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Symbol Previews Forklift RFID Interrogator

Symbol Technologies showed off a prototype of a new Gen 2 reader that can be mounted on a forklift truck.
By Mark Roberti
Jan 20, 2006At the National Retail Federation (NRF) exhibition in New York City this week, Symbol Technologies, a Holtsville, N.Y., provider of radio frequency identification tags and readers, showed off a prototype of an RFID interrogator that can be mounted on a forklift. Measuring approximately 8 inches wide by 6 inches high by 2 inches deep, the reader comes with a built-in antenna.

"Durability was the most important factor we considered when designing this, and it had to be deployable and easy to maintain," says Justin Hotard, director of product marketing for Symbol's RFID division. "We've been working with a number of our customers who have been testing the device in their facilities, and they tell us we're on the right track."

Companies are eager to buy interrogators that can be mounted on a forklift because deploying them on five or 10 forklifts is much less expensive than deploying fixed readers at 30 or 40 dock doors. In addition, read rates can be higher with forklift-mounted readers because the tags can be interrogated continuously while the forklift moves the pallets. With interrogators mounted at a dock door, on the other hand, the tagged product might be in the read zone for only a second or two.

Interrogators on forklifts, however, do have some special challenges. They must be rugged and durable, and they must not interfere with the vehicle's operation. Running a power cable from the interrogator to the forklift's battery to power the device, then from the interrogator to the interrogator's antennas, can be a challenge—particularly if the reader moves up and down with the forklift.

Symbol's compact interrogator fits between the forklift's arms. The company chose to offer a single integrated antenna, Hotard says, because most end users are looking to read a single pallet tag or some case tags associated with the pallet. Symbol has also been working with Crown, a New Bremen, Ohio, forklift manufacturer to develop a backrest that can be outfitted with external antennas. These antennas can read tags on cases being stacked on a pallet on a truck, or read a location tag on a shelf. (The location tag is used to record where a pallet was put away in a facility.)

The Symbol forklift reader will be available in the third quarter of 2006. The delay in commercial quantities becoming available, Hotard says, is due to Symbol's desire to make sure the reader is properly certified by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and also gets certified as compliant with EPCglobal's Gen 2 air-interface protocol standard.

Intermec Technologies, an Everett, Wash., RFID systems supplier, also showed off its forklift interrogator at NRF. Intermec introduced its V7 Intellitag Vehicle Mount RFID reader last year, and the module inside the device has been certified as Gen 2-compliant (see EPCglobal Certifies Gen 2 Hardware).

The Intermec forklift reader is designed to attach with a serial cable to the company's CV60 Vehicle Mount computer. Both the reader and the computer carry an Ingress Protection (IP) rating of IP65. This means they are totally protected against dustprotected (with limited ingress permitted) against low-pressure jets of water from all directions.

The IV7 is typically mounted on the backrest of the forklift and has durable external antennas that can be attached to the backrest. Mike Nichols, Intermec's manager of systems consulting, says his company is working with partners that manufacture interrogator antennas to create a range of designs that will work with a variety of backrests. This will give end users the flexibility to choose a configuration that will meet their needs.
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