Metalcraft Offers Lower-Cost, Longer-Range On-Metal Tags

The company reports that its Universal MC adhesive tags offer a variety of options, including printable-onsite or pre-printed tags that can be ruggedized and offer a read range of 7 or 15 feet, at about 40 percent of the cost of similar on-metal tags on the market.
Published: September 9, 2019

To provide its customers with less expensive RFID options for tracking metal products at a long read range, Metalcraft has released a new tag as part of its Universal family of tags, known as the Universal MC. The tag comes in three versions—the Standard, Plus and Pro models—that are bundled with additional features. The new tag is intended to bring RFID functionality to businesses, such as original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and logistics companies, seeking to track work-in-progress (WIP) or inventory levels but requiring tags that fit small form-factor, metal components or products.

“Universal MC is primarily an on-metal RFID tag designed to fit a wide variety of applications,” says Austin Elling, Metalcraft’s marketing director and inside sales lead. “It’s unique in that in it is has three different versions,” he adds, in order to offer variety in solutions. The goal is to provide enough choices in RFID tags that a company can find one suited for its application and, in that way, only pay for features that it truly needs. All three Universal MC tags come with a built-in NXP UCODE 8 IC, which enabled Metalcraft to build relatively long read ranges into small form-factor tags.

Metalcraft’s Austin Elling

The MC Pro is the first of three tags being released this fall. All three tags measure 2 inches wide by 1 inch high and are designed to be printed onsite. However, the Pro offers some other advantages, the company reports, in that it can come onsite-printable or pre-printed, depending on the requirements of a particular user.

While a 7-foot read range is typical for on-metal tags, Elling says, the Pro more than doubles that range at about 15 feet, which makes it a good choice for companies tracking goods in a warehouse setting or for any on-metal application that requires a small tag and greater read distances. In fact, he notes, as businesses are building increasingly larger warehouses or distribution centers, a longer read range is often necessary to track goods that dwell or travel through wide areas, or that are stacked many feet above the level of an RFID reader being carried by a worker or mounted on a forklift. The tag comes with a thick layer of acrylic adhesive and foam backing, so as to prevent RF interference when metal items are being tracked.

Slated for release later in September, the MC Standard tag provides onsite printing only and is designed to be flexible but not as rugged as the Pro. It is the lowest-cost product in the MC series, Elling notes, at about 40 percent of the price of competitors’ on-metal RFID tags. He declines to provide specific prices, but says keeping costs down was among the primary objectives of the product designs.

The Standard tag offers a read range of up to 7 feet on metal and comes blank for thermal transfer printing and encoding on a company’s site. The general-purpose adhesive is 1 millimeter (0.04 inch) thick and is designed for use by OEMs that want to tag products or components onsite, as they are manufactured, for WIP or inventory management. Because the tags can be printed onsite, such companies can also print a barcode and other visual information if they are using multiple forms of identification (for instance, the barcode could be scanned at a warehouse, or by a company’s customer if it is not using RFID readers).

The Plus is the mid-level option for the three tags. It offers a read range of up to 7 feet on metal, but with a stronger adhesive than the Standard: 2 millimeters (0.08 inch) thick. The tag has an IP86 rating to operate in a ruggedized environment, and it can be received blank for thermal transfer printing and encoding, or already printed and encoded by Metalcraft. The cost is between that of the standard and the Pro.

The MC family of tags is geared to operate on metal but can operate across all surfaces, the company reports. Metalcraft was one of the first companies to offer flexible, adhesive on-metal RFID tags, Elling says. It started with the Universal Asset model, then introduced the Mini with a smaller footprint, and then the Micro. Throughout the past few years, he adds, as new products have been released, “We’ve been meeting the demands for customers for a tag that can be applied to small items. We heard those comments and understand the challenges they face, so we went back to the drawing board for an on-metal tag that was more economical.”

The UCODE 8 chip, as well as in-house design by Metalcraft engineers, led to the MC series’ development, the company reports. All three versions of the new tag measure 2 inch by 1 inches, though the firm plans to provide additional sizes in the future. The 2- by 1-inch form factor works well with standard RFID tag printers, Elling notes.

The Universal MC passive UHF tags, as well as all other Metalcraft RFID tags, are ISO-certified and meet the DFARS standards. DFARS compliance ensures that the data management for the RFID tags meets cybersecurity regulations—a feature required by numerous government entities. That means suppliers of government agencies, as well as the agencies themselves, can employ the Universal MC tags and remain in compliance.

The Pro has already been piloted by several companies and is now in commercial production. Metalcraft is currently accepting pre-orders for the MC Standard and Plus models. “Our tiered approach is something we think will be very beneficial for our customers,” Elling states, since it offers a variety of choices depending on requirements and can be upgraded as needs change.