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Can RFID Track Small Parts, Trigger Alarms and Prevent Tool-Tampering?

Posted By RFID Journal, 07.01.2009
I have three questions: First, can radio frequency identification be used to track small parts, measuring 4.5 inches in length by 1 inch in width? Second, is it possible to connect a transceiver to an alarm system so that every time the reader receives a signal from a transponder, the alarm goes off? And third, can a tag attached to a tool have an anti-tamper option?

—Name withheld

All of these uses are possible, but you might need to work with a company to produce small transponders that are tamper-resistant. Several years ago, a company called RSI ID produced an ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) "button tag" that was EPC Gen 2-compliant (see RSI ID Prices Gen 2 Labels at 9.9 cents). That company was purchased by Sirit, so you should contact Sirit for more information.

Back in 2003, Tagsys RFID created a high-frequency (HF) tag based on an emerging EPC HF standard—which is still not ratified, by the way—that was just 9 millimeters (0.4 inch) in diameter (see Tagsys Demos Smallest EPC Tag). I don't know if the company is selling an updated version of this product.

And in 2003, Maxell introduced a tiny HF tag for tracking test tubes in a tray (see New RFID Tag With More Memory). I don't know if they still sell these, as we have not heard from Maxell in several years.

Other companies can produce tiny tags for customers that want to purchase significant volumes (no one will custom-produce 100 tags for you). You should also consider a company like Mikoh, which specializes in tamper-proof tags. Other firms can make these as well.

You should be aware of a couple of issues, however. First, having a company custom-design a smaller transponder—which might or might not be necessary—and convert it into a tamper-proof label will increase the price, so don't expect to pay 10 cents per label. But that should not be an issue, since the transponders will be reused. Additionally, the read range on small tags is shorter than on larger tags. You will need to determine whether you get sufficient read range with a small tag to make the application viable.

Finally, linking RFID to an alarm system is simply a matter of software programming. Any competent systems integrator can write an application that receives information from an interrogator and transmits it to an existing or specially installed alarm or video surveillance system. You can set up business rules indicating that a particular tool can be removed by a specific person—identified with an RFID-enabled employee badge—or that it can be moved at specific times of the day, but not at others. Sony Europe has linked RFID readers to a video surveillance system, based on the same principal (see Sony Europe Implements Video-RFID Tracking System).

—Mark, Roberti, Editor,
RFID Journal

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