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Jun 29, 2015

High Performance UHF Tags with Shorter Time to Market

The majority of the UHF inlay designers have already come to realize that the right measurement solutions are the critical factor for seeing all you need on the UHF inlay performance. There’s not much of those guys anymore, who run around with the tags, checking with a reader how far you can go until the tag can’t be read anymore. Not only is this kind of measurement inaccurate, but it also doesn’t give any indication of what kind of changes are necessary for the next iteration in the design.

In my work as a Product Manager at Voyantic, I have seen the accurate, communication based, wide frequency band measurements for the UHF tags become more or less the de-facto standard of the industry in tag design. Now I’m happy to see the tag manufacturers widely adopting the performance testing also in production quality assurance.

So from design to production – why should you measure tag performance?

Quality from Design to Production

The measurement solution giving visibility to the UHF tag performance throughout its wide operation frequency range helps the designer to see exactly how the tag performs and understand what modifications are required to improve it. This enables faster development cycle times by providing high-performance UHF tag designs with shorter time to market.

This same yields to the production quality as well. Let’s take an example of a new product introduction, where an inlay design is brought to the production floor for the first time. If the RFID test equipment in the manufacturing machines can only tell whether the tag is functional or not, the batch will typically be taken to a very comprehensive and time-consuming first article inspection in the lab.

Imagine the reduced downtime!

If the samples are analyzed in the lab, not only does it take much time, but also the corrective actions can be implemented after this detailed analysis step. Imagine making a similar analysis on the production floor during the first batch manufacturing. Making the fine-tuning of the process on the go and reducing the time to market and machine downtime. In addition to the high-speed process compatible performance testing, the Tagsurance UHF testing equipment can also handle this more detailed analysis job.

Performance testing reduces the overall cost of quality without creating a bottleneck to the process.

Regardless of the process, there are always benefits in the performance testing of the tags. In the chip assembly, it is clear, the performance of the tag is created in this process when the chip is attached to the dipole antenna structure. In label converting, the main thing is to verify that this performance is maintained, but a reader can only check the tag still functions. The functional testing does not allow visibility in what is going wrong when the failures start occurring, and it can’t detect all the abnormalities and poorly performing tags, which then end up in the application use.

With the right tools, I’ve seen young startups reaching the same quality level with their UHF tag products as the big players of the market in no time. Without having to go through years of learning, in the worst-case learning from the failures noticed not until in the end customer application. This is the critical thing when balancing your overall cost of quality; investing in quality appraisal and failure prevention will spare your investment many times in the failure costs.

Let’s Take the RFID Industry to the Right Direction

Together! I have had the pleasure of working with so many quality-conscious RFID experts in the past years and have enjoyed seeing how much improvement you can make with the right tools in a short time. The increase of interest in production quality and implementations of Tagsurance UHF RFID testing solutions during the past year has made me gain confidence in the UHF RFID. It will no doubt be the technology to enable reliable, repeatedly functioning applications, without component level surprises in the application piloting stage.

Thank you for your interest! If you have any questions or want to start a discussion on how you could improve your RFID quality, let’s talk more! If you want to learn more detailed on what type of test data you could achieve in production, download the full sample roll test report below.

Learn Exactly What We Can Find Out on a Roll of UHF Tags!

Download a full Voyantic sample roll test report with full visibility to the performance of each and every tag on the roll, far field measurement results on selected tags and optimized production test scenarios for different process throughputs.

Jun 12, 2015

Helping The Boss to Arrive at the Correct Decisions; In-house Selling of RAIN RFID Test Equipment

中文版 Chinese version

Selling is a noble form of art, which takes slightly different forms when selling to a customer (out-house) or a colleague (in-house). Luckily both the directions go by the same principles. The twist in general is whether that special someone is already looking for a solution and is therefore on the buying mode, or not looking and even in the I-have-other-priorities-such-as-protecting-the-cash mode.

As my company Voyantic operates in the relatively young technological field of RAIN RFID measurement and testing solutions, the latter mode is usually assumed, since the prospect companies are typically start-ups. Of course, we are not working on the sales case only from outside the prospect company, but together with an in-house sponsor that faces the same communications challenge: How to get the management to say yes to the investment proposal?

The Boss Takes the Most Heat in the Valley of Death

Our prospect start-ups are in the pre-launch phase, and cash flow vice is located firmly in the valley of death. I’ve been in that valley myself – it’s a horrid place, and only the brave go there.

Sales is all about getting to Yes. Let’s, therefore, focus on The Boss, because ultimately she/he says “Yes” or “No” to the investment proposal.

The Boss is a creature with three primary functions: stay as a boss, carry the grave responsibility, and make decisions when needed. One way to initiate a decision-making process is to spread a certain amount of fear powder over the responsibilities part. Some others prefer to play this card right the opposite direction: paint a fresco of stunning business performance and thus suggest the marvel of getting out of that valley sooner than later, and this way become a happier boss.

One Boss in the Valley of Death, under wildlife attack, not enjoying the moment very much, and thus motivated to make decisions

Facing RFID Sensor Tag Development Hurdles

To make a case of the latter, let me walk you through a hypothetical example of in-house sales: Assume you are an RF antenna engineer in Company Z that is developing a novel RAIN RFID tag with disruptive never-before-seen sensor features.

Cutting edge stuff, and riding high on the hype curves, too! So it gradually reveals to you that the antenna design is heavily restricted by the selected production process, which further seems to limit the tags reading performance. Unfortunately, you don’t quite have all the facts on the table to back decision making, because there is only a DIY RFID reader based test setup in the basement lab, right next to the janitor’s room. Additional discomfort arises from the fact that the latest tag sensor circuitry samples seem to have a set of “undocumented” properties that don’t go so well either with the reader in the lab.

The sensor tag launch date is set only ten months away to a RAIN RFID show taking place in Orlando (sometimes in San Diego), and the marketing lady with the scarf is making preparations already. Even the product brand name is already registered.

It Doesn’t Hurt to Find Out How Others Have Managed to Get the Antenna Design Right

Let’s face it – those are hugely expensive ten months for several reasons.

First of Company Z has only the slideware to sell, which means there is practically no revenue.

Secondly, there are you and both your buddies in the lab ordering materials, scissoring inlays, 3D printing prototype enclosures, cursing the air conditioning, and wishing all is going to be ok.

Thirdly, some other companies in the market are already launching their first sensor tag products, which is irritating because you know they are bluntly eating off the yours-to-be market share.

So, being a bright and open-minded engineer, you take a few hours on Tuesday to browse through a pile of academic publications on UHF RFID tag design. While your coffee mug gradually sinks below the refill level, you suddenly realize all those papers refer to this one RFID performance test system.

Switching over to Dr. Pepper and taking a few additional hours to complete the desk study, you find out that this stunning equipment shows how a UHF tag is tuned in about 30 seconds and also how the IC responds to different commands. On top of that, it dawns on you the system is available with two weeks lead time, and the supplier even has a tag production quality test solution, too! Tuesday well spent!

How to Present the Gathered Information with Maximal Impact

So what is it that you do? Well, first, you go home and sleep off the first wave of excitement. On Wednesday morning, you make a few calculations together with a fresh blueberry muffin, then rush to the corner office at 9:15 AM, take a deep breath, and…?

At this point it is important to remind yourself that The Boss is in heat and busy looking for a way out of the valley of death.* You are almost there, next reel it in with a correctly tuned message*:

  • JUNIOR MISTAKE: just ask The Boss to buy this one great tester worth 50k
  • MILD, BUT MIGHT WORK: explain how you found a way to raise RnD efficiency by up to 22%
  • MUCH BETTER: tell you found a way to get the tag design finished in time, AND troubleshoot the damned sensor circuitry while at it
  • A NO-BRAINER DEAL: report to The Boss that you found a way to cut time-to-market by 50%.

The lower on this list you are able to go, the smoother response there will be on your closing line about the investment.

In a Competitive Environment Time-to-Market Makes a Grand Difference

Essentially you should show that you can make this massive difference on the top line if this enabling 50k investment is carried out now, and sales would start sooner than later. Bring in a few of those academic publications with you as evidence, and ask the measurement system vendor for payback estimates and additional collateral, such as a few reliable customer references.

The Boss knows the painful cost and agony of those ten months, and if you claim you can save 5 out of those, he figures out it’s going to be three months saving with a reference customer as a cherry on top, and he is going to sign you those 50k pretty darned fast. All top bosses know that you need to spend money to make money, and just kindly remind that waiting is the most expensive alternative of all.

Wrapping It Up: Investment on Test Equipment Often Turns Out to Be an Investment on Sales

The payback on measurement and testing equipment investments are exceptionally fast when the impact hits the frontlines of the sales battlefield. “The cutting costs” story may work reasonably well in large companies. Still, when it comes to shortening time to market, fixing diverse quality issues, and creating positive aura on the customer front, it all quickly translates into getting additional revenue for the company, sooner than later.

All top bosses love the additional revenue. Cards well played, and you just got your first Voyantic Tagformance.

That’s my story for you today. These principles have worked out well for me many times, and I would love to hear about it if they work out for you as well. Please drop me a line at juho.partanen@voyantic.com, and let’s talk more.