Partnership Yields Low-Cost, Dock Door RFID Reader

Published: March 8, 2024

The Apex Series readers from Surgere, with RF Controls’ antenna technology, are aimed for RFID tag reads to be used reliably across large sites

IoT technology company Surgere has released the first of its new Apex Series of readers to help companies deploy a high-performance RFID solution across their dock doors or conveyors, in volume.

The readers are designed to be easily mounted overhead to accomplish a near 100 percent read rate and were built in partnership with RF Controls. The readers, currently being beta tested by several Surgere customers, can be daisy chained across up to three dock doors, while one deployment is able to cover an unlimited number of doors.

RF Controls’ RFID products have a distinct approach for customers who require high performance in RFID tag reading, explained Todd Spence, RF Controls’ co-founder and chief administrative officer. Unlike many products on the market, the RF Controls reader antennas do not cast RF signals in all directions but concentrate signals into a specific area, such as the area around dock doors.

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More Affordable RFID Systems

Surgere has traditionally provided RFID solutions for the automotive industry. In the past few years, it extended its customer base to include a variety of manufacturers and consumer goods brands, said company president, Charles Dressler.

Such companies, often with hundreds of dock doors and conveyors to monitor, had expressed the need for a different kind of UHF RFID reader than those readily available in the market, Dressler noted. As they have to track busy shipping and receiving of supplies and finished products, manufacturers need near perfect read accuracy—and they wanted something lower cost.

Some companies have deployed RFID portals at a few egress points through which their goods and materials passed but were looking for a more affordable reader and antennas to expand to their many dock doors.

“The other thing they wanted was ease of installation,” Dressler said. Companies additionally indicated they wanted to free up the floor space around the doors so that forklifts didn’t interfere or damage reader antennas.

Manufacturers’ Demand for a New Kind of Reader

Dressler noted these manufacturers’ demands put the onus on Surgere to make RFID more readily deployable across long banks of dock doors.

“If we don’t make a significant change in the technology in terms of affordability and ease of use, then you can’t address their needs,” he said.

Use of RFID offers more benefits as it is expanded across an ecosystem. Those can include not only onsite visibility but potentially automated data capture from suppliers to manufacturers, warehouses and retail sites, said Michael Schwabe, Surgere’s market intelligence director.

Taking the Challenge to RF Controls

Surgere bills itself as a full solutions provider that sells tags and readers that meet a specific customer’s requirements, as well as software.

“Surgere challenged us to develop an easy to deploy, highly accurate dock-door solution,” said Spence. RF Controls’ real-time location through phased-array antennas are installed as much as 45 feet above tagged items to locate them in a warehouse or manufacturing floor.

RF Controls’ ability to deliver a lower cost product took some of the highly complicated features of its overhead RTLS Smart Antenna System out of the equation, according to Spence.

“We don’t need to support a dock door from a 40-foot high installation,” he said.  “At 15 feet we can reduce a lot of overhead cost while performing flawlessly at a lower ceiling height.”

Small Overhead Antennas

The resulting reader and antenna unit is about 16 inches by 16 inches and two inches deep, mounted above the corners of each door at a 30 to 40 degree angle, or on the walls on each side of the egress. They come with coaxial cable or PoE to connect them to the power source. While come companies can install the reader and antennas themselves, Surgere provides installation services as well.

By mounting the antennas above the floor, Spence notes the technology can be out of danger of fork-lift traffic and the overhead mounting provides a performance advantage. While many pallets are built differently, “we crafted a design that effectively works in most instances,” he said.

Surgere selects the appropriate tag for the customer’s site and application, as well as providing the software as a service, (SaaS) to manage read data.

“We engineer the whole solution,” says Schwabe.

The company’s software platform resides on Microsoft Azure, and includes AI and machine learning so that the user can gain information related to trends, exceptions and real time alerts.

Surgere has been testing the antennas in the company’s facility to track pallets stacked with boxes or totes. Thus far, they have found the system achieves a 99.9 percent, or better, read accuracy, says Schwabe.

A Lower Cost Solution

The cost would be typically 30 to 50 percent lower than average RFID reader portals available on the market today, according to company officials.

Following the beta testing, Surgere expects to offer the reader systems in volume this year.

“We’re excited to see how the industry reacts to it for sure,” says Dressler.

In the future Surgere may offer the products for the retail environment as well, Dressler said. “It is simple enough and low cost enough that even in that kind of setting with a warehouse full of products moving in and out all the time, they could achieve real benefits.”

Key Takeaways:
  • Surgere and RF Controls have teamed to create a lower cost, high performance RFID reader for dock doors with POE connection across three doors for easier installation.
  • The new Apex Series readers can be mounted where they are out of reach of impacts from machinery and read from a distance of 12 to 15 feet.