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Internet of Things (IoT)

Internet of things - smart city | © smart-TEC GmbH & Co. KG

The term "Internet of Things" generally refers to the networking of objects - both with each other and with the Internet. In the non-commercial sector, these are everyday objects, while in the industrial sector they are machines and many other static or moving objects. The requirement for objects to be able to communicate with each other via a network is suitable hardware, such as sensors or industrial transponders.

How the IoT works

The Internet of Things, or IoT, can be describes as a network via which "smart objects" are able to communicate with each other. Each of these intelligent objects can be identified via a unique address. For humans, it is therefore possible to specifically address each object via the Internet. Although humans are essentially responsible for managing and controlling the IoT objects, a high degree of influence is not the objective. It is much more about enabling the objects - through an Internet connection - to act independently, to make situational decisions themselves or to adapt to certain scenarios. This is simultaneously the key advantage: Inputs from users are becoming obsolete, since the IoT objects are able to take care of the input of tasks themselves.

Complete networking of the real and virtual worlds

The declared goal of the Internet of Things is to break down the barriers between the real and the virtual worlds. In the final stage, every object should be able to continuously communicate data regarding its current state via the Internet. Unlike in the consumer sector, the Internet of Things affects products, goods, production equipment and entire production processes in industry. For this to happen, intelligent industrial transponders need to be used that allow objects and machines to be constantly present on the Internet. Accordingly, RFID and NFC technologies, which smart-TEC offers, are regarded as a crucial element of the Internet of Things. With the transponder, for example, it is possible to plan and control production processes better or to improve machine maintenance. The workflows involved are made more efficient as a result. Costs and time spent are reduced, while at the same time safety and quality can be increased.

RFID and NFC as core technologies of the Internet of Things

Transponders for networking objects existed long before digitisation began. smart-TEC has already been successfully developing, manufacturing and marketing RFID and NFC solutions for over a decade. In the context of the Internet of Things, these technologies are now moving more into focus than ever before. Compared to other approaches, RFID and NFC have several advantages. The transponders are very small, allowing them to be used virtually anywhere. Even passive RFID systems, i.e. transponders without their own energy supply, are able to cover ranges from 5 to over 10 metres. With active transponders, which are larger and also more expensive, reading ranges of up to 100 metres are possible.

Transponder information in many respects represents the basis of the IoT and therefore also of Industry 4.0, a much-discussed topic currently. Core elements include the transfer of information, localisation and the unique identification of objects such as machines, equipment, storage and transport containers, (semi-finished) products and tools. All of these objects need to not only be able to reveal information about themselves, but they must also be networkable with each other in order to communicate.

With the aid of RFID and NFC, it is also possible to read machine data which is sent in the form of automated status information to a defined group of recipients. This way, any faults are far less serious than previously. The reason? Thanks to the IoT, production facilities are able to divert workpieces to other systems so that no interruptions are caused. In the meantime, the faulty machine automatically requests are repair. Of course, transponder technologies also generally form the backbone of functioning machine-to-machine (M2M) communication.

RFID and NFC transponders can also remain on a product, yielding numerous advantages in terms of traceability. As a result, it is possible to trace a product's entire lifecycle. Production, storage, transport, use by the customer and disposal or recycling - every step becomes transparent and traceable. This provides benefits for everyone involved with these processes, including not only manufacturers but also logistics companies, retailers, maintenance and repair service providers and disposal companies.

Production controls itself

Information on RFID / NFC transponders can - unlike with a barcode, for example - not only be read, but also changed. This is done using bidirectional communication with a reader. This gives rise to numerous advantages for the production process. In the industrial Internet of Things, each material carries a transponder containing all of the information needed for the processes involved with production. These may be organisational characteristics such as the material number, material or dimensions. More important, however, is the current status information that the transponder contains in its most up-to-date form thanks to bidirectional communication. Production facilities are able to read this data to determine a specific workpiece's processing status. Production equipment is then in turn able to autonomously decide on further production process steps and to respond to unplanned changes in a flexible manner.

In summary, this means that the factory of the future will control its material and goods streams entirely by itself, using smart objects that are equipped with RFID or NFC transponders.

Countless other areas of application can be imagined

Of course, the Internet of Things is not restricted to industrial production and logistics. Intelligent objects will be making their way in the not-too-distant future into every conceivable aspect of life. One fast-growing area of NFC application, for example, is mobile payment. With this concept, payment systems are used that process financial transactions via smart cards or mobile phones. This saves the user from having to carry change, for example to use at tills, at vending machines, on buses or on trams.

Intelligent labels, known as RFID or NFC labels, also offer a wealth of highly interesting applications for the smart home. Just a few examples include access controls for apartments and homes, burglary and theft protection and energy control. RFID technology essentially allows objects in the home to communicate with each other. The small size of the transponders means that they can be easily integrated into objects such as heaters, lights, smoke detectors or blinds. The concepts for developments are going even further than this, however. One key example is the refrigerator which is independently able to provide information on its current contents and any missing products. Crucial here is that the objects in the refrigerator - i.e. the food or their packaging - is able to transfer data to the household device. Products could also provide information about their origin, transport route, production and use-by date. RFID and NFC technology can also be used for this purpose. It is also conceivable that users will be able to be guided around the supermarket to the objects they need via an App.

Intelligent clothing may even be possible. In this case, an RFID chip would tell the washing machine wirelessly which wash cycle and which temperature is needed.

Summary

The Internet of Things, i.e. the complete networking of objects with each other and the Internet, brings potential for optimisation on an unimagined scale for companies. In the non-commercial sector too, intelligent objects will make our lives more comfortable. smart-TEC is making a key contribution with its solutions to ensuring that the IoT is able to become more and more a reality in years to come.