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Key Takeaway

  • Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is a technology that uses radio waves to wirelessly identify and track tagged objects. RFID systems consist of RFID tags (which contain a microchip and antenna), RFID readers (that emit radio waves to activate the tags) and a backend system (that manages and processes the data collected by the readers).
  • Radio frequency identification (RFID) is in everything from amusement park passes to payment solutions. This wireless technology allows businesses to automatically identify and track objects, tools, equipment, vehicles, and more.

    In recent years, RFID technology has become increasingly popular and has found numerous applications in various industries, including retail, logistics, healthcare, and manufacturing. But how does RFID work, and how can businesses leverage it?

    Check out this guide to learn what RFID is, how it works, how it differs from other tagging technologies, and the potential benefits of RFID.

    What is (Radio Frequency Identification) RFID?

    what are rfid tags used for?

    RFID is a technology that uses radio waves to transmit data from an RFID tag to a reader that logs the data. The system consists of three main components: an RFID tag, an RFID reader, and a computer system.

    A business places an RFID tag on or inside an object, such as a retail product or a piece of industrial machinery. The tag contains a microchip that stores data, as well as an antenna that receives and transmits radio signals.

    When an RFID reader emits a radio frequency signal, the tag detects it and responds with the data stored in its memory. The reader then captures the data and sends it to a computer system for processing.

    RFID systems can use different frequencies (Low-frequency, High-frequency and Ultra-high frequency) which we’ll discuss in greater detail below.

    RFID tags can be either passive or active. Passive RFID tags don’t have a built-in power source and rely on energy provided by an RFID reader. Active RFID tags, on the other hand, have a built-in po

    Types of RFID Tags

    There are two types of RFID tags: passive RFID tags and active RFID tags (also known as battery-powered RFID tags).

    1. Passive RFID tags: These tags do not have their own power source. They use the radio waves emitted by the RFID reader to power the tag and transmit information back to the reader.
    2. Active RFID tags: These tags have their own power source, usually a battery, that powers the tag’s microchip and antenna. Active tags can transmit data to the reader without needing to be powered by the reader’s radio waves. There are two types of active tags – transponders and beacons.

    Types of RFID Systems

    There are three different types of RFID systems, which vary by the frequency band within which they operate: low frequency, high frequency, and ultra-high frequency. The frequency simply means the size of the radio waves used to communicate between the RFID tags and readers.

    Because the radio waves behave differently at each frequency, there are pros and cons of using each.

    • Low-Frequency RFID (LF RFID) – LF includes frequencies from 30 KHz to 300 KHz. This band provides a short read range of 10cm, has lower read speed than higher frequencies, but it is not as sensitive to radio wave interference. LF RFID often is used for access control and livestock tracking.
    • High-Frequency RFID (HF RFID) – The HF band covers frequencies from 3 MHz to 30 MHz. HF systems are moderately sensitive to interference. HF RFID is used for ticketing, payment, and data transfer applications.
    • Ultra-High Frequency RFID (UHF RFID) – The UHF band covers the range from 300 MHz to 3 GHz. The read range of passive UHF systems may be as long as 12m, and UHF RFID has a faster data transfer rate than either LF or HF. UHF RFID is the most sensitive to radio wave interference. UHF RFID commonly is used in retail for managing inventory (aka RFID inventory management).

    How is RFID Different from Other Technologies?

    Person scanning a QR code on a box

    Whether you’re a retailer, a healthcare provider, or a manufacturer, you likely use a mix of different tagging solutions throughout your organization. Barcodes and QR codes are some of the most common options for businesses, but RFID works differently.

    Barcodes are a visual tagging technology that uses a series of bars and spaces to represent data. Barcodes are inexpensive and easy to produce, but they require a direct line of sight to a reader and have a limited storage capacity.

    In contrast, you can read RFID tags from a distance. They also have a much larger storage capacity than barcodes.

    QR codes are a two-dimensional visual tagging technology that uses a matrix of dots to represent data. QR codes can store more data than barcodes and can be read using a smartphone camera, but they still require a direct line of sight and aren’t as versatile as RFID tags.

    Why is RFID Beneficial for Tagging?

    RFID technology has been widely adopted for asset tracking in various industries, including retail, healthcare, logistics, and manufacturing. For example, retailers use RFID tags to track inventory and prevent theft, healthcare providers use RFID wristbands to track patients and medication, logistics companies use RFID to track shipments and optimize supply chain operations, and manufacturers use RFID to track products throughout the production process.

    If you’re trying to embrace digital transformation in your business, RFID tags make it much easier to transmit information automatically. RFID technology has numerous benefits, including:

    • Increased efficiency: RFID systems can quickly and automatically identify and track objects or people, reducing the need for manual data entry and improving accuracy and speed.
    • Improved visibility: RFID systems can provide real-time visibility into the location and status of objects or equipment, enabling better decision-making and resource allocation.
    • Enhanced security: RFID tags can be used to authenticate objects or people, which prevents counterfeiting and unauthorized access.
    • Reduced costs: RFID systems can help reduce costs associated with manual data entry, inventory management, and supply chain operations.
    • Increased customer satisfaction: RFID systems can help retailers and other businesses provide faster and more accurate services, which improves customer satisfaction and loyalty.

    However, keep in mind that durable barcode labels are often a better choice for certain applications. For example, the U.S. military also uses RFID tags for some applications, although for military asset tracking, unique identification (UID) labels are more suitable for security, compliance, and durability requirements.

    The Disadvantages of Using RFID

    Because of the nature of RFID technology, there are several issues with it.

    disadvantages of rfid tracking tags
    • Lack of Global Standards: RFID technology has several standards, and global standards have not yet been developed to help global companies navigate various networks within the supply chain. Some RFID devices are not intended to leave their networks, as is the case with RFID tags used for inventory control.
    • Radio Frequency Interference: RFID systems easily become jammed because of their radio frequencies, creating longer waits in retail settings. In warehouses, disrupted RFID systems can wreak havoc on an organization’s bottom line because workers cannot be productive or efficient when they cannot read RFID tags. Active RFID tags that use batteries to increase the system’s range can also be interrogated repeatedly, which wears down the battery and disrupts the system.
    • Reader Collision: Another issue with RFID in a warehouse setting occurs when signals from two or more readers overlap. This reader collision becomes problematic when tags are unable to respond to simultaneous queries. If RFID systems are not set up carefully and precisely, this problem becomes a common occurrence.
    • Proprietary Systems: Consumers also face issues with RFID standards, as various companies create proprietary RFID systems. This means that one consumer may need to carry various RFID devices with them to use different systems for different companies, which is cumbersome and inconvenient. Or, consumers may need to pay to access various RFID systems.

    RFID and barcodes automate the process of collecting data about inventory and assets. However, RFID systems experience interference and are difficult to use with metals and liquids because those materials cause more interference.

    Barcodes, on the other hand, are much less expensive and are not at risk of interference.

    Questions about the article? Let us help!

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