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Are Sensitive Electronic Devices Susceptible to RFID Signal Radiation?

Posted By RFID Journal, 06.20.2013

We are planning a pilot in an electronics production area. Have any studies been done to date?

—Name withheld

———

This is a broad question, which makes it difficult to offer a precise answer since I don't know what type of sensitive electronics or RF communications are involved. I'm also unsure if you are concerned about damage to the equipment, or interference with its operation. However, I reached out to a broad group of experts to get their input, and will provide their responses below:

Ian Robertson, the CEO and president of Supply Chain RFID Consulting, took your question to mean you are concerned that the RF energy from the readers might damage sensitive electronics, the way static discharge can. "I don't know of any production environment in which the use of RFID (LF, HF or UHF) has been shown to damage the electronic devices," he said. "In the manufacturing process, the devices are generally not powered up, except for download, tests and burn-in, and RFID is unlikely to be used in those processes, other than to confirm the arrival of the unit at that station. There would, for example, be no advantage to constantly using RFID to identify a unit during burn-in, as you already know that it hasn't moved as long as the burn-in process continues.

"Completed sensitive electronic products are typically placed into electrostatic dissipative (ESD)/anti-static packaging, either at the end of the production line or at the cell where it was built. I believe that this packaging material, especially the metalized ESD wrap, would prevent any radio interaction with the unit. I say 'believe' because I have not tested this personally in the past, since we have never had a problem with RFID damaging production units.

"RFID of various forms has also been used in electronics production areas, ranging from wafer fab through final assembly and test, for some years. So generally speaking, RFID is not an issue in the production environment—and where it might be, it's relatively easy to manage the processes so that it is not. In the end, you can only make a final judgment by knowing the precise characteristics of that 'sensitive' equipment and what it is sensitive to."

Pankaj Sood, head of the McMaster RFID Applications Lab, responded: "We have not seen any damage from NFC RFID to sensitive electronic devices. The communications aspects of electronic devices might get impacted, but that really depends on the EM energy and frequencies of communication. Also, if the electronics production area is susceptible to disturbances caused by EM interference, then I guess RF could pose a challenge, but if not, then it shouldn't be a concern. But companies such as Intel are utilizing RFID on their circuit boards without talking about any challenges, so I would hazard a guess that it hasn't impacted their production processes."

Steve Halliday, the president of High Tech Aid, said: "Most electronics are susceptible to RF interference (when in operation), which is why we have so many regulations about the emission of RF. These regulations are well-publicized, though they are not the same in all parts of the world, so it is necessary for a manufacturer to test equipment to ensure that radiation (below the regulated level) will not damage their equipment.

And Tali Freed, the director of the California Polytechnic State University Center for Global Automatic Identification Technologies, replied, "There's quite a bit of evidence of interference [with the operation of equipment, including pacemakers]. We found two-way interference at manufacturing facilities of defense companies—UHF with defense product, and vice versa."

That's a long answer. The short answer is that it is best to test prior to deploying a system.

—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal

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