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Impinj Announces Next-Gen Monza Chip

The new Monza 3, the chipmaker says, offers a read range as much as 40 percent longer than that of other EPC Gen 2 RFID chips.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Mar 27, 2008With an eye toward supporting the tagging of products at the item level and at the point of manufacture, RFID chipmaker Impinj unveiled today a new version of its Monza chip made for passive UHF, EPC Gen 2 tags. Called the Monza 3, the chip is significantly more sensitive to radio frequency signals than leading Gen 2 chips from other manufacturers, as well as the currently available Monza 2 chip, which Impinj released in 2006, says Impinj president and CEO Bill Colleran, adding that this increase in sensitivity should translate into better-performing RFID tags.

As the read sensitivity of a chip increases, the amount of power required for the chip to operate, or be activated by the reader, decreases. Therefore, the more read-sensitive a tag's chip is, the greater the read range (or distance from a reader) the tag can support. According to Colleran, tags made with the Monza 3 chip can be read at up to 40 percent greater distance from a reader, compared with other Gen 2 chips.

Read distance is a weakness of passive UHF tags, compared with the performance of active tags, which use an on-board battery to boost range. This increase in range could make tags with the Monza 3 chip more attractive to end users who want to use RFID for applications such as those in the supply chain, wherein reading tags at a distance can improve business processes. However, says Colleran, the new chip's sensitivity will also boost tag write speeds, which will make the tags more attractive for applications wherein tags need to be encoded as they move swiftly through a read zone, or where a large number of tags need to be encoded at once. "Write speed is indirectly linked to write sensitivity because a more sensitive chip has a longer window during which it can be encoded as it approaches a reader," he says.

High tag write speeds are important for pharmaceutical applications, specifically for encoding tags applied to pill bottles as they move down a bottling line, or for encoding tags attached to many bottles packed into cases. Colleran says in these application, read range is not a huge concern, since the tags are in close proximity to readers, but the reader's ability to accurately encode to single tags is important. He says that in tests of the Monza 3 chip, tags attached to bottles have been successfully encoded at rates nearing 600 bottles per minute while moving down a bottling line, and "many dozens" of tags attached to items packed into cases have been encoded as the case moves through a read zone. The Monza 3 has the same memory capacity of the previous versions of the Monza chip: 96 bits for an EPC, plus additional memory for a password and a tag identifier (TID).

Colleran says Impinj is currently shipping samples of the Monza 3 chips to tag makers, who may be demonstrating Monza 3 tag prototypes at the upcoming RFID Journal LIVE! conference in Las Vegas.

Impinj has moved to a new fabrication process for the Monza 3, allowing for a higher per-wafer manufacturing capacity, he says. However, Impinj is not yet seeing the high-volume orders needed to significantly lower the price of the chip, and therefore tag, that end users will pay. But he thinks continued interest in RFID technology and a steady pace of pilot projects is helping the industry along. "I think we're starting to see light at the end of the tunnel," he says. "[Tag] prices are continuing down, but slowly."

He hopes the Monza 3 will help generate the economies of scale needed to lower tag costs: "We think this is a huge step forward in performance—both in read and write sensitivity—and that it will make pilots more robust, which will in turn make real-world deployments greater in number."
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