2017 was a great year for the RAIN RFID technology. The technology that started out as a solution to improve inventory management in logistics is now used in different vertical industries. Some of its applications include tracking vital drugs in hospitals, timing races, tracking bags in airline industry, workflow management in industrial manufacturing or simply enhancing customer experience in retail. In a report published by IDTechEx in 2017 10.6 billion RAIN ICs were sold in 2016. This demand quantifies the success of this technology. New more advanced ICs are released to match the ever evolving consumer market. It’s a requirement in today’s industry to read large number of tags in a short span of time. These tags also feature enhanced security making communication secure and safe. Some of these tags even have sensors to monitor the environment such as humidity, temperature and weight of the application.
The current generation readers need to be quick and accurate to get very close to 100% read rates. Typically readers are required to read multiple tags with low return link power in varying noise environment. In addition today’s market also demands connectivity. Therefore the information read and interpreted by the readers is stored in the cloud for quick accessibility by different teams across the globe. Irrespective of this advancement there are challenges faced by the industry in terms new products development and deployment.
As the saying goes: “release early and release often”. This is the mantra followed by the current RFID market. But the development of new products requires the right team and tools without which the development process becomes long. A delay in the final product launch delays the revenue stream of the product. Another common problem seen is the launch of low quality products. This escalates the support and maintenance cost and decreases the reliability of the product.
At point of deployment upon interaction tags and readers may not behave as intended. Either there is a loss of read rate or decrease in the read range of the tag. This may be due to a defect in a hardware in the manufacturing phase or a simple error of the selection. Irrespective of the issue troubleshooting is required which may be painfully long without the testing tools. Using a reader to understand the performance of the tag or troubleshoot an application error instead of an independent test equipment provides biased results and longer trouble shooting times finally resulting in loss of revenue and increase in customer dissatisfaction.
Knowledge is the most important tool
Benjamin franklin once said “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”. As already mentioned investing in the right team and the right amount of time and budget in RFID testing during product development and/or deployment phase provides the user with the knowledge which is critical to the success of the project.
RFID testing should not be seen as an ad-hoc process in the product development and/or deployment but as requirement. A complete plan and budget for testing needs to be incorporated in the planning phase. For example during the R&D phase testing needs to be done to understand the key parameters of RAIN tags such as the operating range of the tag (backscatter range of the tag – read range of the tag). Another important parameter to consider is the behavior of the tags in a population. Testing helps in understanding the power levels of the tag population in one graph. The number of tags that answer over the different power levels is displayed to help the user find the optimum solution and potential weaknesses for a given RFID application.
Read range of a tag in a system more and more dependents on the sensitivity of the reader being used. Testing and verifying the performance of the reader independently is therefore a must. The reader’s transmit power and sensitivity should be measured through varying the backscatter power of the fully configurable tag emulator. Tag parameters, e.g. Back Link Frequency (BLF) offset, should be varied to figure out how the reader reacts under different conditions in order to eliminate misreads, false reads which are common during deployment.
Continue testing to innovate
To excel and to continue innovating knowledge is required. Knowledge is in this ever evolving RFID market to understand the technology, to have the means to test and verify the performance of tags and readers and to determine the key reason for error without the guesswork. RFID testing provides the industry with the knowledge that should be used to authenticate and validate RFID products, troubleshoot and resolve challenges faced during deployment, innovate new products and develop new standards to push the industry to adopt the technology seamlessly across the globe.