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Trumpf Adds RFID to Its Laser Cutting Machines

To make it easier to know if a machine's lens is being properly used and maintained, the company is embedding an RFID tag in its lenses, as well as installing a reader in its cutting heads.
By Claire Swedberg

In 2007, Trumpf developed a sensory system known as LensLine to detect when dirt may be collecting on a lens, based on measurements of contamination levels. The machine's software receives the sensor data and displays an alert based on a traffic light display on the machine's screen, indicating if a lens should be cleaned soon (yellow light) or must be cleaned before a user operates the machine further (red light).

Customers indicated, however, that they could still use additional data from the system, such as how much the lens had been used and when it was last cleaned. This information not only helps plant managers better determine how the machine is operating, as well as how often they should expect to conduct cleanings, but also helps them track a lens' history within a cutting head that might be moved to another machine. Trumpf began developing a solution that would provide this data using an RFID chip in the lens, along with a reader in the cutting head in which the lens is installed. The firm found that RFID could also be used to help users ensure they never install the wrong lens, or install the correct lens in the wrong orientation.

An RFID reader built into the cutting head of the company's TruLaser 3000 series is used to track the lens' operation and maintenance.
Each lens comes with a 13.54 MHz passive high-frequency (HF) RFID tag embedded in a hole in its side. The tag is being provided and installed by the lens manufacturer for Trumpf, Weick says. He declines to name the tag's manufacturer (which is based in Asia), but says it was the smallest tag the company could find—measuring 6 millimeters (0.2 inch) in diameter—to be fitted sideways into a lens that is 7 millimeters (0.3 inch) thick.

Trumpf then developed an RFID reader (manufactured by a third-party provider from Germany) that could be built into the cutting head. The device would read the chip only if it came within a few millimeters of the tag.

Each chip is encoded with a unique ID number, as well as the time and date of the lens' manufacture—information that could be used in the event of a lens recall. The interrogator reads that data when the lens is installed in the cutting head. The machine also tracks how long the lens is being used, as well as the lens' condition, and periodically writes that data to the chip. When a user needs to know a particular lens' history, he or she can access the software on the machine and press a prompt requesting that data, which will then be read from the chip, translated and displayed on the screen. If the lens' condition has reached a critical level, the user would see an alert indicating that status, based on the machine's sensor data. "The lifetime of a lens is, in general, not predictable because it is individual," Weick explains. "Its end of use depends on the amount of deposited material that cannot be removed by cleaning."

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