An improvement on barcodes and QR codes, RFID technology has seen application in numerous industries. The tech has already become so widespread that even people who don’t know what it is have likely used it at some point.
RFID systems consist of two key components: tags and readers. Readers are, naturally, used for scanning and getting the required information from tags. On the other hand, RFID tags and labels house specific data that is available once communication with a reader is established.
If you’re considering RFID technology for your business, this article will answer some crucial questions about RFID tags and labels.
- What Are RFID Tags and Labels?
- The Difference Between Tags and Labels
- Common Uses of RFID Tags and Labels
- Differences in RFID Label Construction
- Benefits of Using RFID Tags and Labels
What Are RFID Tags and Labels?
RFID tags and labels are devices designed to transmit information via radio waves. The very name comes from this functionality, as RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. Most RFID tags are both readable and writeable, which means the information on them can be updated or modified.
Three components form an RFID tag: the integrated circuit or IC (also referred to as the RFID chip), the antenna, and the substrate. The chip contains the necessary data, the antenna makes communication between the tag and the reader possible, and the substrate holds the entire tag together. As a component of a two-piece system, an RFID tag on its own won’t do much. Instead, it requires an RFID reader to pass the relevant information.
You might’ve noticed that we’ve mainly referred to the devices in question as tags. To avoid confusion, let’s break down the concepts of RFID tags and labels and look at what, if anything, sets the two apart.
The Difference Between Tags and Labels
Although RFID tags and labels aren’t the same, using the two terms interchangeably is quite common. The reason for this is simple: The differences between RFID tags and labels are mostly technical and don’t impact their uses and functionality, which are pretty much the same.
Essentially, RFID tags are a much broader category than labels. An RFID tag is a device consisting of an IC and antenna that can be packed in various shapes. In other words, when talking about an RFID tag, you might not always know what it will look like.
On the other hand, RFID labels have a relatively uniform shape. As the name says, these are labels, often with adhesive back surfaces, equipped with RFID technology. Where an RFID tag can be worn by a person, attached to a surface, or embedded in an object, a label will primarily be used to attach to items like packages or equipment.
Now that the difference between RFID tags and labels is clear, let’s see where this technology is mostly used.
Common Uses of RFID Tags and Labels
Ever since its inception, RFID technology has shown massive potential for use in various industries. Wherever information needed to be exchanged quickly and efficiently or there was a vast number of items to catalog, RFID tags and labels have been proven the most optimal solution.
Starting with manufacturing, RFID tags on different parts allow for easier tracking through the production process. As a result, every part of the future product finds its exact place in the chain. Plus, the entire process becomes more manageable since detailed tracking helps prevent bottlenecking.
Similarly, warehousing, logistics, and inventory management are made easier with the help of RFID. Attaching tags or labels to items allows for seamless location tracking in warehouses. Likewise, a shipment with an RFID label can be followed remotely, providing the exact status of the transported cargo at any point.
This means that RFID technology gives companies complete control over products, shipments, and inventory. Naturally, the immediate and far-reaching advantages here are massive.
RFID tags are extremely useful when it comes to access control. When built into keycards, RFID technology improves security and prevents unauthorized access to protected areas, whether they’re business or private premises.
Returning to the subject of tracking, RFIDs can be used to monitor the whereabouts of assets, pets, or even people. In that regard, RFID technology is utilized in tracking vehicles, valuable tools and equipment, and animals (thanks to embedded chips). With RFID cards, employees can also be tracked via ID cards, which is particularly valuable in large factory compounds or other spaces of considerable size.
RFID tags are useful in trade, too. Firstly, modern contactless payment cards rely on this technology, but store cashouts aren’t the only use of this technology when paying. Tolls and transit fare systems may also incorporate RFID tags, allowing passengers to pay as they go, without the need to stop.
Beyond payment, security, and inventory purposes, RFID tech finds use in healthcare. In this industry, the technology allows for vital bodily function monitoring, precise administration of appropriate medication, and medical equipment monitoring. In other words, when applied to healthcare, RFID tags may help save lives.
Finally, RFIDs can be used for research purposes. For instance, individual animals can be tagged to track their movements and habits. Similarly, RFID tags are useful for wildlife and farm animal control and monitoring.
Differences in RFID Label Construction
We’ve mentioned that RFID tags come in different shapes and sizes while labels are more limited in form. However, that doesn’t mean all RFID labels are made the same. Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that an RFID label may be constructed in various ways depending on its intended use.
Active vs. Passive
The first thing to consider with an RFID label is whether the tag in it is active or passive. Active tags have their own power supply and may act either as beacons or transponders. A beacon RFID tag emits a ping at regular intervals, sending out relevant information. A transponder will only emit data when it detects an RFID reader nearby.
While beacons are relatively simple to grasp, transponders have a somewhat complex method of operation. Once a reader comes into the range of the transponder tag, it will emit a signal. The transponder will catch that signal and ping the required info back to the reader.
Besides the mode of operation, battery life is another crucial difference between beacons and transponders. Since beacons send out a signal constantly, they’ll have a significantly shorter battery life than transponders.
Going over to passive RFID tags, these don’t have an independent power source. Instead, they’re charged due to induction from the reader, which means that the two components of the RFID system need to be relatively close to each other.
Similar to active RFIDs, there are two types of passive tags: inlays and hard tags. However, the difference here is much simpler. Inlays are thin tags that can be used in combination with various materials and inserted nearly anywhere. Hard tags are usually made of metal or plastic, exchanging versatility for better durability.
RFID labels will differ in size relative to the object being labeled, which is quite understandable – a label fit for an office desk will likely be too large for a pen. Yet, the object itself isn’t the only factor impacting the RFID label size. Range plays a role here, too.
If you want items to be trackable at long range, they’ll usually need a larger inlay. In other words, the RFID chip and antenna will have to be larger to transmit information further. Inlay size directly impacts label size for a simple reason: a label must always be larger than the inlay itself.
How and where the RFID label is mounted will impact the precise type of label used. In some cases, the RFID tag will have to be positioned precisely so that the reader can scan it with ease. Then, the label might need some customization to ensure correct positioning. Furthermore, separating the inlay from the object’s surface can expand the tag’s range.
Object surfaces will influence label construction in terms of material. In that regard, labels can differ based on the surface material and moisture, the choice of adhesive, and whether the surface is smooth or rough.
Since RFID tags and labels have radio technology at their core, label construction will depend on particular conditions impacting radio frequencies. For instance, liquids can absorb radio signals, potentially making RFID readouts hard or impossible to get. Or, in another example, metal objects may reflect the radio waves, making scanning very challenging.
In such cases, modifications to the RFID label may be necessary. Sometimes these will involve the choice of label materials, while in other cases additional parts like fins or flags might be necessary for the label to function properly.
Numerous outside factors will impact the choice of RFID labels. While RFID tags can generally endure higher temperatures and even physical impact, the same might not apply to the label. Thus, knowing the temperature range that the label will be exposed to is crucial.
Similarly, the RFID label might need to be resistant to chemicals or withstand a certain level of abrasion. If such factors aren’t accounted for, the label might fall apart before the end of its intended lifespan. On that note, it’s worth determining how long the label is supposed to be used and whether it should be replaced at some point.
RFID labels or, more precisely, the RFID tags in the labels, differ by the amount of data they can hold. Standard inlays can hold basic information about an item, which will be sufficient for warehousing or relatively simple inventory management.
However, tracking certain items might call for more detailed information. In that case, you’ll need a chip with a greater memory capacity.
Benefits of Using RFID Tags and Labels
Compared to its barcode and even QR code predecessors, RFID technology can rightfully be considered revolutionary. This isn’t simply due to the tagging and scanning being transferred into the digital space. The technology also provides numerous other conveniences and benefits across various industries.
Firstly, RFID labels don’t require a line of sight to be read. Instead, the radio signal connection allows for genuinely remote communication at a moment’s notice. Plus, with increased range options, copious amounts of labels can be scanned simultaneously, shortening the time needed to cover particularly large inventories.
Next, RFID systems provide more information about the tagged items. With an appropriate label and inlay, it’s possible to store relatively large amounts of data for more precise tracking and organization. This means RFID tags and labels stand head and shoulders above barcodes in this regard.
Finally, when used for access control, RFID technology can ensure greater security and safety, whether it’s for information or restricted locations.
How to Choose an RFID for Your Company
Even when you understand the details about RFID tags and labels, choosing the right RFIDs for your purposes may be a challenge. In fact, the task might prove downright impossible without professional help. That’s precisely where experts from Energy Electronic can help. Contact our team to get the best advice and guidance when implementing RFID technology in your business.