Example of an RFID tag.

Understanding RFID Technology

RFID technology is a way to electronically identify, track and manage assets through the use of radio waves. RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. The technology has been around for decades, but its use and applications continue to expand. Let’s take a look at how RFID works and how it continues to shape our lives. 

How Does RFID Work?

An RFID system consists of an RFID tag (integrated circuit), an RFID reader, and an antenna. RFID tags, also known as RFID chips or transponders, are attached to (or embedded in) objects and can be read by an RFID reader. The reader transmits a signal which is received by the tag antenna, which then sends a signal to the reader, all in real-time. Each tag contains unique information about the object it’s attached to, such as its serial number or other data like a product’s price. 

A big advantage that RFID tags have over barcodes is that RFID tags don’t need to be within line of sight of the RFID reader to be read. 

Uses of RFID Technology

Applications of RFID technology have increased in recent decades as the technology has become more compact. RFID technology has impacted many sectors of manufacturing and transport with the ability to track assets as they move through a facility. For example, a food manufacturer could use RFID to track its baking trays and sheets through its bakery. An automobile part producer could track pallets of parts through the plant to know exactly when enough parts are ready for an order to be fulfilled, cutting down on waiting time for trucks and enabling more efficient scheduling for shipments. 

RFID technology has impacted our day-to-day routines as well. One of the most visible uses of RFID technology is for tap-and-go credit card payment using the RFID inlay found in most cards these days. Another common use of RFID technology is implanting an RFID tag into pets in case they run away or get stolen. Animal tracking with RFID is nothing new, but in the past, the tags were very large and only used for tracking livestock. Now tag data storage has improved, and a pet’s RFID chip can include the pet’s name with the owner’s name and address. 

RFID technology has a great deal of usage with inventory management in healthcare and pharmaceutical settings. Hospitals and retail stores can track inventory of valuable or dangerous medicines, ensuring their security until dispensed to patients. 

Speaking of security concerns, RFID technology is excellent for access control of sensitive or restricted areas. In the last decade, RFID technology has become smaller and more cost-effective, replacing the magnetic strip on identification badges.  

Types of RFID Tags

  • Active RFID tag: This type of tag must be powered by a battery or other power source. It wakes up when it senses a reader and sends its unique ID number. The reader then sends information back to the tag.
  • Passive RFID tag: This type of tag doesn’t require a power source because it generates its own electromagnetic field. The passive tag can wake itself up whenever it senses an incoming interrogating radio signal from a nearby reader. This means that you don’t need an active transmitter for each item, just one at the entrance/exit points where people or products pass through (or at choke points in warehouses). This also reduces costs because there is no need for additional batteries or transmitters inside each product. Instead, everything can run off one central transmitter. 
  • Semi-passive tags: These tags operate similarly to passive RFID tags, except that they also have a battery that serves to extend the tags’ communication range. 

RFID Frequencies and Their Use

  • Low Frequency (LF) RFID systems: These types of RFID systems operate at 125 kHz and have a very short read range of about 10 cm. They are most often used for access control scenarios and livestock tracking. 
  • High Frequency (HF) RFID systems: HF RFID systems operate at 13.56 MHz and have a read range between 10 cm and 1 m. These systems are very common and used for electronic ticketing and item-level brand interactions. 
  • Ultra High Frequency (UHF) RFID systems: Most UHF RFID systems operate between 900 and 915 MHz. This type has the fastest data transfer rate when compared to LF or HF and has a read range of up to 12 m. These are most suited to supply chain management tasks like inventory tracking and asset management. 

RFID vs. NFC

You may have heard of NFC (near-field communication) while researching RFID technology. HF RFID and NFC technology both operate on the 13.56 MHz frequency. Unlike RFID, which is only one-way communication, NFC allows for two-way communication between devices. Contactless payment with a mobile reader is the most common form of NFC in use today, but the technology also allows for data transfer between two smartphones simply tapping two devices together. 

Streamline the Supply Chain With RFID Technology

RFID technology has been around for decades, but recent advancements have made it even more useful than ever. With the rise of smart devices like smartphones and tablets, RFID systems are becoming increasingly relevant in everyday life. 

By using RFID tags instead of barcodes or QR codes, companies can more easily manage their supply chains. They no longer need employees to manually scan codes on each package or pallet they handle during shipping operations — asset tracking happens automatically. 

RFID has become an integral part of supply chain management. To find out how RFID technology can improve your company’s supply chain logistics, contact RTI. Their experts can solve your supply chain and asset management problems and get your company on the road to success.