The Importance of RFID Equipment Enclosures

During the past ten years, I've seen some pretty scary RFID installations: antennas mounted on plywood, readers screwed into concrete above dock doors, exposed wires, and the list goes on. In this edition of The RFID Network we’re going to take a look at the importance of RFID equipment enclosures.

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No matter what kind of environment you’re in, one of the most important accessories required for an RFID solution are mounting brackets and equipment enclosures. The reality is many people don't think about these important items until after everything else is ordered. Not surprisingly, people are focused on readers, antennas, power and cabling.  They forget to consider how equipment will be physically incorporated in their operations. Selecting the right enclosure may be as important as choosing the right reader.

What should you consider when shopping for equipment enclosures? Here are several questions to ask:

1. What are the physical installation requirements?
2. Can the enclosure hold the equipment in the position needed for optimal performance?
3. Are there security requirements?
4. What ths cost?

How NOT to mount an RFID antennaDuring the past few years, I've seen some pretty scary RFID installations: antennas mounted on plywood, readers screwed into concrete above dock doors, exposed wires, and the list goes on. Take the picture to the right as an example. The antenna is simply clamped to a bollard next to a dock door. There is no protection for the antenna; a simple bump will cause the antenna placement to move which will adversely affect read performance, plus the wires connecting it to the reader are exposed. This is an excellent example of what not to do.

1. What are the physical installation requirements?

rfid industrial enclosure for a dock door

The first consideration is what equipment does it need to hold? Will it house just a single antenna (pictured left), or a complete outfit including multiple antennas, reader, uninterruptible power supply (UPS), program logic controllers (PLC) and wiring? Be sure to carefully calculate dimensions, volume, and weight requirements.

Consider the location where the equipment is be installed. Will the enclosure be sitting on the concrete floor, or be mounted to the wall or even the ceiling? If it's a portal, such as a doorway, will the enclosure protrude into the walkway? In this case, can the enclosure be recessed into the wall? Will the mounting location support the weight for all equipment plus the enclosure weight or is additional structural support needed?

Are there physical appearance requirements? An equipment enclosure for a retail sales floor will undoubtedly have aesthetic requirements not necessary for a stock room. Corporate colors and logos may need to be added.

Does the unit have cable channels and conduits large enough to accommodate all of the wires?

Can it support light indicators, motion sensors, photo-eyes, UPS, PLC, and other accessories that may be needed?

If you are installing hundreds or even thousands of read points, the time and effort required may be enormous. Can one person install the enclosure or does it require multiple people? Some enclosures are so bulky that two strong individuals are needed just to lift it. This can quickly doubles labor costs.

What tools are needed? Special screws require special screw drivers. Try to avoid the having to bring a big tool box to the instllation location. Some enclosures on the market today are tool-less, and use thumbscrews or snap-to-fit components.

How easy is the unit to service once it's installed? How fast can a reader, antenna, or accessory be replaced?

rfid industrial mounting for a conveyor belt

2. Can the enclosure hold the equipment in the position needed for optimal performance?

A lot of time and effort can go into the design of a read point. Engineers may determine antennas should be at a specific height and particular angles. If the enclosure cannot accommodate the optimal equipment position, then system performance will ultimately suffer.

Antenna mounts should have adjustable height and angle positions. You may need the ability to "cant" the antennas, especially at dock door read points. Refer to the picture on the left. You'll note that the upper antenna is "canted" down while the lower antenna is at a 90 degree angle to the floor. The read point may also need to have the antenna angled towards or away from the dock door.

Enclosures should be equipment agnostic. In the future a decision may be made to upgrade your current readers and/or antennas with a new model or one from a different manufacturer. You don't want to have to replace your enclosures as well.

Of course, the enclosure must protect the equipment.

What are the environmental conditions? When building an exterior portal, such as a dock door, consider the elements that may come through the door. Will rain and/or snow be coming through the door?

What are the temperature and humidity extremes? Will the equipment require cooling in extremely hot locations or de-humidifying in refrigerator or freezer environments? Is a fan required to ventalation? If so, consider how the fan will let dirt in.

Will the enclosure keep out the muck? There will always be dirt and dust, but in industrial environments you'll also find grease and occasionally even metal filings or wood chips from manufacturing machinery.

Bollards are strongly recommended. I have seen the results of a forklift impact on an RFID enclosure and it's not pretty. It is important that bollards (the yellow cement poles) or a bumper are installed to protect your enclosure.

The "Furniture" factor. One of the most eye-opening experiences I ever had was during a warehouse installation. The team was setting up a dock door portal. As we returned from our lunch break, two operations personnel were having a discussion next to the door. One gentleman had placed his coffee cup on top of the equipment enclosure. Keep in mind enclosures may be used as a coat rack, a coffee cup holder, a leaning post, and serve numerous other functions you would never imagineRFID antenna enclosure

They will also get kicked, banged, bumped, and slammed; often by accident, but occasionally on purpose. Which leads to the next point:

3. Are there security requirements?

Are there security requirements? Is a lock on the enclosure necessary to prevent unauthorized access or prevent tampering? Always educate staff regarding RFID technology so they aren't concerned their jobs are at risk because of the new technology. Be sure to tell everyone the equipment is not meant to track them, unless it is.

4. Cost

Mounting solutions that use brackets typically cost in the hundreds of dollars while a fully dressed portal starts at around $1,000. Don't forget shipping costs.

Hopefully, I've helped point out the most obvious reasons why enclosures are an important part of your RFID solution.

Jamison Industrial PortalsHopefully, we’ve helped point out some the more obvious reasons why enclosures are an important part of your RFID solution.  If you would like more detailed information, please visit the Industrial Portals website by clicking on the logo to the right. If you’re not familiar with Jamison Industrial Portals, they’re a division of Jamison Door Company which has been around for over 100 years and focuses on building high quality industrial doors. The Industrial Portals division was created in 2005 due to customer demand for quality housing for RFID equipment, has since become world’s largest producer of RFID portals, pedestals, mounting components, and custom designed RFID enclosures. Jamison services over 6000 warehouse, retail, and supply chain customers.

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0 #1 Guest 2011-08-22 18:12
I am just getting started in radio frequency industry. It is useful for me. Thank you!

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