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TECO Integrates RFID Technology Into Its Air Conditioners

The system not only tracks work-in-progress and the supply chain movements of the air conditioners the company makes, but also collects data about the appliances' operation.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 29, 2014

TECO Group's home appliances division has begun incorporating passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags into air-conditioners manufactured at its site in Taiwan. The launch this year follows a two-year pilot that involved the tracking of 600 tagged air conditioners through assembly, distribution and consumer purchase. Tags will now be integrated in all of the 200,000 air conditioner units the firm manufactures annually. The technology enables TECO to track the assembly process of each unit from one station to the next, providing supply chain visibility through the distribution center and to store, by collecting data related to every unit's operation once it is purchased.

For customers, the built-in EPC Gen 2 RFID tags, created specifically for this application, act as proof that the appliances they buy are authentic TECO products. Each tag also serves as a "black box," storing what has happened to the air conditioner to which it is attached, in the event that the unit malfunctions, as well as sharing error code information with maintenance personnel. Technicians can then access the tag's data via an EPC UHF RFID reader, in order to identify what is wrong with the air conditioner prior to its disassembly.

TECO integrates a passive RFID tag and the air-conditioner's control on the same the printed circuit board.
The solution was provided by EPC Solutions Taiwan, with consulting help from the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), a Taiwanese nonprofit research and development association. ITRI helped to develop and design the embedded tag's antenna, as well as software for collecting and storing carbon footprint data regarding an air conditioner's operation, according to Oscar Fang, ITRI's service system center manager.

"The first step was to implant the RFID tag inside the air conditioner," says T.H. Liu, EPC Solutions' president. Since an RFID label could be easily damaged during an air conditioner's manufacture, EPC Solutions Taiwan worked with TECO to develop a tag with a printed circuit board antenna that could be incorporated into the air conditioner's control board. The resulting tag, made with an EM Microelectronic EM4325 chip, would then be able to communicate with the air conditioner's own micro-controller via a Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI).

At the TECO factory, six Alien Technology ALR-9900+ fixed readers were installed at the various stations where the air conditioners are assembled or inspected. On the production line, the tag is first encoded and linked to the air conditioner in which it embedded. At each assembly station, the tag is read and its unique ID number is transmitted to EPC Solutions software residing on TECO's database. The software combines the tag's ID number with the assembly station's ID, as well as a date and time stamp, and then forwards that data to TECO's own management software, says Thomas Hung, TECO's research and development senior manager.

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