Join us at CONNECTIONS SUMMIT 2022 in Helsinki, Finland   June 14-16, 2022 – Learn more and register here

May 17, 2022

The “Secret” to Ensuring Accuracy and Repeatability in RFID Testing – Properties of an RFID Test Chamber

When our customers think of where measurement accuracy and repeatability in a tag testing setup originate from, they usually mention things like output power resolution, power setting accuracy, measurement distance measured down to a millimeter, angular alignment, and high quality matched antennas, test grade RF cables, etc…  My claim is, and it’s not even a bold claim, but more like a friendly reminder, that the most significant factor in achieving result repeatability and comparability is actually the environment.

So, what is the best route to a great environment? Well, clearly, the best solution is to use a closed and controlled environment like an anechoic cabinet specifically designed for RFID measurements. At Voyantic, the most iterated and refined cabinet is the C50. It is also the smallest of the offered cabinets, supporting the TIPP/ARC compatible four antenna measurement layout.

  

ARC / TIPP antenna arrangement and the C50 cabinet

Test Distance

The C50 name comes from the 50cm nominal measurement distance and the circular arrangement of the antennas. The choice of the distance is a sweet spot to be as close as possible for best accuracy and dynamic range, but far enough to be in an accurate enough representation of a  far-field for most average-sized tags, tagged items, and item stacks. Any further attempt to still reduce the distance rapidly ends up in the antennas not physically fitting anymore or just coupling into each other as they would sit in each other’s reactive near field.

The Cabinet Size

When you add on top the 50cm test distance the size reserved for the test object, clearance for the Fresnel zone, the volume required by the UHF range pyramid absorbers optimized for each wall, and the outer shielding, you still actually end up with a reasonably sized package. The C50 chamber totals to dimensions of 1,55m x 1,50m x 1,05m. This typically doesn’t sound important in any way, until one is planning the location for the cabinet and the transport route up to the very spot. These dimensions have not evolved by accident but rather designed from experience so that the cabinet would fit through as many door openings, narrow corridors, and elevators as possible. Also, the total weight remains in the 200kg range, making it movable by a few sturdy RFID test engineers without renting any additional equipment.  

A Sturdy RFID Engineer

Low Reflections

One of the hardest parameters to get right is the level of unechoicity. It wouldn’t be too hard in a totally empty space, but as the item under test requires a computer-controlled rotatable platform withstanding over 10kg of weight and still being totally stealthy, things get a lot trickier. The rotation mechanism and the support platform should not provide alternative radio paths from the antenna to the tag which could create a multipath situation and decrease the accuracy.

Turntable Design

To achieve the required stealth properties, anything bulky, parallel, and flat should be avoided. Also, electrically conductive materials must be avoided at all costs, except for the shortest of screws.  This means that conventional mechanical design is thrown right out of the window and other approaches are needed. Our chambers have fully ceramic bearing structures, Kevlar belts, fiberglass axles, Nylon bolts, and numerous foam structures. Most other structural parts are carefully designed from polyamide with most of the material hollowed out and any parallel and straight lines broken to reduce the RF footprint as much as possible.

Components in the chamber are designed to minimize any RF reflections.

To see the full range of available Voyantic anechoic chambers, download our R&D Solutions Catalogue ›

Download R&D Solutions Catalogue

Learn more about the Voyantic Tagformance® Pro system, accessories, and test chambers!

By combining RAIN RFID and NFC testing into one compact test device, our all-new Tagformance Pro is a true all-in-one tool for anyone either developing or using RFID technology.

May 11, 2022

Join us at Connections Summit Helsinki 2022

Join us at Connections Summit, in Helsinki, June 14-16! The event is organized by RAIN Alliance in cooperation with IEEE CRFID and GS1.

Please accept marketing cookies to watch this video.

The theme of the event is sustainability. During the sessions, industry leaders will be addressing the use of wireless RAIN RFID technologies to save natural resources, human resources, energy, and time, and cut down on unnecessary waste.

Learn insights on how to improve supply chains and asset management so, that businesses only produce the goods that they need. And most importantly learn how to quantify and address the ecological footprint of the core components, such as the RAIN tags. The event is also an excellent opportunity to expand your business networks!

Learn more and register

Agenda

The first day of the event is reserved for RAIN Member Workgroup Meetings. Wednesday the 15th is an open day for anyone to join to hear a day full of interesting presentations and networking. The last day of the event is reserved for RAIN Member-only sessions and the IEEE CRFID meeting.

Check out the full agenda here ›

Agenda Highlights (June 15)

  • Opening remarks from Anni Sinnemäki, Deputy Mayor for Urban Environment, City of Helsinki
  • RFID as Enabler in Wireless Patient Monitoring – Timo Hakala, Senior radio systems engineer of GE Healthcare
  • Sustainability in RAIN RFID-Based Healthcare – Bahar Aliakarian, Michigan State University
  • Leveraging RAIN Through the Full Life Cycle of the Tire: Transitioning from Footprint to Handprint – Peter RAMIREZ, Michelin North America
  • Industrial Identification – Seeking for Reliability – Joona Nikunen, Innovation Manager of Valmet Automation

Train with Ultrarunner Noora Honkala

After traveling and working all day, it is good to do a bit of exercise to energize and reset your body and mind for the open event day on Wednesday. 

Join a fun running exercise event on Tuesday evening at 6 pm. The exercise will be held by one of the world’s leading ultrarunners, Noora Honkala. You will also get a chance to chat with Noora about the life of a professional athlete and get some training tips. 

The running event is suitable for everyone. You will be able to do the exercise at your own pace. The event will take place in a park by the seaside, close to Hotel Katajanokka. Sign up for the running event during the registration process to receive more details.

Please accept marketing cookies to watch this video.

Mar 30, 2022

6 Tips for Tackling the Global Component Shortage

The electronic component shortage is hitting hard on pretty much any imaginable industry. We see that in consumer electronics; we had to wait for more than a year for my son’s Playstation 5. But also, the automotive industry, mobile devices, and several industrial markets are affected heavily. The RFID industry is no exception. Claire Swedberg wrote recently an excellent and multifaceted piece about chip shortage in RFID in the RFID Journal publication: https://www.rfidjournal.com/rfid-technology-rollout-strained-by-chip-shortage. The article is mainly focused on what is going on with RAIN tag ICs, but from what I have seen, also reader manufacturers and other players in the industry are affected.

My company, Voyantic, is a provider of test and measurement solutions for the RFID industry, so we are not supplying the kinds of volumes that RFID reader companies do, let alone tag manufacturers. But I thought it would be interesting to look at what the situation has meant for us and how we have dealt with it.

“Components Available in April – Next Year ” – What to do?

I had a chat with our head of operations to hear his thoughts on the situation. His overall feeling was that the amount of time spent in sourcing has increased, and in the worst points of time, there were new negative surprises in component availability almost every week. But so far, our operations team has been able to work around them. He identified three key points that have made it possible:

  1. Co-operation between product design and operations. Being surrounded by skilled people that know the products intimately has been the key. When there have been challenges with some components, electronics designers that can point out what is critical have helped to find replacement components, which have been delightfully abundant. Finally, in most severe cases the designers may have made slight design changes around difficult-to-find components. I have learned to highly appreciate our in-house hardware design capability and can guess how difficult it might have been if all that was outsourced to a distant country.
  2. Turning to your network to find trustworthy component brokers. When looking for alternative sources for components, there are thousands of component brokers out there. But the question is, who can you trust? Where do you buy without getting counterfeit or C-grade components? That’s where your network comes in. Who can they recommend?
  3. Geographic distribution. It has proven efficient to have trusted brokers on different continents; the one in Hong Kong may have a good inventory (and prices) for one product, and the one in the US for another one. Asking around often leads to the best outcome.    

Communicating with Suppliers and Customers

In addition to the operational measures above, the crucial part of coping with growing uncertainty is instilling trust and good communication with both suppliers and customers. I am sure that, during the last year, everyone has experienced a supplier announce a delivery delay just days before the confirmed delivery date. You don’t want to be that company, right? So, what should we do?

  1. Discuss order schedules in advance. Customer needs usually don’t materialize overnight. Discussing needs in advance, or even placing advance orders, helps production planning.
  2. Radical openness. If there is uncertainty in delivery times, why not communicate that openly. Which company would you want to work with in the long term? The one that gives you the nasty surprise just before expected delivery? Or the one that tells you where they stand and keeps you updated with any progress?
  3. Solving the customer’s problems instead of delivering products. Open discussion with the customer and understanding what they plan to do with your product and when they need it may reveal alternative ways to solve their problems. Maybe you can solve the most acute needs with services. Or maybe you have a demo product or a previous generation product that you can loan to the customer until the new product arrives.

It’s probably going to be another year or two until the component shortage gets any easier. I hope that as an industry, we, the RFID guys, can work together to get through it.    

Voyantic Webinars

Tune into our educational live and on-demand webinars where we cover various topics around the RAIN RFID and NFC industry. We invite guest speakers from the industry to share their insights on each topic.

 

Mar 15, 2022

Voyantic Introduces TagFinder Beta

The new database service connects RAIN RFID specifications with tag products

You probably consume AAA batteries every month, but have you ever visited the web pages of Varta, Duracell, Energizer, or Panasonic? No need whatsoever, right?

I admit that batteries and RAIN RFID tags may not be comparable products, but both are low-priced consumables and sold in billions of units annually. The difference is that batteries are easy to select and purchase, and RAIN RFID tags are neither. Read on to learn how that is about to change!

Learn from alkaline batteries

The battery industry is more than a 100-years old. IEC, ANSI, and JIS have created standards for the sizing and chemistry of batteries a long time ago. Consumers have been trained to ask for AA and AAA batteries. Availability and pricing of the products are good. This sets a benchmark for how things could be also within the RAIN RFID industry.

How easy could RAIN RFID tag selection be?

While RFID technology itself is already more than 70 years old, the RAIN RFID industry is far from a similar level of convenience to the battery industry. We do have a solid air-interface standard established, but that’s not quite enough to make the selection of RAIN components easy for everyone.

The practical readability of RAIN tags is also dependent on the label size, frequency tuning, substrate material, and the IC on the tag. To further complicate the early steps, also the sourcing of small quantities was deemed challenging in an experiment we did in 2020.

It is in our interest to make the fantastic RAIN technology and products easier for anyone to find and utilize. That is why we want to try something new for a change.

TagFinder service brings tag products and specifications together

We have built a database that includes all available RAIN tag ICs and an expanding selection of RAIN tags and labels. Now, solutions providers and end-users can search through that database to find suitable tags for their projects using the TagFinder search tool.

Try TagFinder now

TagFinder includes simple search filters that enable users to find tags based on tagging specifications and requirements. After creating a shortlist of options, users can contact the tag suppliers directly through the TagFinder tool, saving time in the sourcing process.  

In TagFinder, tags can be searched based on manufacturer, application, size, target material, read range, plus a range of other features. 

Try out the service free-of-charge!

We are thrilled to offer free access to a beta version of the TagFinder service. This is a learning experience for us as well, and your feedback and suggestions will enable us to improve the search tool and improve the content on the fly.

I recognize the need to further develop the tagging standards and guidelines that are out there. Hopefully, soon enough I will be able to share more news on that front as well.

Feb 01, 2022

Webinar Series for Barcode Pros – Getting Started with RFID Labels

Last year, we teamed up with TSC Printronix Auto ID and started a webinar series designed for barcode professionals, who are considering expanding their offering to RAIN RFID labels, or who already are at the beginning of that journey. With TSC Printronix Auto ID we saw the need for education as more and more barcode label customers are looking for RFID solutions. 

In the first webinar, What a barcode professional needs to know about RAIN RFID Label and Tag Data, we started from the basics: what are the key aspects of RAIN RFID technology and data, how does RAIN RFID actually work, what are the system components, and most importantly, where can you find more information. 

The second part of the webinar series, What a Barcode Professional Needs to Know about the RAIN RFID Encoding Processes, focused on the practicalities of the RAIN RFID encoding process, equipment, and alternatives. 

In the third webinar, What a Barcode professional needs to know about RAIN RFID label selection and sourcing, scheduled for February 10th, we will cover the most important considerations related to label selection and sourcing process including label specifications, supplier selection, delivery format, handling, and other issues.

Here are my main takeaways from the first two webinars in the series.

Key Takeaways from Part 1 

It is crucial to understand filtering in the context of RFID systems

The nature of RF signals means that they can go through walls and various other materials. A RAIN RFID reader can read a large number of tags simultaneously and without a line of sight, which is, in comparison, required for reading barcodes. For example, when you are inventorying tagged items in storage, your system could be reading tags behind a wall that should not be included in your inventory. Setting up tag filtering correctly ensures that your application works accurately, and that requires following proper data encoding processes. 

There are 9 RFID tags on the wall, but the reader found 54 tags.

There is no “one size fits for all” RAIN tag

What do you need to know about RAIN RFID tags when looking for a tag for your customer? The difference between a barcode label and an RFID label is that the RFID label includes an IC (microchip) and an antenna. Together the IC and the antenna make up an RFID inlay. There are lots of different IC models out there and the type of IC defines what kind of and how much data can be encoded in the tag. The antenna model defines how far the label can be read. Knowing your solution requirements, physical factors such as the label size and item materials, and use cases and data requirements are necessary for finding the best tag for your solution.

Do not use a proprietary numbering system

Keeping the importance of filtering in mind, it is crucial to understand the basics of RAIN RFID encoding systems, i.e., how you are putting data into a tag. There are three data standard families available for RAIN RFID tag encoding

Following one of the established data standards ensures there won’t be issues with tag filtering (and application errors) along the road.

The fourth option is to use your own proprietary encoding systems – Please do not do it! Or if you do, you need to “wrap” your system within the ISO standard or the RAIN numbering system.

Selecting the data standard to use often depends on your customer or the industry you are operating in. Some customers may mandate that you use a specific standard, and many industries have a mandated or de-facto standard in use to ensure interoperability.

Above are my key learnings of Part 1, but many more topics and details were discussed. Watch the webinar to learn more about each of the data standard families, including the structure of the different numbering systems and example use cases, as well as the basics of data security. Webinar part two dives deeper into the standard selection process and the specific advantages of the different standards.

Key Takeaways from Part 2

Label Manufacturing Process

The label manufacturing process includes three steps. In the first step, the IC is attached to the antenna, creating an inlay. In the second step, the inlays are converted in a common backing material called a liner, creating a blank label. In the third step, data is printed on and encoded into the label, creating a finished label.

While the process itself is simple, the manufacturing machines are quite complex. Watch the webinar to learn more ›

Encoding Equipment Types and Process

The suitable type of encoding equipment depends on the volume of tags that need to be encoded. The more sophisticated machines that can process high volumes at high speed naturally come with a higher cost.

An RFID reader can be used as an encoder but it is not an efficient permanent solution.

An RFID printer is purpose-built for encoding and is best suitable for small rolls and batches. They can be affordable and process up to some thousands of labels per hour.

High throughput personalization machines can take in larger rolls and process up to one hundred thousand tags per hour, but they also come with a higher cost.

And finally, encoding can also be integrated into product production or packaging lines.

Watch the webinar recording to dive deeper into the IC selection factors, encoding process steps, RAIN tag memory details, as well as tag locking and passwords – ensuring the right data is encoded in the right way.

The Personalization Process

The personalization process includes both printing data on the label and encoding the tags. The printed data can be the same data that’s in the RFID tag or include additional information. 

High throughput personalization lines often process labels in successive stations. Combining the print and encoding in a high-speed personalization process requires accurate triggering for all the steps and making sure the stations match the process flow.

An example of personalization stations in a high throughput personalization process.

Using an RFID printer for personalization is a good option for smaller-scale projects. An RFID printer prints the barcode and other designed details on the label as well as encodes and verifies the RAIN tag data.

Part 3: RAIN RFID Tag Selection and Sourcing

Learn the most important aspects of label selection and sourcing, including label specifications, supplier selection, and delivery format.

Oct 28, 2021

RAIN RFID on Label Processing Machines: An Overview to Help with Your Choices

Traditional label producers entering the RAIN RFID business are faced with strategic and practical questions:

In this third blog of the series created with NXP® Semiconductors, we specifically address production machinery. Read on to learn about the machine types, what approaches to consider, and how to avoid pitfalls that would cost you time, money, and nerves.

Yes, There Is a Growing Market!

RAIN RFID adoption is growing at an unprecedented rate; with those markets that have already seen the benefits of the technology, such as retail and automotive, continuing their adoption. Other markets are emerging, for example parcel services, which is driven by the e-commerce boom.

Majority of these applications are based on RAIN enabled labels being added to the item. If you are already supplying labels to consumable products, the day will come when your customer asks you to add the RAIN labels on your supply program.

It Is Easy to Get Started with Outsourced Inlays

If you already have the ability to produce labels, adding RAIN RFID inlay on the backside of your current products would be one easy way to get started. You will need a capable inlay vendor, and you will need to teach the basics of RAIN RFID to your sales and production staff. Investments required to upgrade your current machines are modest, and inlay vendors are easy to find.

As you learn and build your customer base, it is possible later to expand your business also to cover the inlay part. At that point you will likely need to do a few new hires for development and production, as well as make investments on new machinery – the stakes become higher.

Manufacturing Process is No Magic

The manufacturing process of smart labels follows quite a standardized flow, as in the picture below. While some companies cover most of the process steps in-house, other manufacturers have assumed a more networked business model. Traceability across processes is a tremendous asset for failure root cause analysis, which is one cornerstone for enabling continuous improvement in any organization.

The three essential machine types that you should become familiar with are presented in the next picture:

Let’s understand these machine types and some of the related choices.

The IC Attach Machine Is Where the Inlay Quality is Achieved

The main technologies are flip-chip, and direct die attach. The RAIN IC placement on the dipole antenna requires high precision. Precision, combined with high line speed and sophisticated mount pressure control, makes the IC placement head the most expensive subassembly of the whole machine. You should make sure that the placement head is compatible with current and future RAIN IC’s.

As you look at the machines, you will quickly realize that the number of lanes in the machines varies. Multilane machines typically have higher throughput than single-lane machines, at the expense of added machine complexity. On the positive side, a multilane machine does not need that high line speed to reach an impressive throughput, which may lead to a more straightforward technical construction on the IC placement head. If you’re focusing on bulk, go with a multilane system.

A single lane IC attach machine is less complicated and thus easier to operate. It’s also easier to configure for new antenna models, making it better suited for smaller production runs. The capital investment is also lower.

Three Topologies of Converting Machines

In label converting, different material layers are added on top or under the inlay. There may also be cutting and testing involved. Converting machinery is more versatile, but three separate machine families can be found:

You can have a single lane machine that runs in a continuous mode very fast. Alternatively, you have a multilane machine running slower, and even in intermittent mode. At the end of such a machine, you may have a cutting and slitting module to separate single reels from a web.

A third approach, especially for traditional label suppliers, is to start with an industrial press, and add an inlay insertion section on the machine. An outcome is a multilane machine running in continuous mode.

Personalization Makes Labels Unique

Personalization focuses on getting the data right. Data on the tag is stored both in optical and electrical forms. Therefore, most personalization machines handle both printing and RFID encoding.

While that may sound trivial, managing the data, performing all the needed data conversions correctly, and keeping all the process peripherals in sync is easier said than done. When process speed increases, you will need to pay more attention to details, such as triggering. When working with variable data, you should make sure the optical markings match the unique identifier encoded in the RAIN IC.

Got Machines Already? Consider a Retrofit

It is often possible to retrofit the needed RAIN RFID peripherals on an existing production machine. With a low capital expenditure and a short lead time you’re able to pursue your first RAIN projects.

Voyantic delivers solutions to control sub processes, manage the data between the processes and keep both data and sub processes in sync. We also offer transferable bolt-on alternatives. Such frames come complete with the needed sensors, cabling and antennas, and won’t require changes on the signaling of your current machine.

You don’t need to figure all these details out. Let our experts talk with your machine vendor, and come up with a proposal!

Contact us


On-Demand Webinar:

Quality Management Approaches in RAIN RFID and NFC Manufacturing

Hear industry experts share their experiences in RFID tag manufacturing and quality management. The webinar includes case examples and presentations on how to set quality goals, which standards are relevant, and best practices for quality testing — from setting up the quality program to managing the day-to-day activities.

Watch now

Sep 30, 2021

The First-Ever Global RAIN RFID Tyre Expo – Recap

The third Engage Again Virtual Conference by AIM and RAIN Alliance took place September 8-9, 2021 and this time it was co-located with the first-ever RAIN RFID Tyre Expo – an event solely dedicated to the technology and use cases of RAIN RFID enabled tyres. The Tyre Expo was targeted atr people from all aspects of the tyre world including tyre manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and vehicle makers as well as technology and solution providers.

The conference program covered a wide range of interesting topics, that were arranged on three parallel tracks. Rumor has it that the Tyre Expo conference track continuously attracted an average of 60 people, making it the most attended track of the Engage Again event.

1. The Secret Sauce

Voyantic naturally took part in the fun as well, as a sponsor and by presenting together with Hana Technologies. Also, Juho Partanen from Voyantic moderated an expert panel discussion on the key levers for the growth or RAIN RFID adoption across the tyre industry.

Watch the panel discussion recording

In their presentation, Teemu Ainasoja from Voyantic and Randall Grein from Hana Technologies shared the story of how millions of Hana Technologies manufactured and Voyantic tested RAIN RFID tags have been successfully embedded into tyres, and at the same time, paved the way for other tyre manufacturers who are not yet working with RAIN. The technology and processes have been established, tested, and proven as tens of millions tyres are source tagged in 2021!

Watch the presentation recording

Teemu Ainasoja & Randall Grein on the stage

Combining the messages from these two presentations: the secret sauce to success is collaboration across company borders. It applies both on 100% successful source tagging of tyres, information sharing within supply chains, as well as accelerating the adoption of RAIN technology across the tyre value chain.

Enabling source tagging of tyres was not easy. There were technical and other hurdles to overcome. Now, those hurdles are passed and any new tyre manufacturer can jump on-board the tyre tagging train quite easily.

2. Looking into the future

Voyantic had a good crowd of employees attending the conference. Here are some of the key takeaways our staff shared from the event.

  • The RAIN tagging of tyres is driven by traceability needs thorough the tire life cycle, not only through the supply chain. The circular economy seems to be another long-term driver.
  • The tagging penetration in 2021 is around 3-4 %, still adding up to tens of millions of tires. The volume is projected to leap to a few hundreds of millions by 2024, as Michelin extends tagging to cover all passenger car tyres, in addition to truck and transport vehicle tyres that are already tagged today.
  • Embedded tags seem to become the dominant application method, however, it is not clear whether embedded tags can deliver the needed reading performance through the whole supply chain. That would leave the market open for sticker-type tagging specifically in tyre distribution and sales.

Siemens believes that RAIN tagging of tyres will become an industry-wide norm. Quote of the week came from Dieter Horst of Siemens “tires are not conceivable in the future without RFID connectivity”.


Voyantic offers RAIN RFID testing and encoding systems for tyre manyfacturers’ systems. The systems include:

  • Tagformance system with C50 measurement chamber / C100 measurement chamber / C150 measurement chamber for anyone developing tags for tyres or tyre tagging.
  • Tagsurance system for production quality testing of RAIN RFID tags, including tyre tags.

Aug 18, 2021

Smart Label Durability – Bring Facts to the Table

When there is a need to increase smart label production volumes, it can be done by adding new machinery, more lanes to existing machinery, or by increasing production speeds. All these methods are in use, and they are combined frequently. For example, new production machines have more lanes and higher lane speeds.

At Voyantic, we are seeing that increasing lane speeds combined with smart label component development has put durability testing into the spotlight. In this article, I analyze the reasons behind the increased interest in smart label durability testing, and I will share the basics of the test methodology.

Why is the interest in durability testing increasing?

I believe that part of the increased interest can be seen as a healthy sign of technology maturation and market growth. RAIN RFID and NFC just work. Technology suppliers do not have to fight with the basic functionality and the focus is shifting to scalability. Outside of some special use cases, durability has been taken as given.

Let’s have a look at the drivers that are now challenging label durability.

Decreasing IC sizes

The latest generation of RAIN tag ICs is becoming smaller. When ICs are getting smaller, a natural question is what happens to the connection between the IC, the antenna, and the liner. And what is the effect on the inlay durability?

The latest generation of RAIN tag ICs is becoming smaller

The transition from plastic to paper-based labels

Due to ecological aspects, paper is used increasingly as label base material. The “stickiness” of antennas and ICs to paper is different compared to a plastic liner. Paper also stretches and bends differently than PET.

All paper is not just paper, but different additives and fillers are used to create different properties. All these properties, whiteness, polishing, and so on, may affect how the antenna and IC stick to the paper. Finally, add humidity as an environmental variable, and the durability of the paper-based label needs to be studied for sure.

Faster IC attach processes and new bonding epoxies

IC attach machine speeds keep on increasing and the machine vendors are working their way towards 100,000 UPH. The stress to an inlay with a freshly attached IC is higher when lane speeds increase. There is also less time to cure the bonding glues, which has led to new glues being introduced. These new glues require less time to cure, but may need higher curing temperatures. Again, a question about durability comes up: How to fine-tune the bonding process so that the label durability is not compromised?

Faster converting machines

Converting process speeds are also increasing. Higher machine speeds stress the inlays and labels. An obvious worst-case to avoid would be inlays starting to break already during the converting process. Do the inlays survive intact through these fast processes?

Label type NFC tags

Traditionally a label has been one of the major RAIN RFID tag formats. NFC tags have been made more as smart cards, various key fobs, and other more rigid formats. Lately, NFC label production has also started to grow. This extends the label durability question from RAIN RFID to also NFC. Are NFC labels also durable enough to survive through the label life cycle?

All the above changes are happening in parallel. The combined outcome is what matters. Are the inlays durable with all the new materials, components, and processes?

Standard durability test method

Test principles

The basic principle of durability testing is to compare a meaningful parameter before and after a stress, and to analyze the results to determine whether the stress creates unwanted consequences. Because the tags under testing are stressed, potentially to the point of breaking them, the method cannot be used for testing every individual tag. It is rather used to test the designs, and indirectly the manufacturing processes.

For many electronics products, heat cycling is a standard durability test method. Also, drop tests, pressure tests, tumble tests, and shear tests are frequently used. For smart labels, the default test method is bend testing. The need for bend testing comes from the typical smart label failure methods.

The two most likely points to fail in smart labels are chip bonding and the edges of the IC. Bend testing is a way to verify the sufficient durability of both of these possible failure points.

Test method

At the beginning of the test, a baseline performance needs to be measured. The baseline performance of the sample set consists of the threshold sweep result of each of the tags in the sample. The threshold sweeps can be done with Voyantic Tagsurance® devices. The curves describe how much power is needed for waking up the tags at different frequencies.

Threshold sweeps of 98 pieces of RAIN RFID inlays before the durability testing

After the baseline test, stress is applied to the tags, and then the tag performance is tested again.

This cycle of test rounds and stressing the labels are repeated until a targeted performance decrease has been reached. The more test rounds an inlay (label) survives, the better is the durability test result aka durability rating.

Threshold sweeps of 98 pieces of RAIN RFID inlays after several rounds of stressing

The test method document describes the details of the test parameters and stress parameters.

Download the detailed standard test method description

Special tags

There are some special tags where bend testing is not (the only) relevant durability test method. For example, aerospace tags are tested according to the SAE AS5678 standard, which defines environmental conditions such as temperatures, vibration, etc., which the tag must sustain. With these standards, the tag is stressed with vibration and extreme temperatures instead of the typical bend testing, which is designed to highlight the common failure methods of cracked bonding and cracked ICs.

The same test principles can also be combined with other durability testing methods. For example, laundry tags could be tested using ISO15797 standard, which defines how garments are stressed with washing cycles. The idea is the same: to find out whether the tag performance decreases too much when stress is applied.

Also, specialty tags that are intended to be used in extreme conditions, exposed to heat, cold, or chemicals, should be tested in combination with applicable stress methods. IEC60068-2 standards (environmental testing of electronics products) provide help for these. IEC60068-2-2 (dry heat) and IEC60068-2-14 (temperature variation) are likely useful methods, and both can be combined with Tagsurance testing. The IEC60068 family also includes test methods for different mechanical stress types, chemicals, humidity, and so on.

In these special tag durability tests the RFID testing, both baseline and the test after stress, can be made with Tagsurance® systems. Between the RF tests, different stress is applied with the Voyantic Bendurance machine.

Voyantic Bendurance™

How durable is good?

An obvious question related to durability testing is: How durable is durable enough? Or: How durable is good and what is not good enough?

There is no clear answer to these excellent questions. Laundry standard ISO15797 has its criteria and a way to define what is durable enough. SAE AS5678 similarly has its criteria for aerospace tags. But those criteria cannot be extended to other use cases and tag types.

One answer could be: Durable enough is when a smart label survives its intended life cycle. That answer does not help in practice.

Another way is to look at comparison data. It doesn’t give a simple answer but probably helps in practice. If an inlay is as durable as others, most likely it is durable enough. And on the other hand, if an inlay is less durable than a typical inlay, a closer look should be taken, and possibly an improvement is needed.

Comparison data in mind we tested some dry inlays with the following results.

Change of dry inlay yield after each test round

There were significant differences in the dry inlay durability. With the weakest dry inlay model, over 90 % of the inlays broke beyond specified performance with the first test round. The strongest inlays survived more than 10 stress rounds.

  • About 20 % of the dry inlays got a durability rating of 1-3
  • About 60 % of the dry inlays got a durability rating of 4-9
  • And about 20 % of the dry inlays got a durability rating of 10 or higher
  • Median durability rate for all the tested dry inlays was 4, and average about 5.5

This suggests that dry inlay durability could be considered typical if the durability rating is between 4 and 9.

Summary

Faster manufacturing machines and new materials have increased the need for testing the durability of RAIN RFID and NFC inlays.

Voyantic Bendurance is a durability test system focusing on bending, the typical failure mechanism of the inlays. Bendurance with its standard test method gives comparable durability data of the inlays.

A similar approach can also be used with other durability testing such as the SAE AS5678 test for aerospace tags, ISO15797 tests for laundry tags and tags integrated into apparel, and IEC60068-2 for durability against extreme temperatures, other types of mechanical stress, chemicals, and so on.

Download the standard test method description

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Oct 21, 2020

Sourcing ARC Certified Labels – Harder Than You Think

日本語版 Japanese version

This blog post has been edited after its original publishing. The edits with their justifications are listed at the end of the post.

The COVID-19 pandemic has motivated many companies, including us, to develop and improve different business areas. We started a project studying ARC certified labels, which first required us to get our hands on as many certified labels as possible. We had a plan to source 179 different labels, 50-100 pieces per label, from 16 label manufacturers.

Disclaimer: the pandemic affected the response and wait times for the labels. But even after taking this into consideration, it turned out that sourcing these RFID labels is hard, and requires a significant time investment. In this blog, we take a closer look at how the sourcing process unraveled.

Contacting Suppliers

We started the sourcing process from scratch: searched for the product online and utilized the company websites’ contact information for companies that supply ARC certified labels. This information was easily found, but we didn’t find any possibilities to purchase labels online. As we reached out to the companies, it became clear that we had encountered one of the main obstacles throughout this sourcing process.

About 50% of all the companies did not reply to our initial contact request. None of the companies with a contact form on the company website replied to the original message. In contrast, all companies that had a direct email address to a contact person on their website responded quickly. To reach the 50% that didn’t reply anything, we decided to look for familiar connections that someone at the office knew to get a response and to move forward with the project.

If the first inquiry goes unanswered, I wonder how many potential customers these days simply go with another supplier.

With no previous connections within the industry, we would probably not have been able to get more than half of the labels. Voyantic has been in the industry for over 15 years and we are well networked with tag suppliers. New companies that are interested in starting with RFID technology, however, might not start at all if it is this difficult to get relevant information and samples.

Starting Small Should Be an Option

Small order quantity seemed to be an issue for some companies and required special arrangements and more detailed information. The combination of poor communication and large sample quantities is not very inviting for new companies to start using RFID technology. Increasing awareness and lowering the bar of trying the technology without a significant investment could be crucial for spreading the use of RFID technology.

Customer Research or Interrogation?

We received a lot of questions about our purchase inquiry, e.g., could you share the purpose of your testing, and how will you use the results? Are you sourcing from other companies too? We had limited information to share about the use of the test results at this moment, and this seemed to be the other main issue in this process and, in some cases, even an insurmountable obstacle for purchasing the labels. Sharing this information shouldn’t be a requirement for buying label samples. It is good to gather information on how your customers are using your products to better meet their needs, but not to an extent where it makes the purchasing process slow and difficult or even impossible.

On a Positive Note

Despite the obstacles faced with many companies, some were straightforward to cooperate with and performed exemplary compared to the others. Some companies responded to the sample request the same day, and their samples were received within the following weeks. Some of the requested samples were obsolete, and some had been replaced with new ones, which slowed down the order process for some suppliers as it was very time consuming to agree on sufficient replacement products. However, one company was very helpful when we noticed the label we were looking for wasn’t available anymore. They suggested a comparable label that was shipped within a week.

Highs and Lows of Sample Tag Sourcing

Since we started this project at the beginning of March, we managed to obtain samples from 13 companies by July, but never got the labels from 3 other companies.

Most companies were easy to cooperate with, but in many cases, the sourcing process was extended by additional communications. A good network has been crucial to source the label samples, but also new connections were established, which is always positive.

As a recommendation to tag suppliers, we want to point out that sample orders can be the start of a new, long-lasting customer relationship, which is a good reason to process sample orders with the same importance as regular orders.

Edit on October 22nd 2020. After careful consideration and valuable feedback received from people commenting on the blog, we decided to omit references to specific companies. We feel that it is somewhat unfair to publicly praise some companies at the expense of others based on this sourcing experiment. There may be many reasons why companies have had different reactions to our requests, one of them being that they have recognized Voyantic as not a normal buyer. Finally, we still believe that the topic is important, and our sincere intention is to try to point out something that may be a problem in the industry, not specific companies.

Read more about buying tags from the buyers’s perspective. Download our free RAIN RFID tag buyer’s guide to get a more comprehensive understanding and an example request for a quotation!

Download the RFID Tag Buyer’s Guide

Learn what to ask when buying RFID tags.
Get our example request for quotation to help you get relevant quotes.

Sep 10, 2020

Successful RAIN RFID Use is Based on Continuous Improvement

日本語版 Japanese version

Voyantic is mostly working with RFID technology providers. But I still discuss regularly with RAIN RFID users about their projects and challenges they have seen.

  • missing reads
  • stray reads
  • occasional faulty tags or readers
  • after a small change something doesn’t work anymore
  • and so on

The smaller technical issues often have a root cause in approach to RAIN RFID, especially how it is treated from a continuous improvement point of view. Sometimes (often) RAIN RFID is seen as a one-off IT project. The initial implementation often is an IT project, but when the system is taken into use, the project should not just be signed as complete, but it should be transitioned to the relevant operational organization and under continuous improvement. From this point of RFID has its own particulars.

Already in the implementation project, the continuous use should be taken into account. During the project, it is important to establish the specifications:

  • specify the tags including
    • performance
    • quality
    • tagging
  • specify the readers

Create a Tag Specification for Your RAIN RFID System

When specifying, use standards such as GS1 TIPP, or other methods to specify the performance. An unfortunately common way is to specify a tag or reader model. With a rapidly developing technology such as RFID, tying systems into specific component models is not the best long term approach.

Example of a tagging specification; what elements a specification should contain

This specification is the cornerstone of continuous improvement.

Establish Continuous Improvement and Problem-solving Practices

In several discussions, I have shared a version of a below continuous improvement outline. Let’s build the model step by step to see what it means in RAIN RFID use.

Let’s start with the basic: Do, Measure, Improve cycle.

When this is translated into the world of RAIN RFID use, the elements could be described as in below picture. The specification is the cornerstone of the continuous improvement cycle.

Next, let’s add some details:

Operations refers in this case to the RFID related operations. In-house operations related to RAIN RFID are reading the tags and possibly writing the tags, And then depending on the make or buy decisions, items are tagged, and someone is manufacturing the tags. All of these actions should be based on the specification: What are the tag requirements, how the items are tagged, how the tags are read.

When any system is used long enough, something changes. These changes should be reflected as changes in the specifications.

  • The changes and problems can be noticed reactively, that is: User notices that something is wrong, for example, missing reads in inventory counting, and reports the issue through proper channels.
  • The changes can be recognized proactively: There can be various checkpoints in the process and change implementations. Tagged items can be randomly tested; tags can be tested, new tag suppliers can be evaluated, etc.

If a proactive approach is used, suitable test methods need to be applied. The right approach is to have an in-house RFID test lab.

The same RFID test lab can also be used in problem-solving.

Implementing continuous improvement processes during the RAIN RFID implementation project helps to get the most out of the technology and investment. Transferring the RAIN RFID solution with development practices from project organization to operations ensures successful long term RAIN RFID use.

If you would like to discuss your RFID implementation or learn more about possibilities to set up an RFID lab, please contact Voyantic and request an online demo.