In applications for operations and manufacturing that demand efficiency and increased productivity, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) delivers instant gratification in terms of streamlined, automated processes and important data insights.
While RFID is not new technology, it has evolved to integrate both near-field and global positioning system (GPS) technology to facilitate inventory management and asset tracking in real time. Recent advancements in RFID technology have introduced new technology to mainstream applications like lower-cost smart labels found in markets where barcodes aren’t adequate and can’t deliver the visibility the business needs.
In this guide, we’ll take a close look at the technology behind a core component of an RFID set-up – the Reader. When finished, you should have a good idea for what to look for in building your RFID solution.
Beyond the Barcode – the Technology behind RFID
RFID technology uses radio frequency waves to collect data from an object in order to identify, track and categorize processes. You’ll find more background on the fundamentals of RFID technology in our RFID guide.
Like barcode asset tracking, RFID connects a physical object with the information, but with significant advantages. RFID is fast, reliable, and does not require physical line of sight or contact between reader/scanner and the RFID-tagged asset. Most importantly, RFID technology can both read and write information. These benefits increase the opportunity for efficiency, and deliver a rapid ROI in a deployment.
Advantages of RFID Technology
There are advantages with moving to RFID technology for asset tracking over manual or even barcode tracking, including:
- Streamline Automation
Productivity is enhanced with RFID systems reliably managing processes with the system requiring only minimal oversight.
- Greater Accuracy
RFID can fully automate asset tracking while delivering immediate access to data. The system eliminates many of the human errors associated with other asset tracking tools.
- Manage Inventory
Because accuracy has been proven to be greater than 98%, supply chain managers can use the numbers to reliably maintain stocks — reducing inventory time and improving productivity.
- Reduce Mishandling
RFID systems increase the efficiency of automated processes by verifying the receipt and release of assets from the RFID detection points.
Components of an RFID System
An RFID system is typically composed of two parts. The RFID tag is attached to an object. The tag includes a microchip that stores information and an antenna that transmits data to an RFID reader. There are also two types of tags – active and passive.
Active RFID Tags
- Powered by an internal battery
- Higher data transmission rates
- Finite lifetime (because of battery)
- Greater range
- Better noise immunity
Passive RFID Tags
- Operate without battery — powered from the field generated by the reader
- Require more powerful readers
- Unlimited life
- Less expensive
- Subject to noise
The other component of an RFID system is the reader.
What is an RFID Reader?
An RFID reader is also composed of two parts – a two-way radio transmitter and a receiver. The reader transmits a signal that is picked up by the antenna on a tag, which will transmit information back to the reader, where it is recorded. Most of the time, the reader is linked to a database where the data is stored and processed.
There are several types of RFID Readers.
This reader only receives signals from tags that are active. The power for the transmission comes from the tag. These are also called Passive Reader Active Tag (PRAT) systems.
These readers transmit an interrogator signal that initiates the data transfer from the tag. Readers that receive an authentication signal from a passive tag are known as Active Reader Passive Tag (ARPT) systems. Readers that initiate data transfer by waking up an active tag are called Active Reader Active Tag (ARAT) systems.
RFID Integration Readers
RFID Integration Readers come in a range of sizes and options. They range in scope from simple devices, engineered for embedded applications like those found programmed into a Zebra printer/encoder, to more sophisticated readers, like the type used on high-speed conveyors. Depending on your application, the reader can also write new data to the tag. An RFID reader can communicate with a computer through a variety of interfaces.
Stationary RFID Readers
These include readers like those affixed beside a conveyor belt in a factory or dock doors in a warehouse. They will read the tags that pass within range of the reader.
Portable RFID Readers
A portable reader is typically integrated into a mobile computer that can be carried or used on a cart. Handheld readers allow for instant access to information for employees on the move. These systems might also be used for scanning barcodes.
RFID Reader Technology Today
Suppliers and vendors today are pushing the boundaries of what is possible with the latest technology releases, including:
Alien Technology offers its new Nexus Multiplexor (MUX) that expands read points and managing up to 32 antennas to a single F800-series reader with no custom integration or special hardware required — all at a fraction of the cost of adding additional reader hardware.
Zebra Technology has a broad portfolio of fixed and mobile readers, printers and encoders, plus active and passive tags and sensors include support for RAIN RFID, Wi-Fi, 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, Ultra-Wideband (UWB) and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). In the last year, Zebra introduced the ATR7000 solution, which enables real-time location data using passive 900 MHz RAIN RFID tags and overhead readers.
Upgrading your Facility to RFID
While this guide will provide a broad background into RFID chips, we suggest working with our expert team members — who specialize in RFID applications — before implementing a solution. Our tech team can identify the best tools and most resourceful solutions on the market. In many cases, they can select and design a custom solution that better meets your needs — in less time and at a more affordable cost.
For more information, contact the GO2 Material ID experts in RFID.