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Smartrac Releases New Inlays, Including Retail's Smallest

The company's new MiniWeb and DogBone inlays, made with NXP's UCODE 8 ICs, will bring improved performance, faster encoding and higher sensitivity than predecessor UHF inlays, for use in retail and industrial applications.
By Claire Swedberg

The MiniWeb comes in inlay, wet or paper tag versions, all with 128 bits of Electronic Product Code (EPC) memory. As such, it can be used as a hangtag or be affixed via adhesive. In either case, it can accommodate very small or thin form factors without a decrease in performance, says Matti Tavilampi, Smartrac's global product management director for RFID sensors and products. The company accomplishes the MiniWeb's small size with the reduced footprint of the UCODE 8 IC, as well as what Tavilampi describes as the firm's "very detailed design work" in the inlay antennas.

Both the DogBone and the MiniWeb will be able to be encoded faster than most inlays currently on the market, Smartrac reports, while requiring less power to interrogate and with a greater accuracy in transmission. With the higher performance, Tavilampi says, companies can expect to achieve a longer read distance with either a handheld or fixed reader. Handhelds are still the common application for reading tags at retail locations, but as tags become more sensitive, he explains, fixed readers are being deployed in stores as well, to provide real-time zone-based read data, especially in the United States.

Matti Tavilampi
Several brands and retailers are currently testing the MiniWeb in sample versions. Tavilampi predicts the new inlay will enable the deployment of RFID in areas that have proved to be too challenging due to the size of products or the environment in which they are being read. For instance, he says, many small form-factor products are packed in large volumes, making the reading of tags that much more challenging. This includes tags on items such as jeans, cosmetics or belts.

The new DogBone inlay is being tested primarily in industrial use cases. Tavilampi cites sports timing, for instance—the inlay is already one of the most common products used in that industry, he says, for tracking the movements of athletes throughout races and across finish lines. DogBone tags can be applied behind the printed numbers on runners' bibs, for example, and must be read as the runners pass through portals or over readers installed under mats.

In many cases, tens of thousands of the tags must be read as large numbers of participants crowd onto the race course or over the finish line. "The human body is very complex" for RFID transmissions, Tavilampi says, due to the large amount of fluids. The added sensitivity of the DogBone, he notes, is expected to make the use of RFID more effective.

Additionally, the new inlays are being tested for use on plastic reusable totes that may contain supplies for manufacturing processes, such as the assembly of new vehicles. This poses another challenging environment, Tavilampi says, since the totes could be filled with metal, rubber, plastic or glass materials. The new inlays, he predicts, "will accelerate RFID adoption in these industries," because of their higher reliability, speed and data integrity, as well as the MiniWeb's small size.

The Belt inlay, which also employs the UCODE 8 IC, is being used in both industrial and retail applications. According to Tavilampi, it is being utilized "especially with overhead readers," and with a large volume of tags being interrogated.

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