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Pilot Aims to Prove Passive RTLS Success for Manufacturing Site

RTV Engineering has built a solution leveraging RF Controls' overhead reader and antenna system to track the locations of a manufacturer's bins of materials as they are stacked seven bins high on metal racks, thereby enabling the company to know where its components and materials are located in real time.
By Claire Swedberg

As the item is put away in one of the rack compartments, the reader antenna continues reading the tag and its new status is updated in the software. After several months of piloting the technology, Leone reports, the company is now close to gaining 95 percent put-away location accuracy and 100 percent inventory accuracy.

The RF Controls reader's bi-directional steerable phased array antenna emits a single beam of energy, as opposed to similar overhead UHF RFID readers that employ numerous antennas in a single device (or connected to that device). A single antenna can switch between circular, horizontal and vertical polarization, according to Adrian Turchet, RF Controls' senior VP of strategy and corporate development.

RF Controls' Adrian Turchet
Because the reader can accomplish a long read range, RTV was able to suspend it from the ceiling at a height of about 32 feet, near the lights, where it will not interfere with cranes or other equipment. From that height, the firm found that the manufacturer can pinpoint a tag's location within about 10 inches using a single antenna. The CS-445B reaches a maximum of 45 feet, which allows antennas to be mounted straight down or at an angle. RF Controls also offers a larger antenna that offers a maximum read distance of 75 feet for higher ceilings.

In a typical wide-open space, the passive RTLS reader antenna, when mounted at 30 feet, would be able to cover a 3,600-square-foot scan area, assuming no obstructions. Leone says the manufacturer raised its expectations once it understood what the system could provide. "We're victims of our own success," he states, adding that the company thus shifted the goal post. "Once we turned it on, they brought in their international leadership group," Leone says, to consider how the technology could be used enterprise-wide. For instance, passive UHF RFID could be utilized to locate tools, as well as raw materials, through an assembly floor at sites around the world.

The system would work with fewer than five antennas per 100-foot aisle, Veiga adds, but the company chose the relatively large number due to the high presence of metal, including on forklift trucks, scissor lifts and metal racks, and to reach 100 percent accuracy with 3D coverage. "We could get higher accuracy by adding a couple more antennas," he says, but that may provide more accuracy than the company requires. At about 85 percent accuracy, its personnel can be assured that if the bin they seek is not in the identified compartment, it will be in the one next to it.

"This is one of the most aggressive environments I've ever worked with," Veiga reports, "and to have that level of location accuracy with five antennas is remarkable." RTV Engineering is currently in conversations with other potential customers for asset or inventory management deployments leveraging RF Controls' readers. Those customers include a variety of manufacturers.

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