Tire and Agricultural Industries Test Embedded RFID Solution

By Claire Swedberg

Industrial companies are conducting qualification testing of Primo1D's passive UHF E-Thread technology, with integrated RFID-enabled threads, including electric cables, ropes, bale twine and tires.

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French technology firm Primo1D was launched in 2013 to bring RFID-enabled yarn, known as E-Thread, to the apparel and laundry markets. These days, the company also serves different markets that are investigating how RFID threads could be built into their products or assets. A handful of companies are trialing its technology for such industrial applications as embedding RFID into hay-bale twine to track the product from harvest to animal feed, building RFID threads into cables or ropes for the oil and gas and marine industries, and integrating the technology into electric cables.

Additionally, says Alain Papanti, Primo1D’s cofounder and chief sales and marketing officer, the company has created an industrial tool to manufacture the technology, with a production capacity of five million RFID-enabled threads or cables, which is expected to rise to 20 million next year. With the latest qualification testing, the firm is aimed at the kinds of products that haven’t lent themselves to RFID tagging in the past—such as agricultural twine, cables or tires, for example. “Those are the use cases we are targeting,” he states. “The tags are durable, invisible and work where an inlay would be too big or too fragile.”

Primo1D’s E-Thread

Primo1D was founded in Grenoble to offer an RFID solution that could be woven directly into fabrics or labels (see E-Thread Provides Discrete Anti-Counterfeiting or Tracking Solutions and Company Boosts Sensitivity and Shortens Length of Its RFID Yarn). The thread consists of an EPC UHF RFID chip connected to two antennas integrated into a thread, thereby preventing the need for a paper hang tag and providing permanence to the RFID functionality of the garment or item.

“The apparel market is still part of our client base,” Papanti says, adding, “In addition to that, we are also talking with players in industry.” One of the important steps the company is taking in that direction, he explains, is to build its manufacturing volume capacity. Approximately two years ago, Primo1D began meeting with businesses from a variety of industries about how to incorporate the technology in items that use a variety of materials. For instance, tire maker Michelin began working with the company to test the use of RFID-enabled threads in rubber tires.

RFID, Papanti explains, is typically applied in the form of labels, affixed to the sides of truck tires, while car tires tend to be too small to support an added RFID tag. However, some companies are seeking ways in which to enable car manufacturers and owners to monitor the tires, and to track whether the front and rear tires are mounted at the correct locations on a vehicle.

Companies such as Michelin are, therefore, experimenting with building a UHF RFID reader into the undercarriage of a vehicle, and are integrating the E-Thread into the rubber tires. Once the tires are mounted in the vehicle, each tire’s tag ID is captured by those readers, along with, potentially, its location. Users can then store or forward data about where each tagged tire is installed, when it was rotated or replaced, and how long it has been on the road.

In this use case, Papanti says, the company is using a more robust material for its E-Thread that could be built into a tire, and that could sustain the pressure to which the tires are exposed, as well as during the manufacturing process. “Our embedded tag has value in being more durable in cases where other devices are too big and too fragile,” he states.

In the case of the marine or oil and gas industries, tags will be incorporated into the ropes that are used to moor ships, such as natural gas or oil tankers. The RFID functionality would help companies manage data regarding each section of ropes, including how long those ropes have been used, when they might require inspection or repair, and where the repair work was carried out. “Location of damage on a section of rope is very difficult to track,” Papanti says, without a technology-based tool like the E-Thread, especially if the rope moves during increases or decreases in tension.

Alain Papanti

In addition, RFID is being incorporated in the twine wrapped around square or rectangular bales. Such bales are used to feed livestock, and regulatory bodies are requiring greater traceability into where product came from, and when. Many bales are not wrapped in plastic, Papanti explains, but are simply packed with twine in a form factor intended for easy stacking, for the purpose of transportation. Without the plastic wrap, however, the bales do not lend themselves well to RFID tagging. With the technology integrated into the twine, Papanti notes, the tags are as robust as the twine itself.

“There is no mechanical module that can attach a tag to a bale as seamlessly as our product,” Papanti claims, so the integration of RFID into the twine enables the farmers to retain their existing baling system and equipment. “The challenge is to not add complexity to the baler.” Farmers instead want the baler to attach the twine in the same way they do with any standard bobbin and twine. They could mount an RFID reader in a baler to identify each bale—a process that is currently being tested in the field.

Electric cable needs to be tracked as well, and can prove challenging in mines or other harsh environments. If a utility company, for instance, needs to improve the management of its fleet of cables, it can use the E-Thread technology to create “smart cables.” With an E-Thread built into the cable—with one tag placed every 10 meters (32.8 feet), for example—users could manage inspections and repairs by reading tags onsite and inputting the services provided, linked to the GPS location of each cable section.

Primo1D expects some of the qualification testing to be completed by the end of this year in North America and Europe. The firm uses Impinj RFID chips in most of its E-Thread products. Primo1D is conducting qualification testing with the companies either at its own lab in France, or in the field at end-user locations around the world. The firm is also developing other use cases in the rubber goods and composites sector, Papanti says. Primo1D will display some of its solutions at its booth at RFID Journal LIVE!, being held this week in Phoenix, Ariz.