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Despite Sluggish Growth, Taiwan's RFID Industry Remains Committed

The nation's RFID sector is churning out new products and applications, with an emphasis on EPC Gen 2 technology.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jun 21, 2010Taiwanese businesses have a long history of producing low- and high-frequency (LF and HF) RFID hardware for such applications as access control and time and attendance tracking in the workplace. But in recent years, these companies have also begun developing products and solutions based on ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) technology, and many are working hard to become important players regarding new RFID solutions and deployments based on the EPC Gen 2 protocol for passive UHF hardware.

Such is the case at the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), a research and development organization underwritten by Taiwan's government, as well as by industry sponsors. ITRI is one of the largest research institutions in the world, with nearly 6,000 employees—of whom more than 1,100 have Ph.D. degrees. In addition to helping launch a number of companies in the RFID industry, the institute has developed numerous prototypical RFID solutions that it is now looking to help bring to market.

Staff members at the Industrial Technology Research Institute demonstrate how passive RFID tags embedded in circuit boards could be used to track the manufacturing of room dehumidifiers.

During a recent tour by RFID Journal of several Taiwanese RFID and electronics firms, ITRI's staff demonstrated a number of these designs, including a building security system that combines RFID personnel badges with facial recognition software. The solution provides a means for security staff members to authenticate the identity of an individual presenting his or her ID badge to an RFID reader at a facility entrance. When the badge-holder later presents the card to a reader at the security gate, software calls up that person's facial image on file (acquired when he or she was first issued the card), and compares it with a live image of that employee, taken by a biometric camera at the gate. If the images match, then the person is allowed entry; if not, entry is denied.

While this system is still in development at ITRI, it is similar to solutions manufactured by video surveillance systems firm ComCam and RFID systems integrator AAID Security Solutions (see Video Puts Faces to Names, Heightens RFID Visibility), as well as one by American Barcode and RFID (see New Approach to RFID-Powered Building Security).

But a more novel application that ITRI has designed would enable electronics manufacturers to track their manufacturing process in order to ensure greater accuracy and control over their products throughout their entire lifecycles. In the example deployment shown at ITRI's lab, an EPC Gen 2 passive UHF RFID tag is added to a printed circuit board inside a room dehumidifier (poorly manufactured dehumidifiers have caused electrical fires in consumer homes, and are thus ripe for manufacturing control improvements). As the unit moves through the manufacturing process, RFID readers, mounted to the robotic arms used throughout the line, would collect the circuit board's tag ID number, as well as the IDs encoded to tags attached to other components affixed to the product as it moves down the line. Software is then used to ensure that the proper parts are added in the correct order, and that the devices are assembled per strict specifications. This helps to ensure that the product will operate not only properly, but safely.

The RFID tags would later be useful for tracking product returns and repairs, as well as for automating the demanufacturing process at the end of a product's useful life, when its components are pulled apart for recycling. In addition, the tags could be used to help product makers track carbon emissions related to their manufacturing processes, by associating that information with each item they produce. ITRI is currently seeking commercial partners to bring this manufacturing tracking application to market.

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