Developing a high-end UHF reader

When Kiman (42) first came into contact with Nedap six years ago through a squash buddy, he thought it was something extraordinary: unlimited vacations, no fixed training budgets, a lot of freedom to fill in your job the way you want to and above all, short lines of communication with other teams. This was a huge difference from the engineering firm where he had previously worked as an electrical engineer. There everything went by the hour and he never felt like the owner of the products he was working on. That changed at Nedap and ‘his child’ was born: the uPASS Target. As an electrical engineer at Nedap, Kiman is involved in the development of UHF technology on a daily basis.

 

Exploring unlimited possibilities

Kiman: “When I started at Nedap I wasn’t at all familiar with UHF technology, let alone with the market for vehicle identification. Right from the start I was given a lot of freedom, I was allowed to decide for myself how I wanted to approach the project. That’s really typical of Nedap: I was trusted with my knowledge and experience.” At the time, Nedap Identification Systems already had a portfolio of readers, including a mid-range reader that can read up to 5 meters. We saw opportunities in the industrial market for a long range reader with a reading distance of 10 meters. This product also had to be robust and fit into a design by an industrial designer, to be further elaborated by a mechanical engineer later.”

“From day one I was supported by colleagues during the design process. Within the business unit we have short lines. As a result, I work closely with the production department, software developers, marketing and sales. Because Nedap has various business units, working for a specific business unit feels like working for a small organisation. However, the level of knowledge is like that of a large organisation. The 6 other business units also have RF engineers. By sparring with other engineers, a mutual knowledge sharing has been created. For example, the business unit Retail uses the same technology as we do, but they apply it differently. The information sharing with the engineers at Nedap Retail has helped me a lot in the development of the uPASS Target.”

Rolls Royce among UHF readers

The uPASS Target is a high-end UHF RFID reader for vehicle identification at long distances. Based on passive UHF technology (± 900 MHz), vehicles are identified at a distance of up to 10 meters. In addition to vehicle identification, the uPASS Target can also be used to identify people or rolling stock. Typical applications include access control of secure areas and monitoring of traffic activity at industrial sites and logistics depots. “We call the uPASS Target the Rolls Royce of UHF readers,” says Kiman, laughing, “the antenna design makes the product unique, the reader we used has great reception sensitivity. That has to do with the module we use. However, because we were developing a high-end product, price was not an issue and we could go for maximum performance. This made the development process fun, even less boundaries to worry about!”

On-the-spot problem solving

“One of the projects I am proud of is the application of the uPASS Target in the parking garage of a well-known European soccer club. In such a garage there are beautiful cars that I don’t see every day, so while working on site I was amazed!” But as with any project, sometimes you run into things. “In this case, we had problems with so-called ‘cross-reads’, caused by the narrow spaces in the parking garage. You get a cross-read when you have two readers interfering with each other. We carefully studied why the problem occurred and we gave advice on how best to mount the readers. Problem solved! What’s great is that we were able to use this experience again later with other projects.”

No time wasted

“Looking back at the past 6 years, especially the freedom I have been given at Nedap has helped me in my development. For example, I was given a few months to do research on a technology: antenna matching, to improve the performance of our current products. Ultimately, we did not use it. Wasted time you might think, but still you learn a lot from such ‘excursions’. I love the freedom I get to discover things. Besides developing new innovations, I also maintain our existing products. Sometimes certain parts are not available, in which case I look for a solution. An alternative part can be such a solution, but sometimes this means that you have to redesign a product. This isn’t necessarily a challenge, but more of a necessity to keep production going. For me as a developer, developing new products is the most fun, maintaining products is just part of it.”