A Tiny Long-Range Wireless Charging Solution for IIoT Sensors

In the present scenario of the connected environment, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is helping engineers keep a constant track and monitor control equipment, products and manufacturing processes across long distances. However, when thousands of IIoT sensors periodically require fresh batteries, maintaining the systems can become challenging.

But now, there may be a solution for that too. Nikola Labs, an ANSYS Startup Program member, is trying to create a world without wires. Thanks to ANSYS HFSS, the startup is one step closer to making that dream a reality. RF engineers at Nikola Labs are installing IIoT sensors that monitor the vibration and temperature of industrial machines. Many types of industrial equipment aren’t outfitted with monitoring technology. By installing these sensors, equipped with long-range wireless charging technology, customers can keep track of the health of their machines.

Long-range wireless charging technology, including radio frequency (RF) harvesting, collects energy from wireless signals. IIoT sensors outfitted with this charging technology are more self-sustaining.

Operating on 31.6 µW

When Nikola Labs optimized its wireless charging technology it faced two significant constraints:

  • RF harvesting technology is bound by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules that limit the amount of energy that is emitted.
  • Large industrial equipment — which most facilities cannot move — can cause signal loss.

Therefore, when Nikola Labs optimized its designs to deliver power effectively, it focused on the transmitter and the receiver on the IIoT sensor. It also optimized the power budget so that the receiver system can run on low power. According to Roland Tallos, Chief Engineer at Nikola Labs, they miniaturized their RF to direct current (DC) harvesting and battery management circuitry into a single package, and maximized the antenna’s performance based on the constraints of customers.

According to the company, it’s all about how efficiently one can receive power within a given environment. This dictates how many readings an IIoT sensor can take in a day. Since Nikola Lab’s system will operate on as little as 31.6 µW, they have a leg up on the competition.

Another advantage Nikola Labs has over its competition is that its RF harvesting chip is exceptionally small compared to other receivers (5.6 mm (0.22 in.) x 3 mm (0.12 in.) x 0.8 mm (0.03 in.)). This means that the IIoT sensor will be able to fit into smaller spaces.

Simulation Helps Engineers Design Long-Range Wireless Charging Technology

An RF transmitter propagates the wireless signal while the receiver captures it and changes it into DC energy. According to Brock DeLong, an RF engineer at Nikola Labs, to maximize the operational distance and power delivered, key factors of antennas such as the gain, impedance match and polarization needed to be optimized in HFSS. Without HFSS, they would have to rely on other organizations to make the design, or stick with an off-the-shelf solution. Simulation allowed to test design’s geometry and material. It also helped understand the radiation pattern.

Nikola Labs also used HFSS to simulate the environment in which the RF harvester and IIoT sensor will operate. This simulation helped them understand the power budget for their receivers. Testing the power budget and a receiver’s design using physical prototypes would be much more expensive and time-consuming. Simulation helped the company stay on budget and on a tight design schedule.

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  • Country: United States
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