UHF RFID is the technology to bridge the last mile in the digitalisation
Digitalisation is not an issue for which you need to prepare – we are already in the midst of it! A clear statement by Dieter Horst, Siemens, who helps shape the development of RFID technology and industrial communication at Siemens. From his perspective, there is no reason to wait or to hit the brakes regarding digital transformation. “The technologies and solutions are mature and are already in widespread use. The advantages outweigh the investments by far and the monetary potential is enormous as well.”
And this view is not exclusive to Siemens. The European Commission estimates the market volume of IoT in Europe will be 1.9 trillion euros in 2020. In an interview with “RFID & Wireless IoT Global”, Dieter Horst not only describes the advantages on the basis of successful transformation projects, but also gives an outlook on further developments and on the deployment of cloud-based IoT operating systems.
Dieter Horst, Head of Product Management Simatic Ident, Siemens, in an interview with “RFID & Wireless IoT Global”
UHF RFID builds bridge of connectivity
RFID is a key to digitalisation – what sounds like a mere marketing slogan can be a source of real benefits for companies of any size. “Globally operating groups as well as small and medium sized regional companies benefit from digital transformation. Technologies and solutions are scalable, applications can be customised,” Dieter Horst states.
The advantages of digital transformation are the same for almost every company, regardless of size. “digitalisation creates the basis for a transparency that enables numerous process optimisations: acceleration, reduction of errors, energy-efficient operations, and a consistent steady rise in quality of both processes and manufactured products as well.” In addition to the establishment of industrial connectivity infrastructures, Dieter Horst recognises the importance of UHF RFID technology.
“Only UHF RFID offers the possibility of bridging the 'last mile' between the production network and/or ERP system and objects that do not have their own communications technologies. This way, physical assets such as containers obtain a digital image in the IoT and can be managed in a new, improved style.” - Dieter Horst
The plastic box is only one label away from becoming a digital asset
In order to reduce the complexity of the phrase 'digital transformation' and to counter the widespread opinion that digitalisation is extremely complex, overarching, and above all expensive, Dieter Horst takes container management as an example. “The management of all containers in the company and those exchanged with customers and suppliers is time-consuming and costly. Today more than ever, loss is an issue many companies have to deal with.
If container management is digitalised with UHF RFID, all containers can be managed on the software side. Moreover, the RFID deployment offers additional benefits as well.” Continuous tracking of all containers and the transfer of tracking data to a cloud system such as Mindsphere by Siemens for further analysis enables reduction of the container stock. “Users who know where their containers are at what time can plan their use more efficiently. What is more, maintenance and cleaning cycles can be better planned and checked. Thus, a UHF RFID-based container management system serves as an ideal example of the benefits of digital process transformation,” Dieter Horst says.
Secure communication with the cloud is a central topic
Cloud applications have enormous potential for process optimisation while at the same time reducing costs in the industry. The use of data can be organised in a simple way – even across company and country borders. Whenever data from production or from the supply chain leaves the narrow IT boundaries of individual companies, the security of the data is the top priority. “To ensure the highest possible security level in a cloud IoT environment, solutions are available both on the hardware and the protocol side.
Regarding the communication protocols – for data exchange between the UHF RFID reader and the cloud, for example – OPC UA is a solution that already covers all aspects of a future industrial standard. The security features of OPC UA have been approved by the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). Another advantage of OPC UA: it is a protocol that is completely independent of manufacturers. This creates trust and acceptance on the customer side.
At the same time, all leading German AutoID companies work together in order to advance the OPC UA Companion Specification, in cooperation with the AIM Association and the OPC Foundation. This concerted action led by the association shows that it is all about advantages for the whole industry and not for a single manufacturer.
OPC UA has the potential to push UHF RFID further
The interest on the customer side shows that OPC UA has the potential to become the communication standard for the Industrial IoT (IIoT), Dieter Horst states. “Recently, Siemens was able to win a large company as a customer for the roll-out of an extensive UHF RFID solution in their factory. This company chose this solution because the communication takes place via OPC UA. The responsible parties rely fully on the features of OPC UA and they know that it is not a technological dead end. This roll-out is a clear signal that OPC UA is able to push digitalisation projects based on UHF RFID.”
Private digitalisation as a model?
“In the private environment numerous parts of everyday life are already digitised. Today, web and cloud-based services are used as naturally as buses and trains. In comparison, digital transformation has not evolved as far in industry, although the monetary potential is much higher,” Dieter Horst describes the status quo.
Estimates from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) support this statement. According to the BMWi, digitalisation will open up a cumulative value-added potential of 425 billion euros for Germany by 2025. “At the same time, Germany and Europe are also innovation pioneers regarding digitalisation, as has already been the case with automation and robotics. A recent workshop on the use of the frequency spectrum organised by the European Commission underlined the importance of this subject. It is about enabling the standardised use of IoT technologies like UHF RFID on a global scale. digitalisation is always a global issue and never regionally restricted.”
Cloud IoT and automation in accordance with each other
A cloud solution should not be seen as an alternative to “classic” automation, but as a complement, according to Dieter Horst. “An IoT cloud system will probably never achieve the real-time capabilities of a field device. For example, when an RFID reading event has to ensure the changing of a switch for container transports in production, this information exchange needs to take place immediately. If the same event information has to be analysed in the cloud for further process optimisation, the forwarding may take a second. Thus, automation and cloud usage complement each other perfectly.”