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Key Takeaway

  • RFID tags are small electronic devices that store information and communicate with other devices using radio waves. RFID tags are used in a variety of applications, from tracking inventory to monitoring the movements of livestock.
  • RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags are rapidly becoming part of our daily lives, yet many people are still unfamiliar with this technology.

    RFID tags are embedded in various items to automate inventory management, enhance supply chain visibility, and support numerous applications across different industries. RFID technology in important in streamlining operations, improving accuracy, and facilitating data collection without direct contact or line of sight.

    In this article, we will take a closer look at what RFID tags are, how they work, the advantages and disadvantages of RFID technology and some of the ways in which they are being used today.

    What is an RFID Tag?

    RFID tags are a type of tracking system that uses smart barcodes in order to identify items. RFID is short for “radio frequency identification,” and as such, RFID tags utilize radio frequency technology.

    These radio waves transmit data from the tag to a reader, which then transmits the information to an RFID computer program. RFID tags are frequently used for merchandise, but they can also be used to track vehicles, pets, and even patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

    An RFID tag may also be called an RFID chip.

    How do RFID Tags Work?

    An RFID tag works by transmitting and receiving information via an antenna and a microchip — also sometimes called an integrated circuit or IC. The microchip on an RFID reader is written with whatever information the user wants. 

    Types of RFID Tags

    what are RFID tags?

    There are two main types of RFID tags: battery-operated and passive.

    • Battery-operated RFID tags contain an onboard battery as a power supply. Battery-operated RFID tags might also be called active RFID tags.
    • Passive RFID tags are not battery-powered and instead work by using electromagnetic energy transmitted from an RFID reader.

    Passive RFID tags use three main frequencies to transmit information:

    1. 125 – 134 KHz, also known as Low Frequency (LF)
    2. 13.56 MHz, also known as High Frequency (HF)
    3. Near-Field Communication (NFC), and 865 – 960 MHz, also known as Ultra High Frequency (UHF).

    The frequency used to transmit information affects the tag’s range.

    When a passive RFID tag is scanned by a reader, the reader transmits energy to the tag which powers it enough for the chip and antenna to relay information back to the reader. The reader then transmits this information back to an RFID computer program for interpretation.

    Passive RFID Tag Types

    There are two main types of passive RFID tags: inlays and hard tags.

    • Inlays are typically quite thin and can be stuck on various materials
    • Hard tags are just as the name suggests, made of a hard, durable material such as plastic or metal.

    Active RFID tags use one of two main frequencies — either 433 MHz or 915 MHz — to transmit information. They contain three main parts, including:

    1. A tag
    2. An antenna
    3. The interrogator

    The battery in an active RFID tag should supply enough power to last for 3-5 years. When it dies, the entire unit will need replaced, as the batteries are not currently replaceable.

    Active RFID Tag Types

    There are two main kinds of active RFID tags: beacons and transponders.

    • Beacons send out an information ping every few seconds, and their signal is readable from several hundreds of feet away. Because they are sending out data so frequently, their battery tends to deplete quicker.
    • Transponders, like passive RFID tags, require the use of a reader to transmit information. When within range of one another, a reader first sends out a signal to the transponder, which then pings back with the relevant information. Because they only activate when near a reader, transponders are much more battery-efficient than beacons.

    What are RFID Tags Used for?

    how rfid tags are used everyday

    RFID tags used in a wide range of applications, including:

    • Inventory management: RFID tags can be attached to products or packaging to track their location and movement throughout the supply chain.
    • Access control: RFID tags can be used as electronic keys to grant access to secure areas or to track employee movements.
    • Asset tracking with RFID: RFID tags can be used to track valuable assets, such as equipment, vehicles, or tools, to prevent theft or loss.
    • Animal tracking: RFID tags can be used to track animals for research, wildlife management, or farming purposes.
    • Payment systems: RFID tags can be used in contactless payment systems, such as transit fare payment cards or electronic toll collection.
    • Healthcare: RFID tags can be used to track medical equipment, monitor patient vital signs, and ensure proper medication administration.

    Overall, RFID technology enables automated data collection and can improve efficiency, accuracy, and security in a variety of industries and applications.

    Examples of RFID Tags

    Since an active RFID is constantly sending out a signal, it makes an excellent choice for those looking for up-to-the-minute live tracking, such as in tolling and real-time vehicle tracking applications. They are an expensive product, but they do offer a long read range, which may be preferred depending on their application.

    Passive RFID tags are a much more economical choice than active RFID tags, and cost around 20 cents each. This makes them a popular choice for supply chain management, race tracking, file management, and access control applications.

    While a passive RFID tag does not require a direct line of sight to the RFID reader, it has a much shorter read range than an active RFID tag. They are small in size, lightweight, and can potentially last a lifetime.

    Since active RFID tags feature a larger, more rugged design than passive RFID tags, they are better suited for applications where durability is required. They are frequently used in toll payment transponder systems, cargo tracking applications, and even in devices used to track people.

    Advantages of Using RFID Tags

    What are some of the main advantages of using RFID tags:

    1. Increased efficiency: RFID tags can be read quickly and accurately, allowing for faster and more efficient tracking of items.
    2. Improved accuracy: Unlike barcodes, RFID tags do not require a direct line of sight to be read, which means they can be read even when hidden or obscured.
    3. Reduced labor costs: RFID tags can be read automatically, eliminating the need for manual scanning and reducing labor costs.
    4. Enhanced security: RFID tags can be encrypted and programmed with unique identifiers, making it more difficult for counterfeit or unauthorized items to enter the supply chain.
    5. Real-time tracking: RFID tags can provide real-time data on the location and movement of items, allowing for better inventory management and supply chain optimization.
    6. Durability: RFID tags are typically more durable than barcodes, which can become damaged or unreadable over time.

    Overall, the use of RFID tags can provide numerous benefits for businesses and organizations looking to improve their supply chain management and inventory tracking processes.

    Disadvantages of RFID Tags

    RFID tags aren’t ideal compared to other tracking labels for a number of reasons. Some major problems with RFID include different security and technological issues.

    Security Issues

    When it comes to security, RFID tags cannot distinguish between readers, which means the information can be read by almost anyone once it has left the original supply chain. Because RFID readers are so portable, and the range of some tags so great, scammers can gather information they would otherwise not have access to. This means that anyone can collect potentially sensitive information without a person’s knowledge.

    Another security concern for consumers is that RFID tags can be linked to individual credit cards, creating the potential for financial theft and fraud.
    Technology-wise, RFID tags are problematic largely because there are no real global or industry standards. Since they operate on radio frequency, RFID tags and their systems can also easily become jammed or disrupted, reducing their usability. This results in longer wait times and decreased productivity in both retail and warehouse settings.

    Technology Issues

    There are also signal issues that can occur with RFID inventory systems, including collision — when signals from two or more readers overlap, and interference caused by metal, water, or other magnetic fields in the surrounding area.

    Set Up Issues

    An RFID system is also time-consuming and labor-intensive to set up. Companies need to test various hardware and tag systems to determine the best fit, which can take months to arrange. In addition to the cost of the RFID system itself, such as RFID tags and scanners, an increase in time and labor also means an increase in cost.

    These types of disadvantages are often avoided with the use of barcodes, which is why they are still a popular data collection and inventory control choice for many businesses.

    Frequently Asked Questions About RFID Tags

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