What is RFID and how does it work?
What is RFID?
RFID is the acronym for "radio frequency identification" and refers to a technology in which digital data encoded in RFID tags or smart labels is captured by a reader via radio waves. RFID is similar to a barcode in that the data on a tag is captured by a device that stores the data in a database.
However, RFID has several advantages over systems that use barcode tracking software. In particular, the data on an RFID tag can be read outside the line of sight, while barcodes must be aligned with an optical scanner.
How does RFID work?
RFID is a technology that automatically identifies objects, collects data on those objects and enters them directly into computer systems with little or no human intervention. To do this, RFID methods use radio waves.
Simply put, RFID systems consist of three elements: an RFID tag or smart label, an RFID reader and an antenna. RFID tags contain an integrated circuit and an antenna, which are used to send data to the reader.
The reader then converts the radio waves into usable data. The information collected from the tags is transferred via a communication interface to a host computer system, where the data can be stored in a database and analyzed later.
RFID tags and smart labels
As mentioned above, an RFID tag consists of an integrated circuit and an antenna. The tag is also composed of a protective material that holds the parts together and protects them from various environmental factors. The protective material depends on the application. For example, employee identification badges with RFID tags are typically made of durable plastic and the tag is embedded between layers of plastic. RFID tags come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are either passive or active.
Passive tags are the most commonly used because they are smaller and less expensive to implement. Passive tags must be "activated" by the RFID reader before they can transmit data. Passive tags derive their power from the electromagnetic waves emitted by the reader's antenna. You already use passive RFID if you use a fast card to make your gas purchases or if you have a car that is equipped with an anti-theft device.
Unlike passive tags, active tags have a built-in power supply (such as a battery) that allows them to transmit data at any time. These tags are larger, more expensive and more durable. They are mainly used to locate trailers in yards and containers at loading docks.
Smart tags differ from RFID tags in that they contain both RFID and barcode technologies. They consist of an adhesive label with an RFID tag inlay, and can also contain a barcode and/or other printed information. Smart labels can be encoded and printed on-demand using desktop label printers, while RFID labels take longer to program and require more advanced equipment.
Read-only or WORM (Write Once-Read Many) tags are pre-numbered and require a host database. Once a read-only RFID tag has been programmed, the data it contains cannot be changed. These tags may contain more information than a barcode, but this data is static and cannot be altered once written.
Read-Write labels can contain more information and can be updated and changed as often as necessary. A Read-Write tag acts as a database that accompanies the product and can be changed as it travels through the supply chain. Data can also be permanently locked on a byte-by-byte basis. The key to this system is its flexibility, which is important in terms of business operations, information needs, customer requirements and other variables that can change over time.
The RFID reader
The RFID reader is the element responsible for reading radio frequency tags and transmitting the information they contain to the next level of the system (middleware).
This communication between the reader and the label is carried out in four stages:
- The reader transmits by radio the energy required to activate the tags.
- It then launches a query querying the nearby labels
- It listens to the answers and eliminates duplicates or collisions between answers.
- Finally, it transmits the results obtained to the applications concerned.
The communication between the reader and the "tag" is carried out via the antennas that equip both of them, these elements being responsible for the radio frequency radiation.
The RFID middleware
The middleware or RFID middleware is the brain of the system. It manages the different readers and determines the interaction they will have to have with the RFID tags. It is also the element which makes it possible to carry out a pre-processing of the captured information (filtering, routing, elimination of doubles, etc...) in order to facilitate their insertion in the data bases of the information system.
The advantages of RFID
RFID is a flexible, convenient, easy-to-use technology that is perfectly suited for automated operations. It combines advantages not found in other identification technologies.
RFID does not require any contact or direct visibility between the reader and the object to be identified.
It works in harsh environments, allows the simultaneous reading of several tags and provides a high level of data integrity.
RFID also offers increased security and product authentication thanks to the discreet placement of the tags and the extreme difficulty of counterfeiting them.
RFID technology :
- Allows the storage of considerably more data than barcode labels;
- Eliminates human error;
- Increases speed and efficiency;
- Increases the availability of information;
- Provides increased security;
- Allows access to data with or without a network connection.
While many companies are faced with the need to improve their processes and efficiency, most of them are unaware of how the functionalities offered by RFID technology can help them do so. Rather, they see RFID as a unique technology that is expensive to implement and can cause significant downtime.
In reality, it is a relatively simple data collection technology to deploy, easily integrates with existing data collection systems, and offers benefits and returns on investment beyond all expectations.
If your company already has a data collection system integrated with a WMS or ERP system and wants to increase its efficiency, if barcodes don't contain enough information to its liking, or if it has new labeling requirements, then it is ready for RFID.
Requiring minimal process re-engineering, this technology can bring unparalleled benefits to your manufacturing and distribution environment.
Using RFIDRFID technology is used in many industries to perform tasks such as :
- Inventory management
- Asset Management
- Personnel tracking system
- Access control to restricted areas
- Identification badge
- Supply Chain Management
- Counterfeit prevention (e.g. in the pharmaceutical industry)