Radio May Be A Sound Salvation

RFID is a Great Place to Start an IIoT Initiative      

The picture being painted of the Internet of Things is so unbelievably compelling, I find myself wondering what I will do with all my free time. The products we use, the clothing we wear, the machines used to make things, and the built environment around us will have the capacity to listen, talk, collaborate, and adapt thereby freeing us up to dream and make bigger, with uncluttered minds that don’t need to make decisions in a messy world. Or so we hear.

This vision was presented to manufacturers in Atlanta, Georgia asking the question of how the internet of things (IoT) was impacting their businesses and many said it was something they wanted to weave into their strategy, but didn’t know quite how to begin. It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes when there are a zillion possibilities, it’s difficult to know where to place your bet.

Many of the manufacturers who have started experimenting with IoT have begun trying it out within their manufacturing operations before launching consumer-facing applications. In fact, you may already have an IoT strategy yourself….

RFID or radio frequency identification devices, at a very basic level, identifies and tracks things. These things can be pieces of inventory, cows at pasture, even patients in a hospital who may be unable to articulate their health records to doctors and nurses. RFID tags can be active or passive, meaning they carry an electric charge or they do not. In recent years, the size and cost of tags, chips, and transponders (the tech that is read by a reader which runs off of a radio frequency) has come down dramatically in price and manufacturers can easily bake them into pallets, bins, or even to the product surface itself.

While chips are inexpensive and can store upwards of 8KB of data, they do have limitations in being embedded in metal and in other materials located near water. Lower frequency chips can be effective in these circumstances, but it is something to watch, regardless.

Some companies are embedding sensors alongside the chips. Now, a product that used to just be able to tell you where it was can also tell you the temperature around it, whether it’s being used in the way it was intended, etc.

You may be saying to yourself, we have never had that level of visibility and we’ve managed to be a profitable company for decades. Why would I go to that level of obsession when there is little need for me to do so?

Better managing risk, and better channels for customer feedback, for starters, but also RFID is an easy way to test an IoT proof of concept. Barilla, the pasta company, recently collaborated with Whirlpool to explore selling kits of pasta, focaccia, and cake that would work in Whirlpool ovens so that heating times would be automated and could be scheduled in order for dinner to be ready and waiting at home after a long day. The companies chose to utilize RFID in order to not connect the oven to the internet and test out the proof of concept in the Italian market. In time, Whirlpool could choose to connect the oven to the internet and gain the ability to handle new recipes and glean useful customer data, but chose to put pragmatic boundaries around an emerging product and build on their successes with a more robust IoT strategy later.

Brian Sather is a product marketing manager at Autodesk. An engineer by trade, he likes taking things apart and putting them back together. Half the things in his home work twice as well as they should, and the other half don’t work at all.

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