Radio-frequency identification, or RFID as it is better known, works by storing and transmitting digital information on a tag or label. Like barcode asset tracking, it connects a physical object attached to the tag with the information stored in a database, but with significant advantages.
It is those advantages which make RFID technology such a powerful tool for businesses working in manufacturing, supply chain, and inventory control.
What is RFID?
RFID technology uses electromagnetic fields like radio waves to identify and track the tags attached to a physical object. Information stored on the tag can then be transmitted to another device, known as an RFID reader.
RFID is considered an Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) technology. AIDC devices require little or no human interaction to identify an object, gather data and information, and transmit the data to another computer system.
How Does RFID Work?
The core of the RFID system is composed of two parts – the tag or label and an RFID reader.
- An RFID tag has two components – a microchip or integrated circuit and an antenna. The microchip stores data and information. The antenna receives and transmits a signal. There are also two types of RFID tags. Passive RFID tags use energy from the radio waves emitted by the RFID reader to transmit information. Active RFID tags include a battery so the tag can actively transmit information periodically. Each tag also contains a serial number which can be linked to an object.
- An RFID reader is a two-way radio transmitter and receiver. It emits a signal which can be picked up by the antenna on the tag. When the tag receives the signal, it transmits information back to the reader. Typically, the reader is connected to a database or RFID software that stores and processes the information.
Tags can also be read-only, which means they are assigned a single serial number which is used in the database or RFID software. There are also read/write tags, which allow a user to input data on the tag so a specific product code can be written into the circuit.
How Is RFID Used?
Many industries are actively using RFID technology.
Identification badges, for example, use RFID technology to identify a user and restrict access to controlled areas. RFID technology is also used in the medical device and pharmaceutical industry to prevent counterfeit drugs, track shipments, and fulfill the FDA requirements for unique device identification (UDI) for medical devices. Retail stores can track inventory through the supply chain and prevent theft and inventory shrinkage using RFID.
RFID is a powerful tool in manufacturing, providing a durable and reliable solution that tracks chain of custody. Asset tracking on site, in inventory, or through the supply chain is another area where companies can leverage RFID to better manage and control assets.
What Are the Advantages of RFID Technology?
There are many advantages to using RFID technology over barcode systems.
A barcode requires line-of-sight between the tag and the optical barcode scanner. Items must be scanned individually, and often require human interaction. RFID can be read over a distance, and does not require line-of-sight. A single user can quickly and accurately collect data using an RFID reader and tagged objects.
In addition, an RFID tag can hold more information than a barcode. An RFID also uses a protective material over the integrated circuit and antenna, making it more durable than a barcode label. Barcode labels are susceptible to damage that can make the barcode unreadable.