We're entering a new stage in the evolution of the information infrastructure that supports plant and factory automation-the emergence of RF ID devices that support timely and accurate information. While bar-code technology is well suited for manufacturing automation, RF ID technology will provide some unique features:
- No need for a line-of-sight path: Because it's based on RF communications, the technology doesn't require a direct path between the data carrier (e.g., the RF ID tag) and the data-collection equipment (e.g., the reader). Tags can be placed in locations better suited to the product being manufactured or the conveyance carrying the work in process. Tags can also be used in harsh environments typical of automated production facilities. Lighting and other optical conditions pose no limitations.
- Speed: RF ID allows for rapid segregation and data transfer between readers and a "population" of tags. Using "multiple" tags to support various and different aspects of manufacture is realizable. One tag may be used for a major subassembly (and its associated information), while a different (and closely located) tag may be used for another or even for the entire final assembly. RF ID tags can be "grouped" and "separated" automatically through wireless communication, leading to an automated communication method not requiring human intervention for large quantities of tags simultaneously.
- Read/write capability: RF ID technology can support a truly read/write data carrier (i.e., a memory). This allows production processes to accumulate and use information as it becomes available through the entire process.
While RF ID technology isn't "new," the trend in developing standards upon which to implement this technology will bring many benefits. Current worldwide work to establish standards on which to implement this technology also will bring many benefitsan increase in customer confidence and new technologies, worldwide RF ID acceptance, and technology advancement.