Kyoto Tools Releases RFID-Connected Products with Xerafy

By Claire Swedberg

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  • Xerafy has designed custom antenna technology to provide an RFID tag that can be conformed to the tool its being embedded in.
  • The antenna technology is part of a Connected Tools solution that can include engagement platform so that users can view details about their tools for efficiency and safety.

Industrial RFID technology company Xerafy is hoping to bring an end to the practice of retrofitting RFID tags to bolts, sockets and other industrial tools. Instead, the company wants to make its deployment easier by helping companies build technology directly into the tool as part of the manufacturing process.

Kyoto Tools (KTC) is the first company to announce a line of RFID-enabled products that result  from Xerafy’s Connected Tools platform. KTC’s IoT-ready nepros-ID tools can be interrogated by UHF RFID readers to be uniquely identified when they enter and leave sensitive areas, when they are being maintained or inspected, or even easily located at a distance if they have gone missing.

By coming with RFID built in, nepros-ID sockets and wrenches enable users to accomplish foreign object debris (FOD) prevention, as well as real-time tracking, automated inventory control, and mitigate tool loss while optimizing operational workflows.

RFID Already Adopted For Tool Tracking

RFID is already in wide use to detect when tools are misplaced, broken or lost, not properly calibrated, or left inside an airplane after repair. The technology means less downtime spent searching for missing or misplaced tools and reduced errors due to faulty or uncalibrated tools.

RFID also provides users with some reputation protection, by avoiding problems such as a product being made with an inadequate tool, explained Michel Gillmann, chief marketing officer, Xerafy.

Connected Tools is Xerafy’s latest iteration of its Connected Assets solution platform and includes not only the tags, but the method for application in manufacturing, and cloud-based software to manage an asset’s data.

Challenge of Retrofitted RFID

While RFID is already commonly in use to track tools at aerospace, manufacturing, automotive and healthcare sites, the tags are being attached to tools that were previously manufactured. Someone needs to apply the tags—often in large volumes of tools—and the subsequent challenge is ensuring that the tag survives for the life of that asset.

 For Xerafy, that retrofitting process is one of the obstacles to mass RFID adoption.

“There’s a lot of mature systems built out for exactly this application, but the bottleneck exists in attaching the tag to the tool,” commented Gillmann. “Even as mature and robust as these [RFID] solutions are there, hasn’t been much evolution on the tag attachment side.”

Transition into Tagging Tools at Source

Across industries like retail, there has been a transition to RFID tagging of goods at the point of manufacturing. Gillmann pointed to what is commonly called “source tagging” or connected packaging in which tags are built into the product before it leaves the factory.

In the meantime, hard tags are still being retrofitted to each tool, while the manufacturers of the tools themselves see a huge demand for tooling that is already, natively connected to the cloud.

Now with industrial tools and assets, Xerafy intends to lead the charge for point of manufacture RFID deployment—and tooling is the latest version.

“There’s certain markets that have built up critical mass, where simply attaching a tag to a finished product is no longer relevant or scalable,” stated Gillmann. Instead, they need a more universal RFID tag solution. “We’re now taking that leap forward,” he said.

New Flexible Antennas

A handful of tool companies created their own solution by building dedicated spaces where a tag could be applied. But several challenges still exist with that solution, according to Xerafy officials—it alters the way the product is manufactured, which makes it more costly to produce, and still requires retrofitting with a tag.

To offer its alternative, Xerafy has designed antenna technology flexible enough to essentially conform directly to the size, shape and material the tag is being integrated into. Dubbed the “ conformal antenna” by Xerafy officials, it offers RF radiation and omnidirectional functionality using the metal around it.

Additionally, Xerafy has examined manufacturing processes to determine how the RFID tag installation can be part of that production process.

“Instead of some engineer in the field attaching this tag,” said Gillmann, Xerafy has developed a way to package the tag and antenna, as it is embedded in a tool, so that it can withstand the environmental challenges that typical tools are exposed to—such as heavy impacts, dirt, chemicals, fluids and extreme temperatures.

Benefit for Solution Providers

The technology is designed not only with the tool manufacturers in mind. Xerafy reports that many of the beneficiaries of RFID-connected tools are the solution providers who are building RFID management systems for end users in the industrial space.

Because they can bypass the time consuming and labor-heavy process of applying tags to a customer’s assets, “we’ve seen real value added for our system integrators, solution partners or software partners,” said Gillmann.

“For them, their business is really to sell more solutions,” rather than finding ways to apply tags, he added. While with retrofits the solution provider may have to engineer the best way to apply tags, now, “They can sell many more solutions more quickly—the longest lead time normally in any project is attaching or mounting attachments.”

Nuclear, Healthcare, Oil and Gas

Some of the earliest adopters of RFID for tool management have been in aviation and manufacturing, but companies in other sectors are poised to transition into RFID technology use, if they haven’t already, Xerafy has found. In fact, the technology provides the same benefits for anyone who uses large numbers of tools, and must track those tools in real time.

Xerafy is working with OEMs from various markets, including oil and gas, where tools are used in the drilling and refining processes and must be carefully managed.

In nuclear energy production, companies must track for foreign materials exclusion (FME) to ensure that any tool that enters a nuclear power plant has been accounted for and properly tracked.

In healthcare, companies are seeking ways to track not only surgical tools, but medical devices and surgical equipment such as endoscopes. Dental companies are seeking to automate the tracking of dental equipment.

And in data centers, IT assets such as blade servers, network switches and equipment are benefiting from RFID tagging of those items that must be carefully monitored in large, and often remote, sites.

“It’s really a no-brainer evolution of adoption, we’re just making whatever they’re doing today more efficient, safer, smarter,” said Gillmann, adding “this is the next frontier—now we have tools that are natively connected and this is repeatable.”

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