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TrazeTag Designs Rubberized RFID Labels for Abusive Environments

Each tag's passive RFID inlay is protected by a flexible plastic material that can be custom-molded with wear-resistant text and graphics, for identifying pipes, cable or heavy equipment.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 26, 2011Startup company TrazeTag has designed a tough, rubber passive RFID label for use in harsh environments, such as those found in construction, aerospace, manufacturing and storage-yard applications. Because the label's RFID inlay is enclosed in a flexible, durable material, the company reports, it can survive rugged handling, physical abuse and exposure to heat and water. The label, which is commercially available now with a variety of low-frequency (LF), high-frequency (HF) or ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) passive RFID inlays, is designed to be visually readable. Unlike other RFID tags and labels that typically have text printed or painted on their surface—which has the potential of being scratched or damaged—the TrazeTag label is embossed with graphic information on the front and back, such as company logos, ID numbers or letters.

The tags are being marketed and distributed by Etiflex, the company that manufactures the rubber labels in which the RFID inlays are embedded. The two companies will demonstrate the tags at RFID Journal LIVE! 2011, to be held on Apr. 12-14, 2011, in Orlando, Fla.

The TrazeTag label's protective rubber exterior can be embossed with wear-resistant text or images.

This month, General Dynamics Electric Boat, which designs, builds and maintains submarines for the U.S. Navy, completed tests performed on a sampling of approximately 20 TrazeTag tags, exposing them to ultraviolet radiation, salt fog and temperatures of -80 degrees Fahrenheit (-62 degrees Celsius) for four weeks. When the tests were finished, Electric Boat reported to TrazeTag that the tags remained intact, with no signs of distortion, material degradation or crack formation. TrazeTag then evaluated the functionality of the passive HF tags' embedded RFID inlays, and found that they could still be read effectively. According to Leandro Margulis, TrazeTag's founder, General Dynamics Electric Boat has indicated that it could use the TrazeTag tags for tracking heavy equipment in its submarine-building operations, though no commitment has yet been made.

Margulis identified a need for the rubberized tag while working for General Electric, at the company's locomotive production site in Erie, Pa. He noticed that the factory's workers found it difficult to track wire cable—used by cranes to lift heavy steel items—when the staging area was filled with numerous types of cable identified only with a printed label that could, at times, be hard to read.

In some cases, Margulis says, the use of the wrong cable could be a critical mistake. Some wire ropes are designed to handle a greater amount of weight than others. To the eye, however, many wire ropes may appear the same. "I saw a need for something visual that is durable and trackable," he states.

Later, while serving as a technology consultant at Deloitte Consulting, Margulis imagined the benefits of using radio frequency identification. "I worked with heavy-industrial manufacturers," he says, "and saw the need to manage their equipment and materials outdoors, and in harsh environments, in an efficient way [electronically]." He found that simply having a clearly noticeable label on materials was beneficial, but that an automated system that could track the usage of material, and thus its degradation, as well as its inspection history, in a back-end server could be much more valuable.

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