Pepperl+Fuchs showcases how custom-built design leads to a new standard product
When existing RFID products are not up to the task, an application requires custom-built design. For a special challenge involving the tracking of tyre manufacturing pre-products, Pepperl+Fuchs, one of the leading suppliers of industrial RFID technology, developed a matching read / write head. By leveraging new technologies such as 3D printing and Hot Melt, the company was able to present the first prototype after only two weeks!
The results and experiences of the custom design are now integrated into the broad portfolio of standardized products. This way, all Pepperl+Fuchs customers benefit from the company's applied solutions expertise.
Dr. Klaus Schmitt, Product Manager RFID, Business Unit Systems, Pepperl+Fuchs, in an interview with RFID & Wireless IoT Global
Tyre manufacturing poses a challenge
Starting point: A worldwide leader in tyre manufacturing required an HF RFID reader in order to track spools of pre-products used in cap-strip and tyre-building machines. The challenge: Because the rotation of the spool is not fixed, the RFID transponder’s location is not fixed either. Additionally, the spools metal holder might stop where it leads to blocking or distorting when using a conventinal antenna. Therefore, a custom-built antenna was required. The solution: A specialized design from Pepperl+Fuchs.
A ring-shaped reader solves the problem
Pepperl+Fuchs designed a ring-shaped HF read / write head for tyre manufacturing. The RFID transponder is always located within the read area and is not obstructed by the holder, since the holder is passed through the ring. This way, the pre-products can be tracked and traced during the production process. The result was the HF read / write head IQH1-F198-V1. Beyond this singular application, it is now available for other use cases and applications as well.
Custom build leads to a win-win situation
Dr. Klaus Schmitt, Product Manager RFID, Pepperl+Fuchs, definitely sees the effort required to develop this solution paying off: “The custom-built design of the IQH1-F198-V1 is a win-win situation for the customer and for us. After the worldwide rollout of the solution, Pepperl+Fuchs is entering into a dialogue with tyre production equipment OEMs in order to integrate RFID into future production lines from the start. This initiative is supported by the experience and the results from a successful project that has been rolled out worldwide with a large manufacturer.”
Only two weeks until the first working prototype
Developing the new read / write head for the tyre manufacturer only required comparatively short time, Klaus Schmitt reports: “We made a commitment: within two weeks, we would return with a finished prototype. The customer didn’t entirely believe that to be possible. But after two weeks, we really were on side with a reader specially for the application and could successfully demonstrate that the product worked in a real-world scenario.”
Modular system allows faster development
The time required for custom designs varies from project to project. In its product portfolio and in custom development, Pepperl+Fuchs relies on a modular toolbox. The product manager explains: “If the toolbox fits the challenge, the time required for development is potentially very short. For HF hardware projects such as this, standardised electronics facilitate new developments. Only the form and the size of the antenna have to be designed and optimised. In order to optimally match the antenna and the electronics, we leverage decades of experience.”
3D printing for prototyping and small-batch production
Fast prototyping is also supported by new technologies, such as 3D printing and Hot Melt. “The first step – building a working prototype – has been shortened and made easier by new technologies. Within days, we were able to print and mould the design. In the past, prototyping relied on cardboard or other substitutes. Today, access to 3D printed prototypes that are as close to the final product as possible helps us to realize our vision and present it to the customer,” Dr. Klaus Schmitt says.
For large-scale production, injection moulding remains the technology of choice. But small-batch production with 3D printing is already viable. The method already allows production of robust casings with IP protection classes. By leveraging new technologies, Pepperl+Fuchs gains more flexibility: “New manufacturing technologies support creative design. With Hot Melt, for example, direct encapsulation of the electronics replaces the casing. The method is more flexible than injection moulding and less complex. This leads to new possibilities in device development.”
“If the toolbox fits the challenge, the time required for development is potentially very short. For HF hardware projects, standardised electronics facilitate new developments. Only the form and the size of the antenna have to be designed and optimised. In order to optimally match the antenna and the electronics, we leverage decades of experience. In addition, we leverage new technologies such as 3D printing. Building and presenting the first working prototype only took two weeks.” - Dr. Klaus Schmitt
Global rollout requires numerous certifications
From the pilot plant in South Europe, the new HF read / write head was rolled out worldwide. This process took several months. “The administrative effort for a global rollout requires more time than the technological effort, because approvals and certifications for numerous markets are needed. UHF especially requires new certifications for every new development. The approval process is different in every country. China requires no approval.
In Singapore and Australia, a self-declaration by the manufacturer is enough. In countries such as Brazil or Argentina, however, all tests have to be conducted inside the country. For custom-built designs, the economic viability has to be evaluated beforehand,” Dr. Klaus Schmitt explains. However, the product manager underlines: “Approvals in Europe, North America, and Asia go ahead without any issues. All Pepperl+Fuchs standard products are certified in these markets.”
Broad portfolio, competent sales, and development know-how
The ability to offer custom-built RFID designs depends on three main factors, explains Dr. Klaus Schmitt: “First, a company needs a competent, flexible, and solutions-oriented sales department that can coordinate with R&D in order to offer more than just standard products. Second, a company needs a broad portfolio geared towards a variety of applications in order to have a starting point for new product developments. Last but not least, the company needs the know-how to develop and implement the solution.”
A certified partner for Industry 4.0
The demand for Industry 4.0 solutions is high – and so are the customers' expectations. This is why standards and certifications are demanded for large-scale projects and quality-conscious customers. “Pepperl+Fuchs possesses all the relevant certifications and fulfils all the current standards, for example for ProfiNet devices.
In addition, we are not limited to an RFID product environment, but can also offer combinations of different technologies. Because of this proven quality and flexibility, Pepperl+Fuchs is the right location for demanding projects. The experience from such projects – as seen with the IQH1-F198-V1 – eventually benefits all our customers.”