RFID (radio frequency identification) technology has been gaining rapid adoption in gadget rich environments, such as hospitals, full of equipment that needs continuous tracking. Yet some tools, like metallic hemostats for example, are currently are not embedded with RFID chips because the production process would destroy them. Now researchers from Fraunhofer-Institute for Manufacturing and Advanced Materials IFAM in Bremen have developed a method to safely incorporate RFID chips into metal devices. To us it’s not really clear whether functionality of RFID is affected when what seems like a Faraday’s Cage encapsulates the radio device.
A machine produces a component based on a three-dimensional CAD model, building it layer-by-layer directly from the computer. The laser melts off the areas of each metal powder layer that are intended to be solid. Next, the building platform is lowered and the process restarts until the component is completed. Fraunhofer scientists can control this process in a manner that allows the RFID to be installed and completely encased by the material.
“This new process finally puts the intelligence into the metal component. You can store critical information in the radio tags, like the serial number or the manufacture date. So, for example, companies now can make their top-grade replacement parts tamper-proof and resistant to fraud,” explains project manager Claus Aumund-Kopp. If someone tries to remove the chip, they will wind up destroying it in the attempt. And soon, it will be possible to do more than just reading the identification code. Conceivably, it might even be possible to store information during the period of usage. Experts also envision the potential of this process as it relates to sensors or actuators: With the aid of temperature or expansion sensors, it may be possible to record data on thermal or mechanical stresses on the components.
Press statement from Fraunhofer-Institut für Fertigungstechnik und Angewandte Materialforschung: Intelligence inside metal components