ThingMagic Releases New Tiny Reader Module

By Claire Swedberg

The M6e-Micro's small size enables equipment manufacturers, such as Zebra Technologies, to further shrink the size of their devices to meet customers' needs.


RFID products provider Zebra Technologies is installing the new M6e-Micro EPC Gen 2 reader module, from Trimble‘s ThingMagic division, into new printers currently under development. According to the company, this will help enable a smaller footprint than previous such devices. The new module arrives on the heels of a new upgraded version of firmware for the M6e series, providing higher performance. ThingMagic’s new ultra-small module, with upgraded firmware, is commercially available now, and is also expected to be built into such products as handheld and fixed readers and printers supplied by other original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

ThingMagic’s development of the technology resulted from Zebra’s request for a smaller module that would fit within its designs for a more compact RFID printer-encoder. “We needed a small compact module, but we still needed it to be feature-complete,” says Michael Fein, Zebra Technologies’ senior product manager. “RFID in retail has been one of the markets we focus on,” he explains, and the industry requires smaller printers, mobile printers and handheld readers that are easy to carry. Zebra has yet to release a product made with the M6e-Micro module, but as the company builds these smaller devices, Fein says, the M6e-Micro “really drives that effort.”

ThingMagic’s EPC Gen 2 RFID reader module, M6e-Micro, is 46 millimeters long, 26 millimeters wide and 4 millimeters thick.

The M6e-Micro measures 46 millimeters (1.8 inches) in length and 26 millimeters (1 inch) in width, according to Tom Grant, ThingMagic’s general manager. The reader module has two antenna ports and can transmit up to 1 watt of power.

The new, smaller version of the M6e device offers the same level of functionality as its larger predecessor, Grant says, and both models provide up to two times the read distance of other RFID modules used in mobile applications. The M6e-Micro model can read EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags at a rate of up to 700 per second. The module also enables users to dial down the power required to support applications that demand precision, such as tag writing. The Micro is the second in the M6e family of modules, Grant says, and its functionality is similar. However, the release of the Micro follows the August 2012 unveiling of the latest version of the firmware platform to improve features and functions, which is now available with both M6e products (see RFID News Roundup: Trimble Expands Functionality of ThingMagic RFID Readers).

Tom Grant, ThingMagic’s general manager

Some of those features include an increase in tag read rate of up to 75 percent from the previous version. The device also provides a “fast search” mode for interrogating tags affixed to fast-moving objects, the firm reports, at a speed of up to 200 kilometers per hour (124 miles per hour). What’s more, it can read a greater amount of data per tag—up to 128 bytes.

The module is already being provided to two existing customers—one of which is Zebra—as well as one new customer, in addition to Trimble itself, which makes its own sensor devices and is incorporating the new M6e-Micro reader module into its devices. Those products have yet to be announced. The other two customers have asked not to be named in this story.

“We had a number of customers who said they only have a certain-size cavity” for the module in a device they were engineering, Grant states. “The real estate is a prime issue.”

According to Fein, Zebra Technologies has been utilizing ThingMagic reader modules for several years.