Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology has become commonplace in many industries. A handy identification method, this tech can replace QR codes and barcodes in warehouses and retail. Meanwhile, contactless credit cards also contain RFID chips, allowing for more convenient payment. Let’s look at the details of a complete expert guide to RFID tech. We’ll examine the different types of RFID, why RFID devices are more efficient than barcode scanners, and how businesses can benefit from implementing RFIDs.
What Is RFID?
The most straightforward way to define RFID is as a wireless communication method. Using specific radio frequencies, RFID allows for easy identification of objects at relatively short distances. It might seem similar to QR and barcode technology and, for the most part, RFID is an electronic version of these tags. However, there are notable differences that make RFID technology a genuine improvement in remote identification. To understand what sets RFID apart, we must delve deeper into how it works.
How Does RFID Work?
An RDFID system requires two devices to communicate with each other: an RFID tag and a reader. The tag is also known as the transponder, i.e., the part of the RFID system that sends out information upon activation. On the other hand, the reader, as the name implies, “reads” the information from the tag.
RFID tags consist of the substrate, antenna, and integrated circuit. The substrate serves as the base for the tag. It’s made of thin, flexible plastic capable of resisting heat, direct sunlight, impact, moisture, and other environmental impacts. Besides being relatively sturdy, the substrate must be smooth to allow for accurate printing.
The antenna is printed, stamped, or etched onto the substrate and represents the second-largest part of the RFID tag after the substrate itself. Since the antenna needs to transmit information efficiently, it’s made of very conductive metals like silver, aluminum, or copper. Depending on the desired properties and operational frequencies, RFID antennas will differ in shape. Some may be shaped like dipoles while others will have a spiral form.
Finally, the integrated circuit or RFID microchip represents the core of the RFID tag. The IC controls how memory is allocated and decides which data will be sent out to the reader. RFID integrated circuits are made of semiconductors and require specific manufacturing conditions, including a sterile environment.
RFID readers are an essential part of the system and one that mostly interests business owners. These devices communicate with tags and gather the required information which varies depending on the purposes of the system. For instance, an RFID reader may be used to identify different inventory items or, in the case of credit cards, to deduct a specified amount from the user’s account when making a purchase.
Readers may differ according to application. For instance, some readers will have broader coverage and connectivity possibilities, while others will be designed for use on the go. Since RFID readers are of particular interest to businesses, they’ll be explained in more detail. Firstly, we’ll look at what makes RFID systems superior to barcode scanning.
Why Is It Better Than Traditional Barcode Scanners?
RFID technology not only represents a digitized version of traditional barcodes. Instead, the novel tech has several considerable advantages in terms of functionality and ease of use.
The first and most notable advantage is that an RFID scanner can read data without having the tag in line of sight. With barcodes, the scanner must be positioned so that it can capture the entire label. On the other hand, an RFID tag communicates via radio frequencies, which means the connection can be established from a distance.
On the subject of reading information, RFIDs excel not only in the method of communicating data but also in terms of what can be communicated. An RFID tag can store vast amounts of data compared to barcodes. Better yet, an RFID reader can scan tens of tags simultaneously, reading the complex information stored on the ICs practically immediately.
Next, once a barcode is printed, there’s no viable way of changing or updating the information on it. With RFID tags, updates and modifications are very straightforward owing to the digital, two-way communication nature of the devices.
Lastly, RFID systems are much more resistant to environmental conditions, as well as tampering. On the outside, an RFID tag is sturdier and specifically designed to withstand temperature changes, impact, and even chemicals. But the tags can be just as sturdy under the hood. In particular, an RFID tag can hold encrypted information, making unauthorized readouts practically impossible.
Which Industries Benefit From an RFID?
RFID technology finds application across numerous industries, from logistics to the military. This is no surprise given how versatile and efficient RFID tags and readers are. Here’s an overview of the most notable uses of this technology.
Warehousing and Logistics
Similar to barcodes, RFID tagging has proven exceptionally useful in logistics. Massive companies with huge warehouses reap great benefits, which is why industry giants like FedEx, DHL, and UPS are using RFID technology more prominently.
Since RFID tags offer better data capabilities compared to barcodes, the tags help logistic companies track cargo, collect detailed information on their inventory, and deliver goods expediently. Complex RFID systems can ensure all packages are delivered on time and no item is out of stock unexpectedly.
An RFID tag can contain detailed information about a particular item, but it can do the same for individual people. For that reason, we’re seeing more and more RFID-based personal documents like ID cards and passports. Such documents are much faster to read while being quite complicated to forge.
The use of RFIDs in personal identification is already in full swing worldwide. Many countries have already introduced RFID passports, while others are starting to do the same. Additionally, RFID-enabled IDs, student cards, and similar personal documents are becoming commonplace around the globe.
RFID technology has been employed to great effect to manage various aspects of personal and public transportation. For instance, toll payments are made easier with the implementation of RFID devices that drivers keep in their vehicles. Once the vehicle approaches the toll, a long-range reader communicates with the device and charges the toll automatically, eliminating the stops and delays associated with traditional toll collection.
Similar technologies are already introduced for parking services, but also in public transportation hubs like bus and train stations. Likewise, some taxi organizations use RFID to better manage their services.
Somewhat connected to the logistics application of RFID, the technology can boost the efficiency of various stores, from smaller shops to supermarkets. RFIDs in retail can be used to track stock, and sales statistics, and even prevent theft.
As a result, stores have a better insight into what’s happening with their goods. Plus, RFID eliminates the need to check every item manually or with a barcode scanner, reducing the need for labor.
Different Types of RFIDs
RFID systems are classified into different types according to two primary criteria: mobility and frequency range. These two aspects will often determine the effectiveness and potential application of RFID. Thus, businesses buying readers in bulk should understand the specific strong and weak points of each type.
Fixed vs. Mobile
When it comes to mobility, the division between fixed and mobile RFID readers is quite straightforward. Fixed readers are usually wall-mounted or kept in portals or on desks. This type of RFID features additional antenna ports, allowing for greater range expansion and improved functionality.
A fixed RFID reader can be connected with one to eight antennas, as well as multiplexers which can expand this capacity to 64 antennas. Since antenna ports are external, this kind of connectivity can allow for broad coverage and immense flexibility depending on the user’s needs.
Mobile RFID readers are battery-powered, handheld devices that can transmit data via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. In other words, a warehouse worker can use a mobile reader to scan one or several RFID tags, after which the reader sends the scanned data directly to the computer system via a wireless connection.
A mobile reader can also feature a computer. These devices aren’t called RFID readers but rather Mobile Computing Devices. On the other hand, an RFID reader that connects to a smart device via Bluetooth is usually called a Sled.
As mentioned, the frequency range is the other crucial aspect dictating the type of RFID. Let’s look at what makes different frequency bands specific in terms of RFID use.
Low Frequency (LF)
Before starting with particular bands, it’s worth mentioning that RFIDs have internationally recognized frequency ranges. Simply put, a low-frequency RFID will work on the same band selection regardless of where in the world it’s located.
Low-frequency or LF RFID systems operate in the range of 30-300 kHz, with the most common frequencies being 125 and 133 kHz. In these systems, the RFID tags are typically passive, which means they don’t have an independent power source. Instead, the tag is charged once it’s within the reach of a reader.
LF systems have a limited range. At the most, an RFID reader will only be able to scan an LF tag from a distance of 5 to 6 feet. Some systems may be even more limited, making them effective only at a distance of several inches.
High Frequency (HF)
High-frequency systems utilize bands in the 3-30 MHz range, typically working at 13.56 MHz. These systems have a somewhat larger range compared to LF, but also won’t extend further than several feet. HF tags are often found in various cards, including remote door locks, ID cards, and electronic tickets. Like in low-frequency RFIDs, HF tags are passive, requiring power from a nearby reader.
Ultra-High Frequency (UHF)
At ultra-high frequencies, RFIDs can cover the range between 300MHz and 960 MHz. The most common applications of UHF RFIDs are on the 433 MHz band. At such frequencies, readers can scan tags at much greater distances, easily surpassing 20 feet. UHF systems can be passive or active, which means that tags can draw power from a scanner for shorter ranges or have their own power supply for long-range operation.
Finally, microwave RFIDs work primarily at 2.45 or 5.8 GHz. These systems are mostly semi-passive – the tags feature a button battery for independent action on longer ranges. If a microwave tag is also writable, writing will only be possible at a smaller distance compared to reading.
RFID vs. Barcode
Comparing RFID to barcodes provides quite an uneven competition. It used to be the case that RFID technology was significantly more expensive to implement. However, that was a relatively brief moment in RFID history. Today, RFID tags and readers are readily available, and the price difference compared to barcodes is well worth the increase in functionality.
How to Pick an RFID for Your Company
Simply put, picking an RFID company on your own will be challenging at the least. RFID technology represents a super-focused solution to the point of specific manufacturers and products being suitable for specific uses.
The best way to determine which RFID to get for your business is to consult an expert. An RFID expert can take into account the particular needs of your company and determine the exact type of RFID system that would serve your goals the best.
Top RFID Scanners
While it’s difficult to determine the best RFID for your business without professional help, we can assist you in narrowing down the choice a bit. For your reference, here’s a list of the leading RFID scanners in the market:
- Zebra RFD9030
- Honeywell IH40
- Zebra RFD 9090
- Honeywell IH25
- Zebra MC3330XR
Talk to an RFID Expert
RFID technology can be the ideal solution for your company. If you’re doing business in one of the many industries employing RFIDs with great success, the benefits will be undeniable practically from day one. If you’re ready to implement an optimal RFID solution for your business, Energy Electronics is here to help. Simply reach out to our team and we’ll assist you every step of the way.