RFID, or Radio Frequency IDentification, is a data collection method that utilizes low-power radio waves to send and receive data between tags and readers. By using radio signals, RFID eliminates the need for a direct line of sight to the tag in order to read it. RFID readers can simultaneously read and write to hundreds of tags within their read field.
Check out some of our most frequently asked questions about RFID (radio frequency identification) technology. Since 1998, we’ve helped companies add the power of RFID to their businesses. We can help you too!
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FAQs on RFID Technology and RFID Systems
RFID uses a reader to locate and track special tags or labels attached to an item, similar to a bar code system. Instead of collecting laser light reflections off printed bar code labels, RFID uses low wattage power radio frequencies to read from and write to the tags.
The RFID tags, or labels, equipped with an RF antenna and a tiny computer chip, broadcast information to the RFID reader. These broadcast radio waves do not require a direct line of sight or one-at-a-time labor intensive involvement. Tags do not have to be in contact with the device that “reads” the information stored on the chip.
In general, an RFID tag consists of an application-specific integrated circuit (IC) with memory chips used for data storage and an antenna that can be mounted on various substrates. Each element of an RFID tag is selected for optimum efficiency for the application.
Physical sizes can range from as small as a thumbnail to as large as a brick. Most of today’s tags offer up to 128 bits of memory and read ranges up to 20 feet, dependent upon the application. The term “tag” and “transponder” are synonymous.
You may think that RFID will eventually phase out barcodes because a typical RFID tag can hold 2KB of data, far more than a typical barcode, which represents just 10-12 digits. RFID tags can also be programmed and reprogrammed, making them a dynamic part of a data collection solution where barcodes are printed once and then reprinted each time information changes.
All of that being said, barcodes will not be replaced by RFID technology. In some cases, barcodes will be used as a back-up system, and in most cases they will remain the main form of data collection. Implementing a RFID system will never be cheaper than implementing a barcode system. There is the cost of the technology and the fact that a barcode label will always be cheaper to produce than an RFID label.
The use of RFID has grown tremendously in recent years, and that growth is poised to continue. In fact, the RFID market is predicted to reach a value of $18.68 billion by 2026. Although RFID will not replace barcodes any time soon, it will prove more effective than barcodes in certain use cases, such as simultaneously tracking large volumes of assets in bins or containers.
In the coming years, we will see more use of hybrid RFID systems (featuring both passive and active tags) as well as the use of Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) tags, which offer a cost-effective alternative to active tags.
RFID tags can cost as little as 10 cents or as much as $50 depending on the type of tag, the application and the volume of the order.
Generally speaking, finished smart labels that can be applied to cases and pallets typically cost 15 cents or more, depending on volume. Active tags – those with a battery – can cost far more. And, if you bundle in a sophisticated sensor, the cost can rise to more than $50 per tag.
However, the cost of the tag should not be the determining factor when looking at RFID technology. While some tags may cost upward of $50, the return on the investment may be tenfold. For instance, some railroad companies are using $40 tags that are mounted on rail cars. These tags can be reprogramed thousands of times, meaning the cost of each time that tag is read and written to is less than one cent. The ROI in this case is tremendous.
RFID systems help companies cut costs, improve customer service, reduce labor, increase accuracy and improve production throughput.
The technology does not require user interaction and line-of-sight efforts, thereby leading to greater productivity and data collection accuracy. In addition, RFID systems are flexible, allowing for integration with barcode systems and other mobile technology.
While RFID offers several benefits not provided by traditional barcodes (listed below), it is not necessarily always the better choice. Always consider your use case prior to diving into an implementation.
- Eliminates Line of Sight: RFID eliminates the need to position the laser of a scanner across the entire barcode, allowing RFID to be used when the RFID tag is not in direct view of the scanner. This allows users to track and read assets in a sealed container, embedded within the asset or underneath other products/assets in a stack. Barcodes need that line of sight to perform the identification task.
- User Intervention: RFID readers can be installed to read all the time, eliminating the need for an operator to actuate the scan function. Whether installed by doorways, garage entrances or in open areas on manufacturing floors, assets can be read as they are moved, without the user action (unlike barcodes).
- Speed: RFID tags can be read at phenomenal speeds. Asset inventory can be taken very quickly as one RFID handheld can count hundreds of assets in the same time it takes for a single barcode scan. Average inventory counts taken with RFID are 15 times faster.
- Authenticity / Anti-counterfeit Technology: Unlike barcodes that can be copied and re-distributed, RFID tags have a chip-specific ID value that can be linked with the user programmable ID value. Linking these values together eliminates the possibility of improperly duplicated tags or copied ID values. Product manufacturers, tollways and retailers are embracing this characteristic and utilizing RFID to secure their products and services.
- Writeable Tags: After deployment, RFID values can be written and changed in RFID tags without replacing the tags or removing them from the asset or product. This can be performed using RFID handhelds or installed readers. These tags can be “locked” and “unlocked” with passwords to eliminate unauthorized write operations in the field and protect the integrity of the system. Barcodes must be reprinted and replaced in order to change the value once deployed in the field.It is important to note that while RFID offers several advantages over traditional barcodes, it may not be the right solution for your particular application. Always consider your use case prior to diving into an implementation.
Passive tags rely on a reader or integrator to “wake it up” and to supply the power necessary to respond and transmit data. With a read range of about 10 feet, passive RFID tags are smaller and less costly than active tags. They are ideal for tracking a large volume of low-value items.
Active tags use battery power to transmit their signals to RFID readers. With read ranges up to 300 feet, active RFID tags are ideal for tracking high-value items with variable movement throughout large, open facilities. Active tags can transmit data constantly, or periodically like a lighthouse beacon shining a light.
Although there are clear advantages to using both barcode and RFID technology, determining which technology is right for your business can be challenging. While most warehouse and distribution facilities are currently using barcoding, RFID can either complement those efforts or fill gaps not covered by bar-coding.
5 Factors to Determine If RFID is Right for Your Business
Warehouse And Inventory Size
What is the size and scope of your warehouse? Are you able to read or scan each item within line of sight? Larger warehouses often benefit from an RFID system because they can significantly increase the productivity of their processes. To read a barcode, a user must operate and position the scanner within sight of the item. If you have a large warehouse with a large inventory, then this process will require a large number of hours and employees.
To read an RFID label, the reader simply must be in range of the tagged item. Also, RFID tags can read data for items on a pallet so that each item does not have to be read individually.
If your warehouse has additional needs for data and memory, RFID technology might be a good fit. A typical RFID tag can hold 2KB of data, while a typical barcode represents only 10-12 digits. Also, if your data changes often, you might want to consider investing in RFID tags because they can be rewritten (barcode labels must be reprinted each time there is a change in data).
If your warehouse has food and/or beverages on its shelves, then it could benefit from an RFID system. Standard barcodes labels indentify the manufacturers and products, but cannot identify unique items. If each food or beverage item has the same barcode, then employees will not be able to identify unique expiration dates or manufacture dates; therefore, they will not know which items will pass their expiration date first.
RFID systems are ideal for the food and beverage industries because RFID tags can store expiration or manufacture data.
Does your warehouse have harsh conditions? Do you items often come into contact with extreme temperatures, sharp objects, water and moisture, dirt or dust? If so, an RFID system might be necessary.
Barcode labels can easily be ripped, scraped, peeled off, or otherwise damaged. When this happens, they must be reprinted otherwise the label isn’t readable – and readability is key – without it, your system isn’t worth anything.
RFID tags can be applied with strong adhesives and protected in special coatings or plastic coverings in order to withstand harsh warehouse conditions. In harsh environments, RFID technology is often a more accurate alternative than barcode technology.
How much security does your warehouse need? Unlike barcode labels, RFID technology can be leveraged to trigger door openings, alarms, and other events to provide added security in your facility.
Do your items or information require more security than the average? RFID tags are more secure than barcode labels because they are more difficult to replicate. The data in an RFID tag can be encrypted, password-protected, or even removed permanently if it falls into the wrong hands.
Get Started with RFID
While RFID isn’t a catch-all technology, it is incredibly powerful for many organizations. To determine whether or not a RFID system is right for your warehouse and ensure that you are getting maximum value and minimum disruption to your operations, contact an experienced integration or technology expert at Barcoding, Inc.
Selecting the right RFID tag is critical to the success of your RFID system.
Your RFID tags have to be a good fit with both your inventory and your environment. The time it takes to evaluate and consider these factors is time well spent because selecting the wrong RFID tag can lead to readability issues and ongoing headaches as you attempt to reconfigure your RFID system.
Bad reads waste time, cause mistakes that hurt your bottom line, and negatively impact customer relationships.
3 Factors to Help You Select the Right RFID Tag
RFID Tag Types
Determine which type of RFID tag makes the most sense for your applications and environment: active, passive, or semi-passive.
Active RFID tags broadcast their own signal to the reader. Because active tags utilize their own power supply, they have a longer read range than most passive tags. Although they are typically more reliable and accurate than passive tags, they are larger and more expensive. Because they have a stronger signal, they are ideal for harsh or large environments that have difficulty transmitting other tags â€“ like under water and from far away.
Passive RFID tags rely on readers to transmit data by a small electric current received through radio waves. They are ideal for smaller-scale warehouses with little interference, allowing the user to transmit tags from a distance of a few inches to a few yards. These RFID tags are smaller and less expensive.
Like active tags, semi-passive tags also use an internal power supply and have a longer read range than passive tags; however, the RFID reader must transmit a signal first. They do not broadcast one.
A typical RFID tag can hold 2KB of data. Do you need to store information about the expiration or manufacture date of any of your items? Some RFID tags have the memory capacity to store this information. This is ideal for warehouses with food and/or beverages on their shelves. Additional tag memory is necessary to store expiration or manufacture data in the tag because that information cannot be retrieved by looking up the tag ID in a database.
It’s important to understand that during the storage and shipping process, your items might be exposed to harsh conditions. If your items often come into contact with dirt, dust, grease, moisture, water, or any other elements consider using RFID technology instead of barcodes. This will help you to secure your investment and rely on good reads. To learn more, speak with an expert at Barcoding, Inc. about your RFID options. They can point you in the right direction to meet the needs of your unique facility.
In a warehouse setting, RFID technology automates the data collection process to the point where no human intervention is needed. If used correctly, it can decrease labor and carrying costs, increase shipping accuracy, and speed up throughput. Before you consider implementing RFID technology, let’s take a closer look at what it is, how it works, and how it can help.
What is RFID?
RFID, which stands for Radio Frequency Identification, is a method of data collection in which objects are identified through low-power radio waves. This process of sending and receiving data is done with an RFID system consisting of RFID tags and a reader, antenna, and transceiver.
How does RFID work?
The transceiver reads the radio frequency and transmits it to a processing device and RFID tag (or transponder). Enabled by an antenna, the identification information is transmitted from a tiny computer chip and broadcasted to an RFID reader. The radio waves are then reflected back from the RFID tag and the reader converts them into digital information to be processed by a handheld data collection device.
Similar to barcodes, the reader recognizes the location and identification of RFID tags attached to inventory items. However, instead of having to walk over and scan a barcode label, RFID technology uses low-power radio frequencies to transmit an RFID tags’ data.
Why RFID for the Warehouse?
Unlike scanning barcodes, RFID technology allows warehouses and distribution companies to track their inventory without human intervention. This makes the technology ideal for harsh environment applications where reading barcodes may be difficult. For warehouses with high volume and large amounts of inventory on hand, RFID tags eliminate the need for direct line of sight or labor-intensive tag reading because they do not have to be scanned.
By eliminating human intervention, RFID can help warehouses reduce labor hours and costs related to inventory control and asset management in manufacturing or distribution environments. By streamlining these processes, warehouse managers can improve customer service and increase the speed and accuracy of their shipping operations.
Interested in determining if RFID technology is right for your operations? Contact us.
NFC, a newer form of RFID is often mentioned as a potential technology to be used by customers for different applications. In all reality, it is similar but very different. It uses a reader device, usually a smart phone or tablet, to read data from a tag just like RFID.
NFC Tags Are Formatted Based On The Use Case
But wait there is more – The tag data can be formatted in such a way that the reading device knows what do with it. As an example, if the tag data is a website link, the reader device will know to open up a browser window and connect to the website. If the tag data is a link to a video, it may open up a YouTube application to play the video. NFC can play apart in consumer interaction with advertisements, event kiosks, ticketing system, and other non-industrial applications.
NFC tags are formatted to reflect the use case. This formatting determines whether the NFC tag will act like a tag and issue data on request, be used in payment transactions using secure links, or in a two way mode as part of a phone.
How does NFC Differ from Traditional RFID?
NFC or Near Field Communications, is a short range RFID technology that shines in advertisement, payment systems, and two way data transfers. The major differences compared to traditional RFID technology is:
- Short range – NFC has a maximum range of four inches or less
- Dual mode – one way data transfer – like an RFID tag or two data transfer to exchange play lists from phone to phone
- Security – NFC’s security features allow its data to be encrypted and transferred without fear of unwanted listening devices
- Macros – NFC has built in macros or actions that allow the reader device to automatically know what app should execute and consume the data
RFID, on the other hand is used for long range reading measured usually in feet. Its traditional purpose is asset or inventory identification. Although the data can be secured, its security is not as robust as NFC. The readers for RFID are also larger and more powerful network or handheld devices requiring larger antennas and more electrical power.