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Vendors are certifying their tags so companies that operate in potentially explosive environments can track and manage assets and items.
By Bob Violino
Mar 02, 2015

There are many rugged RFID tags on the market designed to withstand extreme temperatures, harsh chemicals, pounding pressure, dust, rain, shock and other challenging conditions. But in some hazardous environments, companies are required to use tags that meet the ATEX (ATmospheres EXplosives) Directive, which took effect in Europe in 2003. It mandates that all electrical and mechanical equipment used near explosives or explosive fuels or gases needs to be certified as safe.

Products must be tested to ensure they can't produce a spark that could ignite an explosion or fire. The directive covers a range of equipment. It does not specifically mention RFID tags, but since active tags contain a battery, they would fall under the mandate. There are different opinions in the field regarding whether passive tags need to be certified, says HID Global's Richard Aufreiter, director of product management for identification technologies.

Photo: Confidex
BP was able to deploy an RFID solution to streamline maintenance operations at its oil refinery in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, because it used ATEX tags from Tectus Transponder Technology. Elpiji, a Malaysian liquid propane gas supplier, also used Tectus ATEX tags to automate the process of filling gas cylinders at its Penang plant.

In addition to Tectus, Confidex and HID Global are among the handful of vendors providing ATEX-compliant tags. The companies that have achieved ATEX certification say it's important because it enables them to serve particular needs and markets, such as challenging industrial applications and the oil and gas industry.

ATEX is accepted in many countries outside Europe, but ATEX is not required in the United States and other countries. Rather, these countries have signed on to the IECEx (International Electrotechnical Commission System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres) scheme, the goal of which is to establish worldwide standards. IECEx and ATEX are nearly identical except for some minor specification differences.

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