Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) can be described as a moving database that uses wireless data collection and communications technology to provide automatic monitoring and reporting on items of interest. RFID can provide excellent visibility into operations that would help (1) lower inventories, (2) reduce costs of production, shipping, and handling by lowering requirements for man-power and/or by accelerating transaction time, and (3) increase the amount of data available on a given process or product production cycle.
A basic RFID system requires a reader (also called interrogator) and antenna for data gathering, and an RFID tag (also called inlay, chip, label, etc) on the item to be identified. Element ID is only involved on the infrastructure side - we only make readers and antennas - not tags.
RFID uses low-power radio signals to exchange data wirelessly between tags and readers. Unlike barcode readers, direct line of sight is not needed between the tag and read/write device, thus eliminating many of the labor and item-orientation requirements associated with the automated data collection. RFID readers can simultaneously recognize and process multiple tags within their read fields.
End Markets Benefit From Information Efficiency
The collection of data through the use of RFID is only the first step in a system implementation. Whether the data is obtained through RFID or barcode, it is the processing of that information that adds the real value to the end user. The use of RFID simply enables a more cost effective and consistent means of acquiring the data to feed these systems.
Passive vs. Active
There are passive and active tags. Active tags (like those used in cars for tollways) have a battery to provide power. This greatly extends range, but also makes them far too expensive for any of our target customers. Passive tags are powered by the energy field from the reader. All information following relates to passive tags only.
Advantages vs. Barcode
RFID has three main advantages over barcodes:
Durability - RFID tags can last forever if embedded in plastic and even the cheapest inlays are generally more durable than barcodes. This is a big selling point for systems where the tags can be re-used, such as when there is a product carrier or tote.
No line of sight required - the laser or camera in a traditional barcoding system must be able to "see" the label - hence all the fumbling with items at the checkout and the "facers" at automated facilities that turn boxes so barcodes face up. RFID tags can be embedded in plastic or wood or hidden from view in any other way without a problem.
Moving database - RFID tags contain a small memory chip that can have data read from, and written to, them. This allows the tag to become a moving database. Customers that want to share a limited amount of additional data with the supply chain can do so with RFID without granting access to proprietary databases, etc.
There are three main RFID frequency bands that customers are interested in: LF, HF, and UHF.
LF: 125-135kHz worldwide. These tags have range from contact to several feet. They are the best of the three standards for use around liquids and metals. These tags are primarily used in industrial environments and for animal tagging.
HF: 13.56MHz worldwide. These tags have range from contact to three feet. We view this frequency as the best option for identifying and tracking individual items on manufacturing lines. Work intermittently around liquids and metals. Special "on-metal" tags are available to solve this issue. The standard allows multiple tags to be read at once.
- Pros - good around liquid and metal, medium read range, compatible worldwide
- Cons - tags are expensive, can only read one tag at a time, slow interface between reader and tag
UHF: 863-870MHz, 902-928MHz, 950-956MHz (Varies by country). These tags have range from contact to 20+ feet. This has become the most popular standard. Specialty tags exist for mounting to metal objects. These tags generally use the EPC Gen2 standard.
- Pros: medium read range, affordable tags, multiple tags can be read at once, fast interface between readers and tags, compatible worldwide
- Cons: tags are still expensive relative to other options, read range can be a limiting factor, some customers need better performance around metals and liquids
- Pros: long read range, low tag cost, multiple tags can be read at once, very fast interface between readers and tags
- Cons: difficult to control read area, poor performance when shielded by liquid and metal