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Sensing New Opportunities

Phase IV Engineering's RFID Sensor Reader and Smartrac's Sensor Tadpole tag address end users' needs.
By Paul Prince
Jun 23, 2016

It's one thing to develop a cool new RFID product. It's another to make it useful, easy to deploy and inexpensive enough to adopt. Both Phase IV Engineering and Smartrac sensed a need and did just that.

Phase IV's RFID Sensor Reader addresses a challenge manufacturers have faced: how to integrate an RFID reader into an assembly plant's machinery, a conveyor system, or an industrial computer known as a programmable logic controller (PLC) that a factory typically uses to automate processes on an assembly line.

This is the first time two companies were honored with the Best New Product Award: Scott Dagleish (left), CEO of Phase IV Engineering, and Lauri Hyytinen, head of Smartrac's automotive segment. (Photo: Tom Hurst/RFID Journal)
"I had about six projects last year where we had a client that wanted to use RFID in a control system, and every one of them walked away because of the problems of implementing an RFID reader," says Phase IV's CEO Scott Dalgleish. The trouble, he explains, is that RFID readers aren't designed to communicate with the PLC input modules that accept signals from sensors or other devices and convert them into a form that can be used by the PLC's CPU.

A common type of PLC input module, Dalgleish says, is an Allen Bradley analog input card that accepts a signal in a format that varies from 0 to 5 volts. Say, for example, a factory wants to install a passive RFID temperature sensor tag at four different locations on its assembly line. The analog input card has multiple terminals for accepting signals, and the data from each of the four sensor tags must be routed to its own dedicated terminal on the card. So an RFID reader first needs to read each tag to capture the sensor's temperature measurement and, based on the temperature reading, convert that measurement into voltage of 0 to 5. The reader must then route that voltage signal to the PLC input module terminal assigned to that particular sensor.

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