It's a well-known fact that metal causes two major problems for radio frequency identification transponders: It can reflect energy away from a tag, and it can detune a tag antenna, preventing it from receiving energy from a reader.
Several years ago, RFID providers met the physics challenge: They developed "on-metal" tags, now available in a wide variety of sizes and frequencies, that enable companies in myriad industries to track metal assets and to use RFID in warehouses and other environments that contain metal fixtures. Many on-metal tags are designed to withstand harsh environments, so companies in the construction, energy and manufacturing sectors can use RFID to track parts, pipes, tools and other equipment (see Rough Riders: RFID Tags Get Rugged).
Still, there are some applications for which on-metal tags don't work optimally, because the asset is too small, conditions are too harsh or the tag interferes with use of the asset. So RFID providers developed tags that can be embedded in metal items. These solutions are designed to track a variety of assets, including surgical equipment, handheld tools, weapons, metal utility poles, heavy machinery exposed to extreme heat and vibration, iron beams, oil and gas pipes, and valves, agricultural equipment and industrial bolts for automotive assembly.
"On-surface solutions are generally considered first," says Patrick King, founder of tag provider Technologies ROI (TROI). But, he adds, on-metal tags can be vulnerable to certain environmental conditions. "Some companies may want to ensure mechanical, chemical or heat integrity, which adds life to the solution," he says. Embedding the tag prevents it from being hit or exposed to unusual chemical procedures, as in the case of paint lines and metal foundries.
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