and dialup connections.

Remote integration

“If Sonrai adds a voice annunciator or an RFID tag reader to a trash compactor and they need us to program those new devices into the control system, we can do it without leaving the iQuest office,” says Bob Meads, president of Atlanta-based iQuest.

“That remote programmability allows us to be much more productive and nimble by eliminating the travel to Sonrai in Chicago every time we need to make a change or upgrade,” Meads explains. “Every time you get in a plane or car to enhance or diagnose a system, that’s time lost.”

RFID-enabled Trash Trackers can instantly detect if the garbage tossed into the compactor poses a problem or concern. This is especially beneficial for hospitals, which face large fines if hazardous medical waste slips into trash containers bound for municipal landfills. The Simatic RF600 tag reader mounted on the compactor chute reads tagged waste as it passes by. “Red bag waste” tag data is immediately sent to the Trash Tracker system loaded with RFID-tag-reading software and alerts the PLC, which automatically shuts down the compactor operation.

“RFID is remarkable technology, easily tied into the SCADA system for the database and into the PLC for control,” says Meads, outlining WinCC’s role in storing the tag-reading archives and in notifying hospital staff in the event of a medical waste infraction.

“An instant e-mail or cell-phone alert can be sent the moment a tag reader detects a problem, while a voice annunciator automatically shouts instructions to remove the bag of medical waste from the compactor,” Romano says.

The same RFID-based Trash Tracker solution is being lab tested at the University of Arkansas, and it is used by a large discount retailer to track massive store-level inventory, Romano says. Cross referencing the number of discarded RFID-tagged cartons with product sold delivers a snapshot of current inventory, he adds.

Compactors with RFID-tag reading functionality also serve as detectives, reducing backdoor employee theft, known as “shrink.” When an employee throws a boxed item into the compactor, planning to pull it out of the trash after hours, the PLC identifies the item, notes the date and time, and notifies management while it shuts the compactor down to avoid damage to the stolen goods.

As RFID tags are embedded in critical documents, readers also will ensure printed data integrity, location, and appropriate destruction in shredders.

Tags take the heat

Although RFID technology can be used in industrial applications for a variety of purposes, many manufacturing processes are not suited to this technology. Demanding processes and environments can destroy the components used to identify parts.

When implementing a new RFID tracking system for its production process, an automotive company had specific requirements in mind. The customer wanted to use RFID tags on skids that accompany vehicles through the production line (see photo). Doing this would allow the customer to read and write (obtain and store) production data in real time, including the model number, color, and special equipment for an individual vehicle.

The tags, however, have to endure harsh environmental conditions during production, including a painting process with temperatures up to 210°C (410°F) for up to 30 minutes. Most RFID tags can’t take this heat.

To enable RFID use in this application, Turck created a custom-designed tag with the following attributes:

  • Dimension requirements: A cylindrical tag, 22 mm by 135 mm, ensures secure mounting on previously designed skids, allowing a tracking system upgrade without replacing other manufacturing equipment.

  • Data availability: The high-temperature RFID tags can immediately read and write data after exiting the paint application, and may be physically sprayed with paint without experiencing changes in function through the remainder of production.

  • Data preservation and tag reuse: At the end of the production cycle, the data points are extracted from the tag, which remains on the skid for use with the next vehicle.

Lyondell asset management

Lyondell Chemical Co., headquartered in Houston, TX, sought a way to capture, track, and integrate field data with data from other sources for intelligent asset management during an upgrade at its Corpus Christi, TX, olefins plant. Lyondell describes itself as one of the world’s largest chemical companies with approximately $18 billion in assets.

Project goals included:

  • Replace existing paper reading sheets with new electronic spreadsheets in all five plant areas;

  • Add static data from the field to existing spreadsheets containing live distributed control system (DCS) information;

  • Provide outside operating procedures as needed;

  • Build help pages to provide operator guidance;

  • Install RFID tags on all major pieces of equipment.

Lyondell implemented Honeywell’s IntelaTrac PKS system for field data collection and intelligent asset management, enabling users to integrate field data with data from other sources, such as production, process control, and work management systems. Integrated, mobile hardware and software tools gave field operators the ability to accurately capture, collect, analyze and use time-critical data with ruggedized computers, RFID tags, and other peripheral devices, such as temperature guns, vibration probes, and non-destructive test devices.

Lyondell has improved process condition monitoring using non-DCS instrumented data; provided field operations support when and where needed, including product guidance available through mobile data tracking.

The new system also integrates field data with data from multiple sources, including production and process control, for more proactive decisions and improved integrity of data downloaded in the field. Finally, RFID helps capture time-critical field data that’s time- and date-stamped for improved accuracy. Data evaluation time was reduced from 4 hours to 20 minutes. Related quantified operational savings included $1 million in higher furnace efficiency.

Distributed integration

Interoperability and long-term product availability are important design criteria for RFID applications, according to Pepperl+Fuchs. P+F says its Ident Control supports open industrial communication standards and has an interface unit that allows any available tag technology to be implemented without modifying user-level control software. For semi-open-loop and open-loop applications, handheld readers integrate with the tracking process.

Tags are suitable for rugged applications, P+F says, such as automotive applications (see photos). Data from a tag mounted on a car hood reads and writes information to the reader mounted near the line, and displays it on an overhead computer screen. Using the 2.45 GHz ISM band, the tags can be used worldwide without a license and have a continuous read field (that is, no field-nulls).

Field mounting RFID hardware reduces cost and allows maintenance personnel to use diagnostic features (LEDs, LCD display, and function keys) in the RFID interface, P+F says.

Product verification, safety

Use of substandard replacement parts in manufacturing remains a concern. To address this, RFID tags are being embedded in machinery parts, or with consumable industrial products, to assure appropriate use and potentially increase safety, says Martin Payne of SkyeTek, a provider of enterprise applications for companies seeking to leverage RFID in their product lines or operations.

“Counterfeiting costs manufacturers billions of dollars each year, but embedded RFID provides a simple solution to this pervasive problem,” Payne says. “By automating industrial processes, RFID provides a cost-effective solution to counterfeiting, as well as to the problems associated with unauthorized use of generics and substitutes.”

Payne says in applications such as equipment and machinery, RFID authentication protects manufacturers’ reputations and saves revenue lost to counterfeiters. “The manufacturer, type, and age of a part or consumable are vital to the reliability and performance of a machine. So if the wrong consumable or part is used, it will likely negatively affect the manufacturer’s brand equity and customer loyalty.”

Equally important, Payne explains, RFID protects recurring revenue streams associated with the consumables. “Embedded RFID tags, typically costing 10 to 30 cents each, are encoded with a 'digital fingerprint’ using state-of-the-art cryptography that uniquely identifies the product or consumable, he says. Use of such technology prevents the use of unauthorized consumables.

ONLINE extra

Control Engineering regularly covers RFID news and products .


Other links include…

RFID, automation, trash: One company’s trash is another’s competitive advantage; more about Sonrai, additional photos

What’s Your RFID Spin?

RFID: 5 predictions for radio frequency identification from AIM Global

RFID on the Production Line

RFID: adoption increases despite costs

Author Information

Mark T. Hoske , Control Engineering editor in chief, can be reached at MHoske@cfemedia.com .

3 reasons to choose an industrial automation RFID supplier

The wide applicability of radio frequency identification (RFID)—from retail and supply chain to heavy industrial—translates into a number of solutions available on the market. Many of these claim applicability in any use. Here’s why you might want to consider an industrial automation supplier for RFID technologies.

Automation is used to close the control loop in practical ways in a wide variety of applications; automation vendors can have breadth and experience to offer the best technology for an implementation, which might not necessarily be RFID products. (Providers that also offer data matrix, printed bar codes, or other sensing technologies may provide a better perspective than an RFID-only vendor.)

Automation vendors understand plant floor environmental rigors that could mean less accuracy or shorter life for other products.

Tight integration with automation, controls, and instrumentation is second nature for many automation company representatives, who are

Recommendations above are based on a Control Engineering discussion with Rene Wolf, general manager, sensors and communication business unit, and Edward Housler, business manager, factory sensors, sensors, RFID, and optical safety, both of the Siemens Energy & Automation Inc. Automation & Motion Division.

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