- Modular IoT Gateway
- Building a Solution with Beacons, Tags, Touchscreens and More
- Sensor Monitoring and Work-in-Process
Jun 08, 2022A year after its acquisition of Nordic ID (see Brady Corp. Announces Tender Offer to Acquire Nordic ID) Brady Corp. has been building new products specific to long-distance UHF RFID reading in industrial or outdoor environments. This spring, the company launched its FR22 edge gateway in North America, following the product's previous release in Europe. Designed at Nordic ID's lab in Helsinki, the solution is now available for a variety of applications that include sensor monitoring, work-in-process (WIP) tracking, vendor-managed inventory, and inventory or asset tracking. The solution was a Best New Product finalist in this year's RFID Journal Awards, held at the RFID Journal LIVE! conference and exhibition.
Based in Milwaukee, Wisc., Brady is an international manufacturer and provider of solutions designed to identify and protect individuals, products and places. Its customer base includes electronics manufacturers, telecommunication companies, electrical and construction businesses, and medical and aerospace firms. Brady's $9.7 million acquisition brought onboard Nordic ID's RFID reader development and manufacturing capabilities, as well as cloud solutions for the industrial sector. In 2021, Brady had also acquired Code Corp., which specializes in barcode readers and scanning software for track-and-trace applications.
The acquisition of Nordic ID has expanded Brady Corp.'s presence in Europe and the United States, according to Wesley Columbia, Brady's senior global product manager. The latest products developed by Brady and Nordic ID are intended to provide trace-and-trace functionality to the industrial market, in addition to automation systems for industrial PLCs, for which Brady already has a high presence. Brady builds printers and labels as well. "Our vision is to create a set of high-performance products that are uniquely easy to connect and integrate," Columbia says. With Nordic ID's research and development strength, he adds, "We are in an exciting place for offering new development."
Modular IoT Gateway
According to Columbia, the FR22 is an Internet of Things (IoT)-based device that takes a new approach to RFID reading systems with a modular design. It comes with a UHF RFID reader platform, along with a host of other features in a single device. In that way, the company explains, it can reduce the need for separate equipment infrastructure required for a track-and-trace or IoT solution, thereby simplifying deployments. The unit enables a variety of use cases for different segments, depending on the modules (accessories) attached to it.
"We don't call this an RFID reader," says Paul Murdock, Nordic ID's strategic export channels director for RFID solutions, "but a core device for an IoT system." For instance, the device comes with integrated Bluetooth connectivity to allow wireless connection to multiple external devices and sensors, which he says "enables a whole new class of peripherals, seamlessly integrating into one platform." The FR22 can also accomplish Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) sensor data processing with its built-in IoT edge/Bluetooth gateway capabilities.
The system includes edge-computing capabilities on a Linux operating system. The FR22 comes with Wi-Fi and can be further integrated with other systems either via USB or I/O connectivity. The unit comes with an HDMI port for direct connection to a monitor or display, and it features an extension connector for plug-and-play accessories. This includes a 16-port antenna multiplexer and a ceiling-mount beam-forming antenna with 28 zones.
Building a Solution with Beacons, Tags, Touchscreens and More
With the multiple technologies built into the device, a variety of features are enabled, including the ability to connect a Bluetooth keyboard and Bluetooth mouse. Users could attach a touchscreen by plugging it into the HDMI output. The device would then enable them to input data or commands directly. The device can stand alone and leverage Power-over-Ethernet so that no separate power supply would be required. Since the number of separate devices deployed with an RFID reader is reduced, the company notes, solution providers can have a more seamless installation. "When you no longer need additional equipment," Murdock says, "you also reduce additional points of failure."
When it comes to RFID tag reading, the unit offers flexibility as well. The external beam-forming antenna with 28 programmable beams also comes with a time-of-flight sensor with lidar technology that can trigger an RFID tag read. Programmable LED lights provide alerts in the case of loud environments. Additionally, the device can be connected to a peripheral, such as a Nordic ID GA30 antenna, for a long reading distance in outdoor or harsh environments.
For data management, the FR22 simply requires integration via an application programming interface (API). Traditionally, Murdock says, solution providers have needed to deploy a variety of independently sourced devices. "One of the things that systems integrators have always appreciated," he states, "is that we can do one API, whether it's a handheld, a fixed reader or a wearable." The FR22 follows that same model, he explains, with the same API commands. SDK code samples are currently available on GitHub.
Sensor Monitoring and Work-in-Process
Potential customers have discussed a wide variety of use cases, Brady reports, with common applications including sensor monitoring and WIP for manufacturing. With regard to sensor-monitoring solutions, a snack foods company is considering using the FR22 to actively monitor the temperatures of food service equipment for preventative maintenance reasons.
Using the FR22's built-in BLE connectivity, a company could employ external temperature sensors to capture conditions in the machine, then forward alerts related to temperature excursions to the FR22 gateway via BLE, and the gateway could send the data back to a server in turn. Similarly, BLE-based sensors could detect vibration or humidity levels, then beacon that data to the gateway. UHF RFID-based sensor tags would provide the same kind of functionality and could be read by the FR22.
In the case of WIP tracking, a commercial appliance manufacturing company with a high-volume assembly line that produces approximately 2,000 units daily is now in conversations with Brady to deploy the edge device at its facility. Without the technology, the company has little visibility into data regarding products moving through its assembly processes. The firm is considering tagging its products with UHF RFID tags, then tracking them as they proceed through the manufacturing line.
The FR22 readers and antennas installed along that assembly line could enable RFID data collection, and the device could also run custom applications to filter the high volume of data being captured. It could then forward that filtered information to the company's preferred enterprise resource planning or manufacturing execution system. According to Brady Corp., this would increase visibility into the manufacturer's operations and enable faster, smarter decision making. Additionally, a business in Asia is utilizing the FR22 device to accurately capture temperature readings and forward that data automatically to a server.
The sensor tag serves as an alternative to thermal camera solutions that can only read a box's surface temperatures, for instance, even though the box's contents might have a different temperature. With the FR22 label, Murdock says, "We can detect temperature changes within the box itself, or even directly on the product [in the box]. This capability provides early-warning functionality." Additionally the RFID label could be used with a handheld reader in Geiger counter mode to locate a specific item experiencing a temperature shift. According to Columbia, the gateway device could enable a variety of other applications as well.
- Sensor monitoring and IoT intelligence can be built into a single system with the new gateway device from Brady.
- The FR22 is being used for food manufacturing equipment monitoring and other work-in-process management.