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Passive UHF RFID Sensor Tags Go Where No Sensors Have Gone Before

Now it's easy and economical for companies to monitor the condition of their assets, products, buildings and machinery in any environment.
By Bob Violino
Dec 16, 2015

Want to know the temperature of machine parts before they overheat and cause damage? Monitor water-intolerant assets without opening the container to check each one? Detect strain in concrete? Save water while increasing plant growth in greenhouses and crops in fields? Automate the time-consuming process of tracking tire pressure on aircraft?

Passive ultrahigh-frequency RFID sensor tags, introduced in the past few years, enable companies to monitor these and other conditions, because they are not hampered by the limitations of wired or battery-operated sensors. Wired sensors can be bulky and difficult to install and access. They require a power source and can't be used in remote environments. Active wireless sensors have batteries that must be changed on a regular basis, which can drive up costs and interrupt processes.

To help make the International Space Station's Urine Processor Assembly more efficient, Phase IV Engineering designed a system to capture temperatures from a spinning drum. (Photo: NASA)
When manufacturing electric motors, for example, companies need to monitor the temperature of motor rotors to ensure they don't overheat and shut down.

Embedding wired temperature sensors in rotors is not an option, because it would prevent the rotor from rotating, says Mikel Choperena, product development manager at Farsens, which offers a variety of passive UHF RFID sensor tags. If a company uses active sensor tags to monitor rotors, he says, it must stop all production whenever a battery is low to take the sensor out and perform a battery change.

UHF RFID sensor tags, such as those by Farsens and RTEC, come in a variety of form factors. (Photos: Farsens and RTEC)
Passive on-metal temperature tags, on the other hand, can be attached or soldered onto the motor rotor. RTEC's sensor tags, for example, can be as small as 5.5 millimeters (0.2 inch), says Drex Lee, marketing and sales executive for the company.

Smartrac's Sensor Tadpole, equipped with RFMicron's Magnus S2 integrated circuit, comes in 21.5 by 73.0 by 2.5 millimeters (0.8 by 2.9 by 0.1 inches) and its wet inlay format is easy to implement and works on difficult surfaces, such as metal parts in car chassis, says Christian Achenbach, a Smartrac spokesperson. "The size is thin and small, which is tailored to the demand of car manufacturers or other industries, where moisture detection is an essential part of quality control," he says. "The tag detects small amounts of water leakage inside vehicle compartments that can damage a car's electronics bays, cabins and trunks. Window seals, weather stripping and body seams are the primary causes of factory water leakage."

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