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RFID has been a buzzword, and trusted barcodes have been the preferred identification strategy until now and have served many businesses for decades. However, RFID may continue to grow. While RFID isn't a suitable replacement for barcodes in all situations, it does offer some advantages that you may want to take advantage of for your business. Below we will help you understand the RFID knowledge you need to get started.
There are essentially 3 different types of RFID, each with its own advantages and limitations. In the automated ID industry, UHF is the most common, but it is useful to know how to differentiate each one.
Low frequency (LF)
Low-frequency RFID operates at 135kHz and has a short read range (usually 1 or 2 inches). This type of RFID essentially requires contact with a reader to capture the data. While this type isn't useful for product tracking, you'll find it embedded in ID and other key Fob applications for access/parking control, authentication, event attendance management, ticketing, and card payments.
High frequency (HF)
High-frequency RFID operates at 13.56MHz and typically has a read distance of about 5 inches, but with specialized readers and larger tags, it can reach nearly 3 feet. HF RFID tags have fewer interference problems than UHF, so they are a good solution for small object tagging on automated production lines where their range is limited. High-speed reading is also possible, making HF a good choice in medical settings where vials and samples need to be read.
Ultrahigh frequency (UHF)
In North America, UHF RFID operates between 902-928 MHz and has a maximum read range of about 10 feet. UHF has become the most commonly used option in automatic ID applications due to its long read range and reduced cost. UHF does have more interference problems, but a properly designed system can overcome them. UHF RFID is also great for mounting on-label stock, making it an ideal item/container-level labeling option.
Passive vs active RFID
Regardless of the frequency range, RFID systems can be passive or active. This difference refers to whether the RFID tag itself has its own power supply. Active tags are much more expensive and usually physically larger.
Since active tags have their own power supply, active tags have a larger read range and can be read at high speed. Passive tags are the most common for auto-ID purposes because you can create tags thin enough to make them into tags and cost only $0.10 to $.20 instead of $25 to $100. With passive tags, the reader actually powers the tag and then sends its data back to the reader.
How does RFID work?
How RFID is worded With a passive UHF system, you have 4 main components: tag, antenna, reader, and host PC. The reader is scanning each antenna connected to it so that once a tag enters the area of one of the antennas, it will power up first.
When fully powered, the tag "backscatters" its information, which is then picked up by the antenna. This is the most delicate part of any system because this is where interference comes into play. Liquids absorb the projected signal, while metals reflect it. Depending on what you're tagging, where the tags are placed, and how many items you're trying to read at one time, the performance of any system will vary greatly.
With the tag powered and correctly read, the data on the tag will be processed by the reader and sent to your host PC. On the host computer, you would run some type of software and put the read tag information to use. This could be asset tracking software, an inventory management system, or even an event tracking application.
Like a barcode, an RFID tag is a simple identifier, but the tag can be read faster and automatically without worrying about station or orientation. Since each label will have a unique number, the way you can track items is only limited by your needs and software capabilities.
Limitations of RFID
Although it may seem like the perfect technology at first, RFID does have its limitations. We have addressed several issues related to interference, especially when dealing with liquids and metals. The truth is that almost any type of material can limit the accuracy and range of an RFID system. Taste buds full of non-metallic/liquid products may still be problematic, as the food in the middle of the taste buds may never receive enough antenna signal to power up when items are dense.
It would be nice to read every RFID tag in a building at the touch of a button, but the technology isn't quite there yet. Reading single or small collections of tags is the best option to ensure 100% reading accuracy. Many distribution facilities that use RFID will first read the signal tag of the entire taste bud upon arrival, and then disassemble the taste bud to capture individual items.
The main takeaway from this is that compared to barcode systems, RFID technology is more susceptible to the environment in which it is used. Proper site surveys and extensive testing are always necessary when implementing an RFID solution. When designing any system, knowing where to place the label, how to scan the label, and what the product is must be taken into account. Getting many of the benefits of an RFID system will depend on organizing the system in the right way.
RFID readers come in 3 different styles, depending on how you will be collecting the data.
Fixed RFID reader
Stationary RFID Readers Stationary readers are mainly used to create portals that read automatically. When using a fixed reader, usually 2 to 4 antennas are connected to read the tags as they pass. This type of reader is most commonly used to read tags as they enter a room, pass through a warehouse dock door, or travel down a conveyor line.
The reader itself will connect to the host PC or your network to transmit all tag data. Since these readers are often used in automation applications, they often have additional connectivity to support an external stack of presentation sensors or lights to notify the user of a completed reading.
Mobile RFID reader
A mobile RFID reader is the same as a standard mobile computer, but with the addition of an RFID antenna and reader. These types of readers are used to manually read labels on the move and also have barcode scanning capabilities. All scanned RFID data can be used in software running locally on the device or sent over a wireless network to a larger system. Many RFID installations will use both fixed and mobile readers.
Desktop RFID reader
Desktop RFID Readers For applications that require a reader next to the PC for easy input, there are devices that act like basic barcode scanners in that they will output simple keyboard data. Neither stationary readers nor mobile readers are plug-and-play. The desktop reader is always connected to a PC, and with the software that comes with it, you can enter RFID tag data into almost any application. Since these devices are designed for desktop use, they have very short read distances, perhaps up to 12 inches.
Middleware is software that uses all RFID tag information for a specific purpose. As mentioned, it could be inventory tracking software, asset management systems, or any other kind of application. The key point to remember is that RFID tags have more information than barcodes, and RFID readers (except desktops) don't output basic keyboard text data like barcode scanners. Whatever application you end up using, it must specifically support RFID readers.
The language used by stationary and mobile readers is called the Low-Level Reader Protocol (LLRP). LLRP is a standardized protocol that any application can use to support RFID readers. For some mobile readers, the manufacturer may have a built-in conversion application that uses LLRP to output keyboard text, such as a scanner. This is uncommon, so you should always ensure that your middleware application will support LLRP and RFID readers.
The right RFID solution for your business
With this overview, you have learned some RFID basics and the core components of any system. RFID technology is a very powerful tool in a variety of applications for all types of businesses, but as you've seen, it's not a ready-to-use solution either.
Every RFID installation is unique and requires extensive planning and testing before any final decision is made. In many cases, businesses will start by installing limited RFID. They start with a portal or just a few mobile readers. As the testing process and pilot projects develop, the system can be deployed at scale.
Finding the right RFID solution is always a challenge, and having the right resources and help is critical. If RFID sounds like the right solution for your business, or you have other questions, feel free to contact our experts - we're always happy to help you find the right solution for your needs.
Yanzeo can custom an exclusive barcode RFID solution for you. We have always been led by intelligent technology for many years, and have been committed to the research and exploration of barcode and RFID technology. With hundreds of independent technology patents, it is one of the well-known barcode and RFID equipment manufacturers, and business and solution providers.
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- RFID Products
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