Complete Guide to RFID: Benefits, Applications, and Challenges
Here's everything you need to know about RFID.
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We all love visiting shopping malls and supermarkets, and why not? We get to buy our favorite clothes, household item, and groceries.
However, there’s a part that we all hate the most – having to wait in the never-ending cashier queue.
We all have to wait and see the cashier scanning all the items one-by-one. At that time, we all, at some point, have wished to have a technology that can curtail this lengthy process.
If you too wished the same, then I have good news for you. RFID (radio frequency identification) is a cutting-edge technology that has made this a reality. So, let’s see what RFID is?
What Is RFID?
RFID stands for “radio frequency identification.” It’s a technology that captures digital data encoded in smart labels and RFID tags through a reader via radio waves.
RFID serves a similar purpose to that of a bar code or a magnetic strip of an ATM card where data from a label or tag is captured by the device and then later stored in the database.
However, RFID works better than a barcode and ATM magnetic strips. The most significant advantage of using RFID over barcode is that it doesn’t need to be placed or positioned relative to the scanner.
The other advantage is that with RFID, you can scan more than one object at a time, unlike a barcode, which saves loads of time and energy.
We have all seen the kind of struggle that clerks go through at stores when ensuring the position of the barcode is set in a way that can be read.
Moreover, ATM cards also need to be swiped through a special reader.
RFID solves all these issues since it works within the few feet of the scanner. For instance, to scan a bag full of groceries, all you need to do is to set the bag on the scanner without worrying about its proper positioning or placing.
Moreover, the clerk doesn’t have to scan objects one by one like in the case of a barcode.
How Does it Work?
RFID belongs to a group of technologies referred to as Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC).
AIDC methods automatically identify objects, collect data about them, and enter the data directly into computer systems with little or no human intervention. RFID methods utilize radio waves to accomplish this.
At a simple level, RFID systems consist of three components: an RFID tag or smart label, an RFID reader, and an antenna.
RFID tags contain an integrated circuit and an antenna, which are used to transmit data to the RFID reader (also called an interrogator).
The reader then converts the radio waves to a more usable form of data. Information collected from the tags is then transferred through a communications interface to a host computer system where the data can be stored in a database and analyzed later.
Before diving deep into the working of RFID, let’s explore the different components that it comprises. The major part that RFID consists of are:
1. RFID tag
2. RFID reader
An RFID tag consists of an embedded transmitter and a receiver. RFID component comprises two parts:
Integrated circuit: It’s used for storing and processing the information.
Antenna: It’s used to transmit and receive signals.
RFID tags also have non-volatile memory storage, which includes either programmable or fixed logic for sensor data and transmission. Tags can be categorized as:
Passive: This tag remains dormant since it has no battery. It uses the reader’s signal energy to turn on the tag along with reflecting a signal back to the reader that carries the information.
Active: Active RFID tags have a battery in it that transmits signals periodically. These tags have a range of up to 100 meters due to the presence of a battery. Due to this, active tags are useful in location tracking applications.
Battery-assistive passive: These tags do contain a battery, but it doesn’t transmit signals periodically like that of active RFID tags.
The battery is used to turn the tag when it receives a signal, which enables all the energy from the reader’s signal to reflect.
An RFID reader consists of an interrogator, which is nothing but a two-way radio-transmitted receiver, also known as a transceiver.
The prime function of a transceiver is to transmit an encoded signal that activates the tag.
In response, the tag transponder initiates the conversion of radio signals into usable power along with responding to the reader.
Real-World Applications of RFID
So, we understand how RFID tags work. Now, let’s see some real-world applications of RFID.
RFID can be useful to track the movement and health of animals on a farm. It ensures that each animal on the farm is consuming the correct food.
Monitoring your cattle’s health manually can be costly as well time-consuming.
However, with RFID, you can achieve this automatically and without much expenditure.
RFID has successfully managed to mitigate the challenge of jewelry security.
With item-level tagging of jewelry with RFID, it’s possible to track the jewelry right from the factory to the distribution center and, ultimately, to the store. Moreover, this process is both convenient and cost-effective.
RFID also has a key application in defense. It’s used for weapon and soldier’s movement tracking.
Moreover, it provides real-time information, so it becomes easy to track down the location of a weapon.
In the case of emergencies, RFID enables you to easily access the real-time database when it’s not possible to take help of other battalions.
In large companies where they have a huge number of employee uniforms, RFID can be useful in creating a laundry management system.
It can track the uniforms that were assigned to an employee, the number of times it was washed, age of uniforms, and identifies the missing uniform.
RFID can also be used by the kiosks for managing resources or to interact with their customers.
DVD rental kiosks use RFID tags to ensure that the customer received their chosen movie rental.
Apart from that, it’s also used for interactive media display in which an RFID reader interrogates the cards or badges.
RFID systems in a library help in enhancing the efficiency of circulation operations. Libraries often use barcodes with proper positioning and line of sight.
Whereas with RFID tags, you scan it from multiple angles, which makes the check-in and check-out process faster than that of a barcode.
We saw some of the major real-world applications of RFID technology in various sectors. But we must not forget its greatest application.
I am talking about the application of RFID in supply chain management and logistics.
RFID in Supply Chain Management and Logistics
Supply chain management and logistics is the most fertile field as far as the applications of RFID are concerned. Let’s consider all the elements of supply chain management one by one.
Inventory management is an important element of supply chain management. It includes various aspects like monitoring, administering, controlling, storing, and ultimately using the materials for the sale of a product.
Inaccuracy in inventory management is inevitable and prevalent in many industries. The inaccuracy is nothing but the mismatch between inventory records and the actual amount of product available for sale.
RFID technology can provide numerous benefits to improve the inventory management system. RFID tags have the capability to read through an item. Moreover, the person can scan several items at a time. These properties of RFID help to speed up the inventory management process and reduces human errors, thus rendering highly accurate inventory records.
Warehouses are simply a storage area where you store different products received from the suppliers. These products are then distributed to the customers.
Recently, RFID has emerged as a technology that supports warehouse management systems for simpler supply chain and greater product intelligibility.
With RFID technology, you can automate important tasks, which take place during the receiving and shipping processes.
RFID also increases the efficiency of identification and validation activities along with reducing human errors.
RFID ensures identification of products at an instant and greater control over items in the warehouse.
Due to this, the supply chains now have a greater information flow as compared to the material flow. This further reduces currency cost.
RFID technology has already started to revolutionize the retail sector. Wal-Mart, a behemoth in the retail sector, is experimenting with the passive RFID tags of passive types to meet high consumer demand.
RFID increases product visibility in the retail inventory that helps in better inventory control and customer experience.
This is highly relevant in larger stores that have a facility of customers searching for their chosen products online, which the store has the current stock available for sale.
Secondly, RFID provides enhanced product identification by storing a distinctive identification number.
And at last, it reduces the checkout times since RFID enables a shopper to scan the entire content of a cart without even picking up a single item. Moreover, it helps in dynamic pricing, theft reduction, and employee tracking.
Benefits of RFID
- Adds flexibility and intelligence in the process to improve service levels.
- Integrated automated receiving PCP in manufacturing enables you to continue without waiting for the receipt of the material.
- It enables to control the expiry date, automatic filling of missing files, inventory and returns control, and expedited checkout.
- Allows you to check shelves, boxes, and pallets on top without any eye contact.
- Reduces the total cycle time order until the goods delivery.
- Reduces the errors made in deliveries of customers’ orders.
- Allows you to read multiple tags and, hence, increases the reading speed instead of processing one bar code at a time.
- Easy monitoring of all logistics operations along with increased security.
- Increased speed and agility in locating materials.
- Helps in avoiding tampering with the recording of unique codes.
- Makes it easy to manage products and materials with less manpower.
Challenges in RFID Implementation
RFID Is a Costly Affair
RFID requires costly equipment — whether it be software or hardware. Moreover, talking about the tags, be it active, passive, or semi-passive, are a costly affair and has the capability to set the business backward.
The rates of RFID tags have lowered since the 1970s, but still, many companies are reluctant to adopt it due to its steep prices.
Trouble With Metals and Liquids
RFID doesn’t go well with metals and liquids as they both make it difficult to obtain proper reads on assets. In metals, the radio waves bounce all over the place.
Similarly, the liquid can absorb the signals from the RFID tags.
Difficult to Understand the Technology
It’s difficult to understand about the different tags and frequencies. Managers need to understand the technology well so that they can train their employees about its working.
RFID Collision Course
Workers often come across reader and tag collisions. In reader collision, a worker faces the interferences from another reader in the field.
Similarly, in tag collision, the workers face reading an abundant amount of tags at a time. It occurs when more than one tag reflects a signal that confuses the reader.
In this article, we tried to provide an answer to most of the key questions regarding RFID, as well as its implementation, application, benefits, and challenges.
RFID possess a vast potential and in coming years we will its applications in various industries.
Published at DZone with permission of Shahid Mansuri, DZone MVB. See the original article here.
Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.