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Elecsys Buys Swiss Maker of Specialty RFID Tags

The U.S. company has thrown its hat into the RFID market with the acquisition of MBBS, a Swiss manufacturer of passive low-frequency tags that can be embedded in metal for use in harsh environments.
By Beth Bacheldor
The tags are based on MBBS' patented MetaluCID technology, which makes it possible to read and write data even when tags are embedded in items composed of metallic alloys, such as non-magnetic steels or those containing titanium or noble metals used in the watch and jewelry industries. Encasing the tags in metal protects them from temperatures of up to 240 degrees Celsius (464 degrees Fahrenheit), high pressure (2000 bar), corrosive chemicals abrasion and other conditions. The tags can be embedded in devices and assets (such as surgical scissors), or affixed to metal objects by magnets or laser welding.

According to Elecsys, the main issue involved in using RFID technology to read or write through metal—such as the encasing that is part of the MBBS tags—is the substantial attenuation of the RF signal resulting from the electromagnetic shielding of the metal material itself. MBBS' MetaluCID technology leverages a custom chip—the patented, proprietary P4057 integrated circuit (IC), which the company developed to read and write data to and from passive RFID tags through metal materials. The front-end analog interface of this IC is optimized for reading and writing a strongly attenuated signal transmitted through metal, the company reports, by utilizing a specially detuned antenna that can operate at frequencies as low as 25 kHz. The technology employs a flat air coil antenna without a ferrite core and designed to maximize the magnetic coupling between the interrogator and the tag antennas, thereby allowing practical implementation of the tag in metal.

MBBS' custom readers are optimized to work with its own metal tags, the firm indicates, but are also compatible with most standard LF tags currently available on the market. MBBS' tags, as well as the interrogators, can be hermetically sealed within a metal case or enclosure. What's more, the firm indicates its technology is conducive to miniaturization, and that for its clients, it currently produces custom tags with diameters of less than 5 millimeters (0.2 inch) at a thickness of 2 millimeters (0.1 inch).

There are quite a few applications in which such tags could be used, Gemperli says, such as those designed to track production in automotive manufacturing. The tags could be affixed to a chassis, for instance, that must then go through painting and high-heat processes. The tags would be able to withstand such processes and still provide tracking capabilities so an automaker could monitor production. Some of Elecsys' customers, including one that manufactures heavy equipment, have already expressed interest in tracking solutions that would leverage the tags, the company notes.

Elecsys is presently in the process of transferring the manufacturing of all of MBBS' products from the MBBS facility in Cortaillod, Switzerland, to its own plant in Kansas. Elecsys plans to rebrand the product line, though Gemperli says no names have yet been decided on. The acquisition will also provide Elecsys with sales and support offices in Europe; the holding company will transform MBBS' office in Cortaillod into its European headquarters.

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