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Omni-ID, Atlas RFID Offer New Rugged Active Tags

The Power 1 and Power 400 tags are designed to provide a long read range—typically, 100 meters—in extremely harsh environments.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 20, 2013

Atlas RFID Solutions, an automatic-identification materials control company, is selling a new ruggedized tag for the construction industry. The tag, called the Power 1, was developed by RFID hardware provider Omni-ID, and contains both a long-read-range active tag operating at 433 MHz, complying with the 18000-7 (Dash 7) standard, and a passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tag operating at 860 to 930 MHz, thereby enabling the battery life for operating as an active tag to be spared in situations for which a passive tag would suffice. The active tag can transmit a signal to an Omni-ID reader at a range of typically 100 meters (328 feet) in any direction.

Since developing the Power 1 tag specifically for Atlas RFID Solutions, Omni-ID has also released the Power 400, a tag with the same attributes, but marketed by Omni-ID for applications outside of construction. Both tags are commercially available as of this month.

The Power 1 tags can withstand 2,000 pounds of weight and operate in temperatures ranging from -40 to +60 degrees Celsius.
The Power 1 tag results from issues that Atlas RFID Solutions observed as being faced by its customers—companies that construct large industrial facilities for power and energy firms, such as oil-sands or deep-sea drilling operators. Many of these businesses prefer to use active RFID tags that can be located from a great distance and be read through sand, snow or ice. Passive tags do not offer such performance, says Josh Girvin, Atlas RFID Solutions' product management VP, and most active tags simply do not last long in the types of environments in which they were employed. The tags are often attached to such items as piping, sections of steel or other construction parts and tools, and frequently end up being knocked loose or rendered inoperable in the harsh construction environment. The tags are usually placed by suppliers, who may not have sufficient knowledge of the environment in which the product will be located to be able to determine optimal tag placement. As a result, the tags may be dropped, crushed, stepped on or driven over. In addition, they are often exposed to temperatures that drop below -40 degrees Celsius (-40 degrees Fahrenheit) and then rapidly rise within a short span of time. These conditions, as well as the presence of water, snow and ice (which can freeze, melt and refreeze), can create fissures in a tag's casing, crush it entirely and affect its battery life.

Atlas RFID put together a list of features that it sought in an active tag, as well as testing procedures, and shared that information with Omni-ID, which then began developing the Power 1 tag. Atlas RFID wanted a tag that could withstand 2,000 pounds of weight, be read from any direction at a distance of 100 meters and have a battery life of five years, operating within a temperature range of -40 degrees to +60 degrees Celsius (-40 degrees to +140 degrees Fahrenheit). It also wanted the tag to be affordable.

To meet these criteria, says Ed Nabrotzky, Omni-ID's EVP of sales (Americas) and product development, the company designed a tag that operates with both ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) passive RFID interrogation, as well as active 433 MHz RFID. The use of the 433 MHz frequency, he explains—which has a longer wavelength than that employed by EPC Gen 2 passive tags (860 to 960 MHz)—ensures a read reliability in difficult reading conditions, such as ice, snow, rain and fog, or interference-causing materials, such as body tissue, mud and packaging. "Long wavelengths (low frequencies) are much more immune to the effects of reflections," he explains, "thus penetrating liquids and other common interference materials with more clarity. The 433 MHz tags also achieve longer distance with less power required (less propagation loss) than their higher-frequency cousins."

The tag, which measures 4.72 inches by 1.42 inches by 1.18 inches in size, can be read consistently from any angle, due to a helical coil antenna designed by Omni-ID (as an alternative to flat planar structures), which curves and is, therefore, easier to read from any position around the tag. To provide the ruggedization, Omni-ID created a bonded dual-layer structure with an ultraviolet (UV)-resistant shell, as well as a second bonded layer underneath for extra strength, thus earning the tag its IP69 rating (signifying it as being impervious to dust and high-pressure, high-temperature jets of water, including full immersion).

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