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Changes in Industrial RFID Demand Data Integration

ARC Advisory Group's Chantal Polsonetti discusses how RFID applications in industrial environments are moving away from the custom frequencies used previously toward more standardized high frequency (13.56 MHz) technology, thus creating a need to better integrate the RFID data with the larger automation architecture.
Feb 23, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

February 23, 2007—ROI-driven industrial RFID applications are increasingly adopting standard frequencies and protocols made popular in supply chain and other applications. Industrial RFID suppliers are largely responding to this trend, with many introducing completely new product lines based on high frequency (13.56 MHz) devices. Of greater importance, however, is the push to provide high-level interfaces that allow the industrial RFID system to interface to higher levels of the automation architecture and improve the potential for ROI.

RFID has been deployed in ROI-driven applications in manufacturing for decades. RFID solutions for in-plant applications, such as error proofing or WIP tracking, bear little resemblance to the typical slap-and-ship of an inexpensive EPCglobal-based passive UHF label on a finished good. Legacy industrial RFID installations are instead typified by their rugged, noise immune hardware that communicates via custom or low (less than 134 KHz, typically 125 KHz) frequencies using proprietary protocols in closed loop applications.

In these instances, the RFID application is closer to a discrete sensing or automation application, and in fact many industrial RFID suppliers are drawn from that space. Also, unlike the COTS-based network architecture deployed in many supply chain RFID installations, industrial RFID solutions typically communicate with a PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) or other factory controller via either a discrete or serial input, similar to other sensor and identification technologies.

Need for High-Level Interfaces Outpaces Protocol Standardization

While the industrial RFID market profile migrates to one dominated by use of HF versus custom frequencies, the need to integrate RFID data with the automation architecture and use it to automate higher-level process improvements is a more compelling near-term requirement. This increasingly dominant functional requirement, which is often critical to achieving ROI, is driving a push for Ethernet, wireless, and other high-capacity interfaces for industrial RFID systems.

Ability to provide this type of high-level interface to supervisory systems is one of the main issues facing industrial RFID suppliers whose solutions typically interface to PLCs or other automation controllers. As PLCs and similar control equipment adopt IT-type interfaces, such as Ethernet networks, so too are the RFID systems used with them.

Ability to vertically integrate RFID data, making it available to both plant floor and higher-level supervisory applications, will be a key functional requirement going forward. This will result in the need for RFID solutions to interface to the IT infrastructure, and therefore the IT department will play an increasing role in requirements definition, supplier selection, and other aspects of the acquisition process.

The need to provide high-level interfaces between industrial RFID and high-level supervisory applications is just one of the market forces highlighted in ARC's just-released Market Outlook Report: RFID in Manufacturing Applications. This report, which covers passive, active, and WiFi technologies used in manufacturing applications, includes market size, forecast, and market shares for each technology, as well as shipments by geography, industry, application, frequency, form factor, channel, and customer type. RFID reader forecasts by network interface and operating system are also included. Further information on the study is available at http://www.arcweb.com.
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