The automatic identification of objects can be done in different ways. If an actor retrieves information in a network, identification via RFID technology, barcodes or 2D codes (for example, barcodes) is sufficient. If, in addition, further processing of the data received is desired, the use of data-processing hardware becomes necessary. This must be done above all from an economic point of view, because in addition to low acquisition costs, low energy consumption and low maintenance requirements are elementary for the successful and widespread use of the hardware. According to some experts, the expansion of the Internet of Things will lead to the use of combinations of hardware and software to provide secure and reliable systems.
Only when devices can communicate with each other can data be processed and analyzed in real time. These technologies enable information to be sent and received via radio waves (RFID) or electromagnetic induction (NFC) with simultaneous, unique authentication. It is therefore possible to trace which device sent or received data at what time. This could be, for example, sensors that regularly transmit information. The seamless transfer of information, clear location recognition and unambiguous identification of objects (such as machines, tools, devices) ultimately ensures the successful implementation of IoT and Industry 4.0 projects.
Transponders for networking objects existed long before the advent of digitalization. The manufacturer Smart-Tec, for example, has been developing, producing and selling RFID and NFC solutions for over a decade. In the context of the Internet of Things, however, these technologies are coming more into focus. The transponders are small, which means they can be used almost anywhere. Even passive RFID systems, i.e. transponders without their own energy supply, achieve ranges of five to over ten meters. With active transponders, which are larger and also more expensive, reading ranges of up to 100 meters are possible. Transponder information can form the basis for IoT and Industry 4.0 projects in several respects: Core elements are information transfer, location recognition and the unique identification of objects such as machines, devices, storage and transport containers, (intermediate) products and tools.
All these objects must not only be able to reveal current information about themselves, they must also be able to network with each other in order to communicate. RFID and NFC can also be used to read machine data, which is then sent as automatic status information to a defined group of recipients. In this way, workpieces can be redirected to other production equipment in the event of a system failure, for example. In the meantime, the defective machine may autonomously request maintenance. Transponder technologies also continue to be the basis for machine-to-machine communication (M2M). If the transmitters remain on the product in the factory, they help with traceability in manufacturing. It is possible to trace the complete life cycle of a product. Production, storage, transport, application at the customer and disposal or recycling – all steps can be recorded and tracked.
Many RFID applications possible
Of course, the Internet of Things is not limited to industrial manufacturing and logistics. Intelligent objects could soon find their way into every conceivable area. One rapidly growing NFC application area, for example, is ‘mobile payment’. Here, payment systems are used that process financial transactions via smart card or cell phone. This saves users having to use small change – for example, at checkouts, in vending machines, on buses or in streetcars. So-called RFID or NFC tags also enable applications in the ‘smart home’ sector. Just a few examples are access control for apartments and houses, burglary and theft protection, and energy control. In principle, RFID technology can be used to enable objects in households to communicate with each other – what is known collectively as the smart home. The small size of the transponders means they can be easily integrated into objects such as heaters, lights, smoke detectors or blinds. A current example is the refrigerator, for example, which can independently provide information about its current contents and missing products. The prerequisite here is that the objects in the refrigerator – i.e. the packaging of the food – can transmit data to the household appliance. The products could also provide information about their origin, delivery routes, production and best-before date. RFID and NFC technology can also be used for this purpose. It is also conceivable that users could be guided via app to the specific items they need in the supermarket.