Mobile RFID: dock door to factory floor

THE ABILITY to access information anytime, anywhere is vital in today's fast-paced world.

THE ABILITY to access information anytime, anywhere is vital in today’s fast-paced world.

More than ever, manufacturers are turning to mobile information solutions to improve productivity and operate more efficiently and now, RFID devices are evolving to meet these demands.

No bigger than a credit card, mobile RFID readers can now be taken deeper into warehouses and factories, allowing manufacturers to know where a product is anywhere in the building; not just when it enters or exits.

As well as fixed locations, readers can now be positioned on equipment such as forklifts, enabling manufacturers to know exactly where products are in the warehouse.

According to Wayne Harper, consulting systems engineer with Motorola Enterprise Mobility Business, the demand for mobile readers is increasing.

“We are starting to see a higher demand for these products, particularly in the Electronic Product Code (EPC) compliant UHS range,” Harper said.

“The readers can be temporarily placed anywhere along the production line wherever manufacturers need to validate their products, and are not just restricted to the loading dock environment.

“This versatility means further visibility of products and allows for increased compliance testing,” he explained.

Now available are devices such as portable forklift readers that can be placed in the tynes of the fork, able to capture information on tagged pallets as it transports them around the warehouse.

“With our forklift reader, we are starting to see people place them onto other pieces of equipment, from portable conveyor systems, to shrink wrapping machines and pallet skips,” Harper told Manufacturers Monthly.

While mobile readers give manufacturers the added benefits of portability and flexibility, this can come at the cost of accuracy.

Mobile or fixed?

According to Harper, there will always be a need and capacity for fixed readers as they still tend to be the most reliable RFID solution in particular applications.

“There will always be a place for fixed devices, as there will always be predefined choke points such as receiving docks and bays.

“In regards to accuracy, when you are talking about a full-field read of a fixed device compared to a hand-held, you know you have covered a specific area. And with a fixed reader, it is possible to be 100% certain it has been read.

“Portable readers tend not to be as accurate because there is a reliance on a human, rather than mechanical element to capture data,” he said.

“Industry is however, heading towards a world where there will be a combination of both.”

Ryan Hammond, product manager with Siemens Industrial Automation &

Control, agrees.

“Because we mostly sell into conveyor and production lines where fixed readers tend to be more suitable, we get a higher request for fixed devices, but customers often diversify and purchase hand-held readers as well,” Hammond said.

“With fixed devices while they can offer a higher degree of accuracy than portable ones, it is important to ensure it is set up correctly from the beginning, so manufacturers can ‘set it and forget it’.

Batteries for mobile RFID readers are designed to last a standard shift of 8-10 hours. The readers by themselves cost around $5,000 – $10,000.

Harper says if a raw reader was taken into an already barcoded enabled situation, manufacturers would generally only be adding the cost of the equipment to their operations, otherwise they need to look into implementing an entire system.

Because the difference in price can be quite substantial for RFID than other systems, both Harper and Hammond advise manufacturers to consider their application before implementation.

“If the barcode cannot be presented in the same position every time or if they have choke points, so a single entry point that every item has to exit and enter from like a receiving dock, production line, port doors etc, then RFID particularly mobile devices will be beneficial,” said Harper.

Both men say most people adopting the technology are looking at it from an ROI perspective – while the price of the barcoding and RFID equipment is comparable and the cost of RFID tags are more expensive, it is the ability to use and re-use them that makes the investment profitable for manufacturers.

Harper explained that the reliability and durability of tags has improved, with chips now encapsulated in plastic giving them better protection in the manufacturing environment.

“The price of tags has also dropped substantially, with more decreases sure to happen in the future when more people invest in the technology,” Harper said.

Leave a Reply