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Roxen Markets Metal-Heavy Tag Adapter

A Swiss firm plans to sell a new adapter that helps extend the read range of an RFID tag attached to or embedded in metal.
By Jonathan Collins
Apr 28, 2006Roxen CSE, a business-development company based in Vaumarcus, Switzerland, says it will be the sole distributor of adapters designed to enhance the through-metal RFID communication capabilities of the tags to which they attach. Developed by RFID design startup N-Metal, the adapters are fitted to existing low-frequency (125 MHz to 134 MHz) passive tags to improve their performance in metal-heavy environments.

"The technology was developed to enable any commercially available, standard low-frequency RFID tag to communicate effectively through metal with any commercially available, standard RFID read-write device," says Roxen's director, William Gillispie.

Metallic environments disturb all RFID systems, because radio waves are reflected by metal. To get around this problem, companies often turn to active (battery-assisted) tags, which transmit a more powerful RF signal. According to Roxen, N-Metal's new solution adds an inexpensive "micro-adapter" to a passive RFID tag embedded or mounted in metal, enhancing its ability to emit to and receive electromagnetic signals from a standard RFID reader device.

Details of how the adapter works, as well as the material it's made from, the companies behind its development and pricing information, all remain undisclosed. According to Roxen, however, the N-Metal adapter was developed by a group of European companies using equipment supplied by Sokymat and Axiome, although those companies did not help in the design of the adapter.

Roxen says it will provide tags already fitted with the N-Metal adapter to companies that manufacture and sell in the health-care equipment. Those companies can then resale the tags to hospitals and other end users, or can market products with the tags embedded in them.

The goal of the adapter is to undercut the price of active tags for health-care asset tracking. By enabling the use of passive tags, Roxen says it will allow hospitals to reduce the cost of deploying RFID to track assets. In addition, hospitals already using LF passive RFID tags to track some assets will reportedly be able extend the potential of its existing LF RFID system.

Roxen tested the adaptor with LF tags from Texas Instruments, Sokymat, EM Microelectronic and others. "We have yet to encounter a low-frequency RFID tag that does not function through metal when fitted with an adapter," Gillispie notes. Good examples include Sokymat's Logitags and Glass Tags, and its Clear Disc and World tags. The company says it can add the adapter to any size or shape LF tag, whether or not it has already been encapsulated in plastic or resin. The adapter does, however, have to be designed to work specifically with each tag design. "The adapter is adapted to the specific electromagnetic properties of the tag," explains Gillispie.

Although pricing has yet to be determined and will be dependent on a range of variables related to the tag being used, Roxen says it aims to price tags fitted with the N-metal adapter for up to 40 percent less than what an end user would pay for alternative active tags, which it believes currently fetch $10 to $15 apiece.

At this time, the N-Metal adapter can be used only with tags operating at 125 MHz to 134 MHz, though Roxen says work is underway for a UHF version. The model currently available is designed solely for medical applications, as it was developed specifically to work on medical steel.

Roxen says it also has plans to develop N-Metal adapters for two key market areas aside from health care: commercial, for embedding passive tags in high-value metallic products; and industrial, for monitoring assets in the oil and gas industries, among others. "We have led with medical because that is where there was a pull from the market," says Gillispie.
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