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Schneider Electric Lays Groundwork for Tracking Circuit Boards via RFID

The solution involves the installation of an EPC Gen 2 RFID chip directly onto the printed circuit boards that the company incorporates into its products, with the board's ground plain serving as a tag antenna.
By Rhea Wessel
Mar 11, 2011Schneider Electric, a global energy-management firm that reported €18.5 billion ($25.7 billion) in sales in 2009, says it has laid the groundwork to begin using radio frequency identification to identify and track the production of every printed circuit board (PCB) it manufactures, and that it expects to begin utilizing the technology within the next few months.

Since November 2010, Schneider Electric has been adding a placeholder for an EPC Gen 2 RFID chip onto all of its new PCB designs, in order to pave the way for the project. The placeholder consists of small indentations with specific copper line patterns that also include a pad to which an RFID IC module would be attached. The company expects to begin attaching RFID IC modules once it has finished putting the necessary reader infrastructure and supporting software in place.

Schneider Electric is producing the PCBs with particular line patterns so that each circuit board's ground plain (consisting of a layer of copper) will function as the antenna of an EPC Gen 2 RFID tag when an IC module is mounted directly onto the PCB. The firm plans to use the Magicstrap RFID IC module, produced by Murata.

The Magicstrap technology will connect the RFID IC with the PCB's ground plain by way of a 3-D multi-layer impedance matching circuit that provides dual bandwidth. The multi-layer matching circuit includes a chip from NXP Semiconductors, and was designed by Murata, which mounts the chip on ceramics and matches the antenna with that chip.

"A major problem with radio frequency is that you have to have a perfect match between the antenna and the chip," says Michel Ollive, Schneider Electric's manager of advanced manufacturing design and technologies. "The trick is adapting different types of boards to the RFID IC, since any change in the board leads to an impedance change and means you need to redesign your matching circuit."

Schneider Electric first developed the RFID application so that it could track PCBs internally. "We want to associate production parameters with a particular product," Ollive explains. "If the product fails to work properly, we can quickly find out which PCBs went through the same process."

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