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'ReadThis':HowRFIDwillworkinmetal environments

ByDavidAdams(SVPCorporateStrategy&Technology,TrenStarInc.) PublishedbyUsingRFID.cominApril2005. MetalcontainersandRFIDdon'tmixtoowell,unlessyouknowhow.Buttheycan betrackedwithRFIDjustasreliablyasanythingelseifyousimplyapplyscience totheartofRFIDimplementation... Metalcontainersare,amongothernicethings,reusable,returnable,sturdy,safe, protective,durableand"green"allyoucouldwishforinacontainer.Butyoumaybe thinkingthattheyareapaininthetailtotrackandmanage,andyoumightnotbelooking forwardtohavingtocomplywithmandates(environmental,HAZMAT,SarbanesOxley, etc.)requiringthatyouusethemortrackthem.Butmetalcontainerscanbetrackedwith thelatestinRFIDtechnologyandmanagedefficientlywiththelatestmobileasset managementsolutions.It'sjustamatterofsimplescience. Theproblem Itistruethatradiowavesbounceoffmetalandareabsorbedbywateratultrahigh frequencies.Itturnsout,forinstance,thatthehumanbodymakesaverygoodshield againstRFIDsignalsbecausewehavesomuchsaltwaterinus.Interferencefrommetal alsodisruptstheRFIDsignalandespeciallymakesachallengeofRFIDenabledsupply chainmanagement,anareaofoperationsteemingwithmetal,liquidandharsh environments. MetalcauseseddycurrentsinthevicinityoftheRFIDreaderantennaewhichabsorbRF energy,thusreducingtheoveralleffectivenessoftheRFIDfield.Theseeddycurrentsalso createtheirownmagneticfieldthatisperpendiculartothemetalsurface.This perpendicularmagneticfield"cancels"thereaderfield:

Figure1:Theperpendicularmagneticfield'seffect Source:TrenStarInc. Detuning Metalcanalsodetunebothreaderandtagantenna,causingaddedparasiticcapacitance (whichmeansenergydraincausedbytheelectromagnetic"friction"fromthemetal)and reducedsystemperformance.Finally,atsomefrequenciestheenergyreflectedbymetal createsinterferencebetweenthetagandreader.RFIDinheavymetalenvironmentscan meanreductionsinactualreadandwriterates,rangesandreliabilitiesfarbelowthose

experiencedinthecleanlabenvironmentsofRFIDpilots.Butwhat'salsotrueisthat propersystemdesignandengineeringwillovercomemostinterferenceobstacles,andone useinparticularhasledcompaniestobelievethatthissolutionisworthlookinginto. Trackingandmanaginghighvalue,reusablemobileassetsandtheircontentshasbeen oneareaofsupplychainmanagementthathassuccessfullyappliedRFIDtechnologyina metalenvironment.Thesemobileassetsarebroadlyusedinmanydifferentsupplychains tocarryrawmaterial,workinprogressandfinishedgoods.Examplesincludebeerkegs, stainlesssteelbulkfoodandchemicalcontainers.Theyevenhavesomecharacteristics thatmakeRFIDanidealtechnologyinvestmentfortrackingthem:

First,theseassetsareusuallyrelativelyexpensiveanywherefromUS$75 US$2,000.

Second,oftenthecontentsoftheseassetsareeitherexpensiveortimecritical.

Third,theinformationgeneratedbytheRFIDnetworkcanbeusedtobetterplanand executethedistributionchannelitself.

TheROIgetseasier Thehighvalueoftheseassetsandtheircontentscombinedwiththeactionablequalityof thedatageneratedmakesbuildinganROIonRFIDmucheasier.RFIDhasdemonstrably reducedlossrates,maintenancecosts,distributioncostsandimprovedassetandcustomer service.Inaddition,theinformationgeneratedfromtheRFIDenabledsupplychaincan helpprovidereducedcostofgoodssoldandevenrapidlyidentifymarkettrends. Companiescanevenalignthecostsofthecontainerwiththevaluestreamderivedfrom theinvestmentinthecontainer,itsdeliveryandthetechnologyinvolved.Notinpilots,but inrealworld,highvolume,highvelocitysupplychains. AccordingtotheAberdeenGroup'srecentsurveyof200companies,ofthosethatalready hadanRFIDsysteminplace,morethanhalfwereusingthetechnologyforassettracking. TrackingofhighvalueassetsisconsideredagoodRFIDentrypointbecauseitcanprovide thereturnoninvestmentthatiseludingmanufacturerstakinga"slapandship"approach toRFIDadoption,whichmeansthetagsarenotbeingusedforanyinternalapplicationbut simplytocomplywithretailermandates.However,eventhesecompaniescouldfindand implementasuccessfultrackingsystemandfindvalueinRFIDgiventherightpartner. Mobileassettracking Providersofmobileassetmanagementsolutionscombineassetacquisitionand managementserviceswithtechnologyincludingRFIDtoenablethediscoveryand eliminationofhiddensupplychaincostsincludingassetandfinishedgoodsinventory, transportationcosts,andproductwaste.Thesetechnologyenabledmanagementservices areoutsourcedonapayperusebasissothatcustomerscanoffloadtotalresponsibilityfor anoncorebusinessfunctionandasaresultimprovetheircustomerservice,reduce operatingexpensesandmanageassetsandassetcontentseffectively. MobileassetmanagementsolutionprovidersalsoofferproperRFIDsolutiondesignand reliable,lowcostRFIDsolutionsthatcanbedeployedinenvironmentswithhighmetal content.ThevalueofRFIDisgeneratedbythesolutionproviderfromthesubsequent creationofimprovedbusinessrulesthatdrivemoreefficientprocessesandprocedures. Sevenbasicguidelines Butofcourseyoudon'thavetooutsourcemanagementofyourmobileassets.Ifyou choosetogoitalone,forthebestchanceofsuccessfullytrackingmetalcontainersthrough yoursupplychainyoushouldusethefollowingguidelines:

1. ClearlydefinewhatyouaretryingtoaccomplishwithanRFIDsolution.Considerthe
applicationsthatwillconsumethedatageneratedandthebusinessprocessesthatwill needtoadapt.

2. PickanRFIDpartnerthathasexperienceworkinginrealworld,highmetal
environments.Nothingbeatsexperiencewhendealingwiththecomplicatedissues aroundtuningtagsandreadersformetalenvironments.

3. Picktherightfrequency.Lowerfrequenciessufferlessenergylossestoeddycurrents
andparasiticcapacitancethandohigherfrequencies.

4. Designtherighttagantennaincludingferritecoredtranspondercoils.Thehigh
permeabilityoftheferritecoreallowsasmalltranspondertobeenergizedbythe weakerfieldthatexistsclosetothemetalsurface.Thereducedsizealsomeansthat lessenergyislostthroughparasiticcapacitance.

5. Designtagstotakeadvantageofthedetuningthatoccursonmetal.Forexample,
designtagsthathavearesonantfrequencyof123kHzinair,sothattheywouldhavea workingfrequencyof125kHzwhenattachedtometalcontainers.

6. Designthetagantennatoinsurethemagneticaxisisparalleltothemetaltoensure
themaximumcouplingtothemagneticfieldparalleltothemetalsurface(seeFigure1 above).

7. Choosetherightreaderantennaethatareacompromisebetweenaverysharptune
(maximumperformancewithoutdetuning)andaveryflattunethatislessaffectedby detuning. Conclusion Don'tlookatmetalcontainersasaweightonyourshoulders.Interferenceobstacles presentedbymetalshouldn'tstopyoufromadoptingRFIDtrackingtechnology,whether onyourownorthroughasolutionofferedbymobileassetmanagementproviders.The beautyisthatpropersystemdesignandengineeringarereallytheonlychallenges,and nowfindingtheansweriseasierwiththeintroductionofmobileassetmanagement solutions. FormoreRFIDrelatedfeaturearticles:www.usingrfid.com Copyright2005TrenStarInc.

Abouttheauthor...
DavidAdamsisSeniorVicePresidentofCorporateStrategy&TechnologyforTrenStarInc. BeforejoiningTrenStarin2002,hehademergedasanindustrythoughtleaderwith12 yearsoflogisticsoperationsexperienceandanadditional10yearsoflogisticstechnology developmentandsupplychainandnetworkoptimizationexperience. AdamsisformervicepresidentofoperationsatMcKessonPrimaryCare,aFortune35 companyanddivisionofMcKessonCorporation,wherehemanagedthedaytoday operationsofaUS$1billionsupplychain.Healsohelpedtopositionsupplychain technologycompaniesViewlocityandi2Technology. AtthebeginningofhiscareerDavidheldplanningandoperationspositionsatPepsiCola, FritoLayandtheUSNavy.HereceivedaB.A.inEconomicsfromTheVirginiaMilitary Institute,aMastersofBusinessAdministrationfromTroyStateUniversity,andaMasters ofScienceinOperationsResearchfromTheNavalPostgraduateSchool. TrenStarcanbecontactedthroughitswebsite,athttp://www.trenstar.com