RFID: More than just readers and tags

June 24, 2009   by Noelle Stapinsky

Forklift featuring M/A-Com’s broad and narrow beam antennas.

Photo: M/A-Com

Imagine tracking assets throughout your facility beyond choke points or without operators having to use traditional manual data collection methods.

Forklifts are part of most material handling or supply chain management operations related to industry, and as radio frequency identification technology (RFID) continues to proliferate as an inventory management solution, the idea of integrating the two seems like a no-brainer.

M/A-Com Technology Solutions, a radio frequency and wireless developer based in Lowell, Ma., has developed a sensor-based RFID system that installs on forklifts to track RFID tags while in transit through the plant and during slotting processes.

The system identifies RFID tags after the pallet has been picked up using an acoustic sensor, broad beam antenna and controller logic. A narrow beam antenna, laser-height sensor and controller logic determine the storage location and confirm the pallet’s pick-up and drop-off points. Each inventory transaction is then transmitted back to a main enterprise resource planning (ERP) system using a WiFi connection.

Micronetics, a RF and microwave hardware supplier based in Hudson, NH, recently purchased M/A-Com’s RF line.

“This RF subsystem integrates into complex reader supply chain management systems or inventory type environments,” says Micronetics president Kevin Beal. “We feel our microwave and RF experience will help us bring this to market.”

RFID tags and readers have been used for inventory management for more than five years. “But this forklift is the next extension deeper into the warehouse. Now you can have RFID tag visibility beyond the dock doors,” says Beal.

The unit uses an Impinj Speedway reader that has fully released and supported forklift firmware. Sophisticated RFID reader logic is built into the system, the readers and the middleware. Sensors read all the tags while sensing the pallet’s height, travel direction and location in the storage rack. Filters indicate what information is collected and which tags are read, so a forklift picking up a middle pallet will filter out the ones on either side using statistical processing.

“There’s a fair amount of information being gathered depending on what business decisions are made,” says Beals. “Many companies are developing software for this sort of application [to] help decide what can be done with the information collected.”

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