A Vision Turned into a Solution: Keeping Buildings Safe and Dry
Good things are worth waiting for: Around 1 year after a Finnish university used Smartrac’s RFID sensors to test monitor moisture in building structures, Smartrac has partnered with SensThys Inc. to provide a market-ready moisture, temperature and location sensing solution for facilities management.
Right from the introduction of the industry’s first passive RFID moisture-level sensing inlays back in 2015, Smartrac’s RFID sensing inlays have revolutionized cost-effective and reliable condition monitoring solutions in automotive manufacturing, healthcare and now also in facility and construction monitoring and management. That may come as a surprise, as the benefits of monitoring moisture and temperature in building structures are not completely obvious. They have however prompted Helsinki’s Metropolia University of Applied Sciences to do research in reliably and economically monitoring moisture within buildings using Smartrac’s SENSOR DOGBONE™ inlays.
Building Materials Made Smart
Recently, SensThys, a US-based technology company that seamlessly integrates sensors and communications with a high-efficiency networking platform, picked up on this research and use case. Smartrac and SensThys partnered to develop an innovative RFID-based solution that can sense moisture, temperature and location in a wide variety of building materials, including concrete, gypsum board, insulation and other construction materials. Given RFID’s inherent tracking capabilities, it doesn’t matter if these materials are scanned somewhere on their journey from manufacturing to deployment, or installed in a building.
"By embedding our high-quality SENSOR product line inlays into building materials when they are manufactured, customers can now really make their building material product line smart,” said Bill Barr, VP of Global Product and Partner Services at Smartrac. He continued, “The great work we’ve accomplished together with the SensThys team provides a sensor-to-cloud infrastructure for non-destructive testing, so our customers can conveniently deploy temperature and moisture sensors in a variety of tough environments.”
The new solution combines SensThys’ full line of RAIN RFID (UHF) readers and algorithms with Smartrac’s moisture and temperature sensing inlays and tags, based on its successful SENSOR product line of passive RAIN RFID products.
Passive Sensing Inlays and Tags from Smartrac
To provide the best possible accuracy and reliability when embedded in construction materials with diverse physical characteristics, Smartrac’s high-quality, battery-less SENSOR inlays and tags are optimized for interaction with readers and software infrastructure provided by SensThys. The thin and customized transponders are equipped with Axzon’s Magnus® S3 ICs that can accurately detect and measure temperature and moisture levels in the surrounding environment. Like Smartrac’s other SENSOR inlays, this solution-specific product offers cost efficiency and ease of implementation.
The sensing inlays are interrogated using SensThys’ solution to monitor and track the physical state of the product at construction sites, distribution yards and manufacturing facilities. Specialized software on the reader controls the interaction between it and the sensor tag so that an accurate moisture sensor value is obtained in a timely fashion. Key applications include tracking infrastructure components such as roofing materials, monitoring changes in products including thermal and moisture cycling, and tracking concrete pre-casts that might be in inventory, in transit, at holding facilities, or physically embedded within their final infrastructure.
Reader and Algorithms from SensThys
The SensThys SensX Extreme RFID reader is ideal for the construction industry due to its physical robustness, which includes IP67 rating, key military standards testing, and a wide operating range including cold starts and thermal shock. The 33dBm reader has a sweeping array of sensors, including an accelerometer, gyroscope, barometric pressure, GPS and BLE beacon detection, that together enable situational awareness including its physical position, orientation and movement.
Communication is handled natively by internal Ethernet, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, with an external cellular connection available. SensThys created the algorithms to rapidly compute the location, temperature and moisture of a tag embedded within an object. These algorithms are now available for use on all M-Power readers including the SensArray and the SensX Extreme. The algorithm can also be made available for incorporation into other fixed and handheld readers.
Solutions for Real-world Problems
“This design effort, coupled with extensive in-situ testing, resulted in an upgraded M-Power reader capability to offer customers a practical method to quickly and reliably interrogate Smartrac’s sensor tags. Our IP67 SensX Extreme reader, which uses the M-Power core, allows us to identify the tagged item and provide the location, time, temperature and moisture information of the asset,” said Jo Major, CEO of SensThys. “For example, the seamless integration of sensors enables customers to understand where and when a roof has started to leak or when a concrete foundation is fully cured.”
SensThys have also developed a one-stop-shop “kit” that enables mutual customers to explore Smartrac sensor tags with minimal financial outlay. The SensorKit-MT (Moisture/Temperature) is an easy-to-use collection of everything required to evaluate passive sensor tags. This kit is specifically designed for use with the Magnus-based inlays including SENSOR DOGBONE™ and other Smartrac moisture and temperature sensing passive RFID tags. The kit is a very inexpensive way to start the evaluation of these tags with a plug-and-play kit that includes a SensArray combo reader/antenna, power source, cables, tags and a sensor reading application. More can be seen here.
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