New RFID Reader Aims at Flexible, Warehouse Roll-Outs

By Claire Swedberg

Startup RFIDKnow's FlexAntenna was designed to make it more affordable to deploy RFID readers in warehouses

As RFID technology use expands, large distribution centers and warehouses are challenged with deploying fixed reader portals across as much as a hundred dock doors.

To meet this demand, technology startup RFIDKnow has built a new industrial RFID portal, designed to be scalable, robust and easy to deploy at low cost, for this application. The FlexAntenna can fit in everyday vehicles, is modular, works with standard RFID readers, and can often be installed by the end user themselves.

RFIDKnow launched last year and consists of consultants with many years in the RFID business. Led by Joe Hoerl, CEO and principal consultant, the company’s  technical services contractors aid organizations with domestic and international site surveys, RFID pilots and project rollouts.

“Our internal team typically fields the initial discussions to understand the technical and business needs, then works in conjunction with our system integration partners who bring end-to-end solutions,” Hoerl said.

Deploying RFID Across Dozens of Dock Doors

The team found an ongoing challenge for its warehouse and distribution center customers who were trying to deploy RFID readers across their long rows of dock doors. The legacy portals weren’t meeting their needs.

According to company officials, most portals employ circular polarized antennas better suited for sites where one, or a handful of, readers are deployed.

These readers, Hoerl said, “are great for capturing tag reads in a wide variety of orientations but bring difficulties in controlling of read zones.” In a long bank full of RFID portal readers, stray tag reads and reliability problems can result.

Overcoming Obstacles

In fact, Hoerl said, the uniquely large number of portals in the warehouse environment make it difficult to run site surveys or pilots that typically consist of smaller equipment.

“This lack of testing real world systems leads to ad hoc RF design and testing at time of implementation, and suboptimal performance,” he said.

Additionally, portals are too cumbersome to transport effectively for some global projects. So while RFID systems are increasingly covering multiple continents; shipping portals to global sites and ensuring their proper installation was a daunting challenge.

Today, global RFID projects use regional portal designs with varying configurations, Hoerl said.

Bringing Versatility to Antenna Deployments

This led RFIDKnow to design its own portal, inventing the FlexAntenna to enable portals to be affordable and scalable that meet global project needs.

It comes with configurable mounting options so that the antennas can be shipped and received, and configured to floor mount, pole mount, chain mount, or flush mount by selecting the desired mounting kit. This unique mounting system eliminates lead times with existing “build to order portals,” and can often by installed by the company without requiring a third-party.

In fact, FlexAntenna’s multilinear antennas are optimized for logistics, according to Hoerl. They radiate focused beams to capture RFID tag reads from all orientations, on both sides of a dock door, with what company officials say is strong, near-field performance.

Small and Modular Form Factor

FlexAntennas can be fitted into most RFID readers, out of the box. The single unit antenna is 38 inches high and offers a stacked configuration to reach higher read heights, if required.

RFIDKnow built the antenna to be easily transported, shipped via standard delivery that can be handled by a single person. It comes with an aluminum enclosure to reduce shipping costs and ease installation.

To test the robustness of the FlexAntenna, the company has put it through RF testing after punishing treatment in-house, Hoerl said, including dropping, scratching, hitting and thermal cycling to ensure field reliability in the harshest environments. RFIDKnow built custom test equipment to move pallets repeatedly through the portal to collect statistical data on tag reads with varying materials, densities and orientations.

The FlexAntenna is manufactured in the U.S. and currently available at scale.

Partnerships Underway with Integrators

In the meantime, RFIDKnow provides services along with FlexAntenna portals to enable system integrator partners to offer their own end-to-end solutions. Early adopters of FlexAntenna are RFID system integrators, such as Baltimore company RMS Omega, which provides end to end solutions.

For RFID technology company Impinj, the FlexAntenna provides a way to help support the broadening scope of RFID technology users.

“It's exciting to see Impinj partners continuing to innovate in the supply chain and logistics industry, where it’s more important than ever to quickly locate and identify products. RAIN RFID continues to be a game-changer, and with the new FlexAntenna, it's clear that RFIDKnow cares about supply chain success," said Gaylene Meyer, Impinj’s vice president of global marketing and communications.

Key Takeaways:

  • FlexAntenna was developed by an RFID consulting company to solve the problem of effective affordable RFID tag reading by large warehouses.
  • The new antenna is designed to be easy to deploy with focused RF radiation to prevent stray reads from neighboring dock doors or staging areas.