RFID and the Future of Engineering
All types of engineers will need to master the technology in the coming years.
Jun 23, 2013—
Last week, my oldest son graduated from high school. In the fall, he will head off to Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), in Worcester, Mass., to study engineering. My son is not yet sure what type of engineering he will pursue, though he has a good eye for design and might pursue product design. I joke with him that he should become an RF engineer, since I could help him find a job in that field, but the reality is that almost every kind of engineer will need to master the basics of radio frequency identification in a few more years. (WPI does not have a separate RFID curriculum, though the technology is a part of several courses.)
Industrial engineers—the folks who deal with complex manufacturing systems and how to optimize them—will need to understand how RFID can be used to track work-in-process and optimize production. They will need to understand how radio waves behave in manufacturing environments, where there is a lot of metal, which reflects RF energy, and noise, which can make RF signals hard to pick up.
Aerospace engineers will need to understand RFID's role in building and maintaining the planes they design and build. Airbus, Boeing and other major aviation companies are clearly moving toward tagging most parts and storing parts histories on the tag. It's likely that many of the sensors on tomorrow's airplanes will be RFID-based, since this eliminates wiring. That's a good thing, as wires not only add weight to a plane (thereby reducing fuel efficiencies), but are also a potential source of electrical fires.
Biomedical engineering is a hot field. As we saw from this year's RFID Journal Award winner for the Most Innovative Use of RFID, the technology will impact the development of new prosthetics (see RFID Helps Amputees Manipulate Prosthetic Hands and Most Innovative Use of RFID Winner). RFID is currently being employed to track medical instruments, but in the near future, it will likely be utilized on implants as well, and as part of medical treatments.
For example, SenoRx, a provider of breast cancer treatment and diagnostic equipment, is working to introduce an RFID-based solution that will offer radiologists a new method for marking a tumor's location prior to surgery. The system, according to the company, promises to reduce the risk of infection, while helping surgeons to locate lesions more accurately (see SenoRx Uses Implantable RFID Tags to Mark Breast Tumors).
Civil engineers and construction engineers will need to understand how RFID can be used to track and manage materials, tools, equipment and workers on large construction projects. It's likely that in a few years, RFID sensors will become a common part of any bridge, tunnel, building or other structure. Wireless sensors can detect corrosion on bridges, for example, as well as dangerous gasses, excessive moisture, mold and other factors that can become hazardous to a structure, or to the people occupying it.
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