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New On-Metal UHF Tag Measures Just 5 Millimeters in Length

Aerospace and health-care solution providers are testing Kyocera's ceramic tags on tools to track their movement during surgical procedures or assembly processes.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 11, 2018

Japanese electronics company Kyocera Corp. has released an ultra-small ceramic tag designed for tracking the smallest of tools—those used during surgery or aircraft assembly, or at nuclear sites. The tag measures just 5 millimeters by 2 millimeters by 1.5 millimeters (0.2 inch by 0.08 inch by 0.06 inch). Samples are being provided to potential customers in multiple industries across Japan, North America and Europe.

The new tags were developed in cooperation with tool manufacturers earlier this year, says Alexa Pristl, Kyocera's new business-development specialist for Europe. However, she notes, the company has kept other industries in mind as potential users. "We see a lot of potential in demanding applications where asset management or sample identification is critical," she says, such as aerospace, automotive or in the cryogenic biological sample market. "The ceramic package is capable of enduring harsh temperature extremes and the small size gives users flexibility on mounting locations."

Kyocera's on-metal UHF RFID tags
When it comes to surgical tools, the tag is designed to be attached to items such as forceps and scissors in such a way that they won't affect the tools' ergonomics, and to be robust enough to survive numerous washing and sanitization processes. Currently, health-care providers must account for the use of tools during and after surgical procedures, to ensure that no foreign bodies are left inside a patient.

Alexa Pristl
This is a process that often requires visually counting tools at the beginning and end of a procedure—which takes time away from employees who could otherwise be providing health care. Companies have been developing radio frequency identification-based solutions that would consist of RFID readers in surgical rooms, or at washing stations, to capture the tags of all instruments on a tray as they are cleaned, prepared for a patient and then used for surgery. One challenge for RFID technology providers and tool manufacturers has been finding a tag that wouldn't impact the feel or use of the tool, and that could survive the sterilization process.

The aerospace sector also uses tools of all sizes, including very small ones. In the case of small tools, tracking is especially challenging because they can be misplaced in large assembly areas. However, it's critical that they be accounted for. In fact, if a tool cannot be located after a worker leaves, all assembly may have to stop until that tool can be found, even if that means contacting the employee at home to check his or her pockets. What's more, Pristl says, even large aerospace tools can benefit from small RFID tags to ensure an optimal placement on the tool. For maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services of aircrafts and spaceships, she states, "any object that is not where it is supposed to be provides a high risk to safety."

These foreign objects include metal tools used for maintenance services by MRO service providers which may be forgotten after they service the aircraft. Metal tools left behind in an aircraft can cause potential foreign object damage (FOD) to a plane. The firm sells its ultra-small ceramic package with a built-in UHF RFID chip and antenna that it claims offers a longer read range than other tags of the same size.

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