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Solutions for Manufacturing and Utilities

Ubisense's AngleID is a standalone solution that provides a cost-effective way for manufacturers to locate assets in factories and yards; STMicroelectronics' NFC RFID tags enable manufacturers and utilities to easily communicate with electric, gas and water meters.
Nov 20, 2016

Utility Meters Get Connected
STMicroelectronics' NFC RFID tags enable manufacturers and utilities to easily communicate with electric, gas and water meters.

Smart grid is more than a buzz term, as countries worldwide aim to update their energy delivery systems to improve efficiencies. Smart meters, which can gather usage data in real time and report back to the utility, are a fundamental building block for the development of a smart grid, says Gianmarco Ferrari, STMicroelectronics' nonvolatile memory and NFC marketing manager for the Americas. But smart meters must be customized for each utility in order to do their jobs.

Now, some meter manufacturers are integrating STMicroelectronics' Dynamic NFC RFID Tags in their devices and using an NFC RFID reader or Android smartphone to quickly and reliably transmit setup information to the meters after they've been prepared for shipping and the manufacturer knows which utilities will be receiving the meters. The tags feature a wired connection (industry-standard I2C) to the device's microcontroller.

The Dynamic Tags provide embedded electrically erasable programmable read-only memory (EEPROM) ranging from 2 kilobits to 64 kilobits. That ensures meter manufacturers have plenty of storage for their authentication keys, provisioning parameters, geolocation-specific settings and customer tariff, display calibration and data-logging capabilities, Ferrari says.

"At the customer premises, utilities can use a smartphone to register the meter to the network with a simple tap, reducing time and cost for commissioning," Ferrari says. "In the past, that required a back-office operation between the installer and the utility company. The manual operation is costly and time-consuming and could also introduce errors." Utilities also can use a smartphone in the field to activate the meters and receive information from the meters for maintenance and other operations.

A large European meter manufacturer uses the tags to load meter node profiles. Its utility customers use a smartphone to read the node profile and transfer the network key to the tags. (Photo: STMicroelectronics)
"We have several customers in Europe, Asia and the Americas in the electric-, water- and gas-meter markets that are using these NFC tags to realize greater operational efficiencies in manufacturing and in the field and to improve the customer experience," Ferrari says. A large European meter manufacturer, for example, is using the tags to load meter node profiles during manufacturing. Then, he explains, its utility customers use a smartphone to read the node profile and transfer the network key to the tags. When the meter is installed, a field worker uses a smartphone to connect the meter to the utility's infrastructure.

In other cases, Ferrari says, the NFC tags could speed the meter customization necessary to account for the state or country in which they will be used and the tariffs the utility would apply. "In still other cases," he adds, "the tags can be used as a low-power wireless link for meters that don't have a power connection." A field worker could read usage and billing data from a meter's tag memory when the power line is dropped.

"All of these use cases improve how these customers work," Ferrari says, "and have, alone or together, made our tags extremely attractive and cost-efficient."

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