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German Researchers Make Metal Objects With RFID Inside
Fraunhofer's engineers demonstrate how to use selective laser sintering to integrate a standard passive tag within metal items as they are manufactured.
In the meantime, the team is working to make the findings applicable industrially. Thickness apparently matters, Aumund-Kopp says—the chips are still readable beneath 100 microns (0.004 inch) of metal, but no deeper than that. So far, he notes, the chips that work best transmit at a frequency of 125 kilohertz. "It's only readable over short distances, but that's also the frequency that is most secure," he explains. "We still have some way to go for the larger reading range."
At EuroMold, Fraunhofer's researchers presented metal finger rings in which they had embedded RFID chips. Such RFID-enabled rings could be worn, for instance, in order to gain admission to secure rooms. But as long as the technology remains fairly expensive, the most likely applications will be narrow.
Whereas an RFID chip molded within a plastic object could be removed and placed into something else, the chip inside a metal part could not be extracted from that object without destroying the chip. The most immediate application might be fraud prevention, Aumund-Kopp says, noting, "Think of aviation, where the quality of spare parts is vital."
Integrated into an aircraft component, for example, an RFID tag would not only enable a manufacturer to track that item, but also allow it to later verify that a customer used the genuine article—and not a cheaper, lower-quality counterfeit—in the event of part failure. "With these chips," Aumund-Kopp says, "you can ID the part securely."
Another potential application, Fraunhofer reports, is to create parts containing an RFID tag with a temperature or expansion sensor, in order to record data on thermal or mechanical stresses on the components.
IFAM's tag-embedding technique remains costly, Aumund-Kopp indicates, primarily because the selective laser melting process used by the researchers is not ideal for mass-manufacturing. However, that may change. "We're at the very beginning," he notes. "We're definitely looking for partners who want to further develop its potential."
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