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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

At the inspection station, a quality-control officer has an ID card with its own EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tag encoded with a unique serial number. After the officer has completed a quality check of a finished air conditioner, he or she scans the card's tag ID, and the software then directs the reader to write that officer's ID number onto the unit's tag, thereby creating a permanent record that is stored both in the tag's 4,096 bits of memory, and in the software. The tag is then periodically read for the purpose of inventory tracking, before the air conditioner is packed in a cardboard box, and again at the time of packing.

The company also has another ALR-9900+ reader installed at the warehouse's loading dock, where each air conditioner's tag is read as the unit is shipped out. TECO's workers use Alien ALH-9000 handheld readers when they must perform inventory checks within the facility or in stores.

The air conditioner's RFID tag is read at each assembly station, providing a record that the unit was properly manufactured.
When an air conditioner is sold to a customer at a retail store, Liu says, the sales staff can use an ALH-9000 handheld to read the unique ID number encoded to its tag, which serves as authentication that the unit is genuine. If an air conditioner were counterfeit, Liu explains, no tag read would take place.

At that point in time, the only data stored on the tag is the quality-control officer's ID number, along with the date of that audit. However, once the air conditioner is put into operation at the purchaser's home or business, the tag begins recording additional information related to the unit's operations, such as carbon footprint data indicating how efficiently the machine is operating, as well as an error message if it malfunctions. In the event of an operational problem, TECO's maintenance technicians carry a handheld reader to interrogate the tag's error code. In that way, he or she can determine what is wrong prior to taking the machine apart. In some cases, disassembly is unnecessary for repair, and the tag read thus saves that maintenance worker a considerable amount of time.

According to Hung, the technology makes TECO's products the first air-conditioners on the market to utilize RFID to provide product authentication and an error message black box. The solution is expected to save TECO money by ensuring that inventory is accurate and assembly is completed properly, as well as provide assurance to customers—who have access to an RFID reader, such as from a store or maintenance worker—that the product they purchase is authentic.

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