New Rugged Antenna Designed to Withstand the Harshest Environments

FEIG Electronics has released a UHF RFID antenna capable of surviving the worst weather and harshest conditions, such as suspended over winter highways or on airport concourses—or even when collided into in port storage yards.
Published: February 26, 2019

The number of applications for outdoor RFID technology use in harsh environments has been growing, from toll collection to baggage tracking at airports and access control. But in some cases, RFID hardware is not designed for the conditions to which it is exposed, and antennas may be installed at highway overpasses, for instance, that cannot be easily accessed for repair or replacements if something goes wrong.

FEIG Electronics has developed a product, aptly named the Robust UHF Antenna, that is intended to address that problem. The antenna, which comes with a die-cast aluminum enclosure, has achieved an IP65 rating for high protection and can operate in temperatures ranging from -25 to +55 degrees Celsius (-13 to +131 degrees Fahrenheit) Its storage temperature can be as high as 90 degrees Celsius (194 degrees Fahrenheit).

FEIG’s Robust UHF Antenna

The antenna comes in two versions and has the highest possible impact protection rating, according to Mike Hrabina, FEIG’s global product manager. The 290/290 model is designed to offer a wider RF beam—typically 65 by 65 degrees around the antenna. The U580/290 model has a narrower beam width—30 degrees by 65 degrees—but a longer read range. The dimensions of the antenna are 288 millimeters (11.3 inches) square for the 290/290, and 576 millimeters by 288 millimeters (22.7 inches by 11.3 inches) for the U580/290. Both versions of the new antenna employ circular polarization. One version weighs 8 pounds, while the other weighs 3.5 pounds.

The antennas are considerably heavier and more durable than most UHF antennas currently on the market, Hrabina says. “It’s sealed in aluminum,” he states, “with the highest impact rating, and it’s designed to withstand the worst weather.” The face cover is non-metallic to permit the RF energy to radiate from the antenna. Additionally, he says, the antennas are designed to withstand vibration and impacts. For instance, they operate with vibrations of 10 to 150 Hz and can sustain shock at 30 g-force acceleration, according to Manuel Haertle, FEIG’s UHF product line manager.

Initially, FEIG’s engineers designed the antennas to address needs in road tolling. The International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) is releasing an interoperability standard for road tolling with the intention of moving away from regional, proprietary tag-reading systems.

In fact, the tolling industry has spent more than a decade developing national toll interoperability. As the toll-collection protocol becomes universal, as many as 15,000 UHF RFID readers will need to be installed across the United States in order to meet the new standard. Because of the uniquely challenging environment and the inaccessibility of antennas once they are installed, Hrabina explains, “Reliability is going to be critical.” For that reason, FEIG expects its new antennas to be the best option.

The Robust Antennas operate with any UHF reader, FEIG reports, including the company’s own models. When a FEIG reader is paired with an antenna, Hrabina says, the latter comes with a three-year warranty. The antennas are expected to be used for tracking baggage at airports.

With IATA Resolution 753 for baggage tracking, all passenger bags checked at airlines around the world will need to have RFID tags attached to them. Those tags will then need to be interrogated at key points during the handling of the baggage (such as in receiving, loading and unloading) to ensure that they aren’t lost during a passenger’s flight. To meet the resolution’s requirements, Hrabina notes, airlines and airports will install RFID infrastructure that can track the movements of tagged bags being loaded onto and unloaded from planes.

Mike Hrabina

A typical use case for the Robust Antenna would in a read portal at the end of a conveyor on which bags travel onto an airport concourse for loading onto airplanes. As luggage reaches the end of the conveyor for loading, an airline employee will remove each bag and place it on a loading vehicle, to be taken to the plane. An RFID reader antenna installed at the location then captures the unique ID number of that bag’s tag, which is linked to the passenger’s destination information.

If luggage is being removed at the time that a different aircraft is being loaded, an alert can be displayed for workers, thereby preventing errors. Antennas at such locations are not only exposed to the elements, but are also subject to vibrations from the conveyor, and are vulnerable to being knocked repeatedly by moving baggage being loaded.

A third industry for which the antenna would be applicable is ports and industrial companies that require access-control technology. In such a scenario, antennas could be installed at gates, parking lots or property perimeters at which vehicles need to be tracked as they enter and leave. The antennas could also be mounted on large industrial forklifts to track tagged items, such as shipping containers, around a lot or yard. In addition, waste-management companies could utilize them to track bin pickups.

Both models of the Robust Antenna have earned an IK10 rating, indicating they can withstand the highest level of external mechanical impacts. The new antennas come with a TNC socket for cable connection to a UHF RFID reader—the kind of connector more commonly used with readers (in the past, the company has frequently employed SMA connectors)—and utilize a VESA mounting pattern. A separate version is available for the European frequency band, in the range of 865 to 868 MHz, as well as the U.S. FCC band of 902 to 928 MHz. The Robust Antennas will be priced under $300 apiece.

In October 2018, FEIG Electronics introduced a new compact RFID reader intended for vehicle access control. That reader comes with an integrated antenna, as well as green and red lights that enable it to act as a traffic light, to indicate when vehicles have been authorized to pass through a gate.