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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 

One of the goals of the Industry 4.0 approach is to migrate the production into smart factories. This, in turn, mandates the use of smart objects. What does this mean for the electronics industry?

First of all, the manufactured products, representing the most important objects within the factory, must become smart. This enables us to query these products at every stage of the product lifecycle (PLC). For instance, it would be possible to query the objects identity, health or status, to name just a few. Smart objects will be able to respond to queries like these.

We all know the term smart from the telecommunications sector. In the business world, it will be hard to find a person without a smartphone, including most readers of this document. Why do we call these devices smart?

Its because they are multi-functional, enabling us to translate our interests into action and to reach our goals which are quite individual, by the way. One user wants to communicate, using an email app for this purpose. Another user will use a weather app in order to obtain the latest forecast. When we are traveling, a map application and maybe a travel guide from an eBook app may be helpful. In the past, all kinds of different media and technical equipment were required for these tasks. Today, the smartphone in our hands can fulfil these functions thanks to its smartness. (This also raises the interesting question whether we thus have a Turing machine in our hands)

However, an essential prerequisite must be met for this, and well discuss this later in this article. This prerequisite is known as the infrastructure. How many smartphones would Samsung and Apple sell without the existing GSM/UMTS infrastructure and without the data networks offering enormous bandwidths? How smart would our technology be without this prerequisite? It is also important that this technology is wireless.

So whats the link between the smartphones and the smart objects needed to further advance our value chains?

Our industry has reached a stage in which we are assigning names to the products. During production, identification technologies including bar codes or matrix codes are used to address specific PCBs and to control the manufacturing process. These approaches have helped to solve many problems and to increase the efficiency of our manufacturing and logistics processes.

Nonetheless, more and more users are reaching the limits of these technologies. For instance, optical identification technologies require a line of sight. Due to their read-only nature, they also rule out the storage of any additional data on the object, i. e. on the product. In a real-world scenario, an optical code would be attached to the PCB representing the main functionality and the backbone of any electronic product.

As soon as a protective coating is applied to the PCB or the board is potted, the code becomes inaccessible, mandating the transfer of its information content to a different medium. Thus, another code must be attached to the case. This step is necessary once again when the device is packed and must be repeated with each new packing layer.

We therefore have reached the limits of Industry 3.0, and a new technology must be employed for the further migration towards Industry 4.0. Based on the previous discussion concerning the smartphone, it is advisable to use a wireless technology.

This technology is readily available and has reached a level of maturity enabling its large-scale use in the industry. It is called RFID, for Radio Frequency Identification and replaces bar codes and dot matrix codes (DMCs) with so-called tags. These devices include memory partitioned into a pre-programmed, unique serial number, a writable serial number memory for a custom number range and a user memory for storing additional data.

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