Getting Started with RFID Reader Modules

Unlike finished RFID readers that can be deployed right out of the box, reader modules are associated with a product development cycle. This document is intended to guide you through the development cycle and to help you understand how finished readers differ from RFID reader modules.

Differences Between Finished Readers and Reader Modules

At the most basic level, a finished RFID reader will include a processor, memory, power supply, antenna connectors, and a durable case built around an RFID reader module. Out of the box, a finished RFID reader is ready for deployment and, when paired with an RFID antenna, is capable of reading RFID tags.

Reader modules are components of custom developed RFID readers (requiring custom engineering) that must be paired with a motherboard, provided with a power source, as well as be connected to an antenna in order to read RFID tags.

Ideal Customer Profile for RFID Reader Modules

Where the ideal customer for a finished reader is an individual who may lack either significant hardware engineering experience or the time to spend on product design and development, module customers have both hardware engineering experience AND a financial incentive to develop from the modular level up. Most module customers fall into one of two categories:

  • RFID enabling an existing product - Some customers already have an electronic device (or a product that contains an electronic device) into which they want to integrate RFID technology. Examples might include a tablet, a smart cabinet, or a thermal transfer printer.
  • Developing a new product with RFID capability - Some customers are creating an entirely new product into which they want to design RFID capability

Advantages of RFID Reader Modules

For both of the customers mentioned above, reader modules provide several advantages:

  • Price - Because the customer only pays for the hardware that the application requires, mass scale implementations are often much more cost-effective when the project leverages RFID reader modules. In this case, the customer can avoid readers that are otherwise "over-engineered" for the application in question.
  • Flexibility - when developing using RFID reader modules, the customer has greater flexibility to specify the module's frequency ranges, sensor options (Bluetooth/WiFi/GPS/PoE), and processing power instead of being limited to a finished reader's existing design.
  • Form Factor - Where finished reader come with an existing case, RFID modules enable customers to tailor fit the RFID reader's finished dimensions based on the application's needs.

Product Development Cycle for UHF Reader Modules

ThingMagic recommends a three step process as customers move from proof-of-concept to full scale deployment using RFID reader modules.

  1. Module Development Kit (Software): The first step for customers is to interact with the Development Kit. Customers can use the basic module, chassis, and power adapter to attach antennas and begin reading tags in about an hour. The Mercury API is ready for download to enable a developer to begin writing code and interfacing with the reader module.

    The module development kit is ideal for:

    • Testing different antennas without breaking delicate ports
    • Connecting to a PC and run URA (Universal Reader Assistant) to test in various environments
    • Technical Support - 60 days of tech support is provided as standard.
  2. Sensor Hub (Hardware): Once the software is developed, it is ready to be loaded onto the sensor hub. The Mercury xPRESS Sensor Hub’s ARM Processor allows for compiled code to be tested in a demo or proof-of-concept environment. The xPRESS Sensor Hub comes with the appropriate engineering files that may be needed to select appropriate form features.

    The xPRESS Sensor Hub is ideal for:

    • Sensor Hub Hardware: Microcontroller based motherboard with any of the optional modules – Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, PoE, GPS – as well as pre-screening for regulatory compliance
    • Loading Compiled Software Code: Developed software – for demonstrations or ready-for-customer use – can be compiled and loaded onto the sensor hub
    • Documentation and Design: Quick-start guide, access to reference design H/W S/W files, schematics, layout files, and Gerber files/BOM component data sheets are accessible in order to provide printed circuit board manufacturers with detailed specifications
  3. Modules at Scale (Mass Production): The xPRESS Sensor Hub allows the end user to design an appropriate printed circuit board that can replace the Sensor Hub inside the finished product. At this point, customers would begin purchasing reader modules themselves in volume.

The steps outlined above represent the best practices for modular RFID deployment as defined by ThingMagic. Attempting to skip a step in the process is strongly discouraged.

Thank you for showing interest in UHF RFID reader modules from Atlas is proud to carry ThingMagic’s line of RFID reader modules:  M6eMicroMicro-LTE, and ThingMagic NANO.

If you have any further questions about RFID reader modules or anything else related to RFID, feel free to contact us.