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Wuerth Elektronik Manufactures a Tougher Breed of Tag

The company is embedding HF and UHF RFID chips and antennas in thermosetting epoxy, to make the inlay rugged for industrial use.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 06, 2013Würth Elektronik embids has begun marketing a line of passive radio frequency identification tags designed for physically demanding use cases. Approximately a dozen industrial companies are presently testing its new EMBItag, which Würth Elektronik says is smaller and more rugged than most other tags currently on the market, enabling it to sustain further processing into other products. Each tag, encased in durable plastic, is intended to be integrated into components, assemblies or containers. According to the company, the transponders can be incorporated into an injection-molded plastic object, for example, making it a fixed part of a product.

Würth Elektronik embids is a division of Würth Elektronik, a German company that manufactures printed circuit boards (PCBs), electronic and electromechanical components, and photovoltaic products. Customers had been commenting to Würth Elektronik that there was a shortage of RFID solutions able to track parts through more rigorous processes involving high or low temperatures, as well as heavy pressure, such as might occur during industrial washing or painting. Throughout the past year, the company began experimenting with designs for RFID tags that its customers could use to track a product without having to attach a tag to it, but rather by incorporating a transponder directly into the product or one of its components, such as a circuit board. The result is the EMBItag, which the company now offers to customers looking to embed RFID tags into their own components, assemblies or other objects. Würth Elektronik has no current plans, however, to incorporate EMBItags into the PCBs and other products it produces.

A UHF EMBItag, made with an NXP passive RFID chip and an antenna embedded in thermosetting epoxy material

Würth Elektronik's goal, says Gerolf Heldmaier, the head of the company's new business activity, is to provide a solution that falls between an ordinary RFID inlay and a standard hard tag, each of which has some drawbacks for certain use cases. A typical inlay—consisting of a chip and an antenna mounted on a piece of plastic film—lacks the rugged features needed if it were to be embedded into a piece of machinery. On the other hand, hard tags like the EMBItag are built with a rugged casing. The difference, Heldmaier says, is that EMBItags can be custom-made for a variety of use cases in low volume at a price that is often less than other hard tags. Like many hard tags, EMBItags are designed to be attached to an object via adhesive, screws or bolts, and they can also be built directly into items and worked into processes like injection molding, to prevent them from easily being knocked loose, according to a user's design requirements. Because use cases vary widely, the company's focus is not simply on providing a family of rugged transponders, but on custom-making what is required for the most challenging use cases.

"We don't see the standard EMBItags as our main focus," Heldmaier states. "The specific option to build up even a small quantity of special tags with a chip the customer wants and an antenna layout fitting best to the working area—that is the benefit."

Würth Elektronik's Gerolf Heldmaier
Several customers in the manufacturing, agriculture, oil and gas, transportation and medical industries are currently testing the new tag, and are carrying out pilot projects to determine whether RFID tags can be built into products or tools, or be otherwise utilized within harsh environments in which they previously would not have worked. Those customers, the company reports, are located in Germany, Switzerland, Turkey, the United States and the United Kingdom.

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