You’re designing a new product and integrating NFC as one of the features.
It’s simple, the manufacturer has all the application notes and you have excellent, top notch engineers. Then you start questioning, “which NFC chip should I use?,” “what tag should I use?,” and the big one “how do I design the antenna?” This last question, designing the antenna is often what pushes people over the fear-ledge, that point where they realize that maybe you could use some outside help. I get a call. I love getting involved at the beginning of a project. I get to help you solve the tough problems you know you have, and often, I help you solve the tough problems you didn’t even know would be a problem. As a result, I get you to a solution, smoothly and quickly, a solution that your customers will likely never think twice about because it always “just works.”
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. — Arthur C. Clarke
A recent experience highlighted this, a kickoff call for a new project. For this project, NFC was a central feature. They needed an antenna designed. They had provided some framework for the project, but in our one hour call, I was able to understand their application and how that would affect the overall design. I asked questions about, how the product would be used, reader and tag placement, housing materials, space, size and power constraints. These all factor in to the design of not just the electrical circuit, but also, the antenna, the tag selection, and in some cases, even the mechanical housing.
Why and how? Let’s talk about each of those items…
How would the product be used — Does the customer have control over the reader AND the tag, or just the reader? Do they have control over the placement of the tag relative to the reader? Why does this matter? This affects, tag selection, reader chip selection and antenna design. It also affects performance and power requirements.
Reader and tag placement — If the tag is always in a fixed position relative to the reader, the complete design can be optimized for that position, potentially saving power and cost, by using a less expensive NFC controller.
Housing materials and shape — Is the housing metal or plastic? Is there metal in or near where the antenna is expected to be placed? Metal, and in some cases plastics, can affect the NFC performance. There is almost always a solution — design changes to the housing or material changes. It may seem obvious after I say it, but knowing this early will save time and money. Unfortunately, this issue is often overlooked.
Space, size and power constraints — This affects chip selection, antenna design, and in some cases overall feasibility. There are many knobs that can be tweaked in an NFC design; antenna size and placement, shielding materials, tuning, NFC controller configuration, even firmware operation. Each of these play an important role in the overall design.
When I can get involved early, I can ask these questions. I can identify the easier parts of the design and I can identify the harder parts.
This early involvement helps me plan the project and it will help you eliminate many problems along the way.
In that one hour kick-off call, we were able to get all the issues on the table. Identify which were concerns and which weren’t and create a plan for a product they would be pleased with and their customer would love.
…and the antenna they needed designed, it turns out that was just part of a more complex project.
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