With the rapid decrease in the cost of RFID tags, the use of RFID systems has become widespread and the RFID market is estimated to be worth $13.4 billion by 2022. As of today, many applications take advantage of RFID systems such as credit cards, collecting tolls, granting access to vehicles in gated communities, tracking library items, animal tracking, tracking goods moving through the supply chain, and many more.
But if you’re asking yourself ‘What is RFID technology?’ or ‘What is an RFID system?’, you’re in the right place. This article will delve into what exactly RFID is, how it works, how it can be used, plus we’ve explained all of the technical terms you need to know to understand RFID technology.
In a nutshell, radio frequency identification (RFID) is a fast-developing technology, providing wireless identification and tracking capability by using radio waves to identify and track tags.
In theory, it works similarly to barcodes, however, there is no direct scanning needed for RFID tags, plus there is no need for line-of-sight to a reader - opening up the possibilities of how it can be used. Currently, radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is used in numerous sectors like supply chain, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, and could have a great impact on many more.
For example, imagine a large manufacturing plant where multiple tools are used at one time. Using RFID, project managers can locate any tool on the site quickly and easily, ensuring effective tool management. Read on to learn more about the different ways RFID technology can be used.
RFID systems mainly consist of two components - readers and tags:
The RFID tracking process is pretty straightforward, irrespective of how you deploy your RFID system. Generally, the RFID tracking process consists of the following four steps.
In the manufacturing plant example used above, the RFID tag would be located on the tool. The RFID reader would receive the tag’s signal. And then, it would receive data on where the tool is located. The reader would send this location information to the database to be read by the project manager who could then locate the tool.
An RFID reader (also known as an interrogator) is a device used to gather information from an RFID tag in order to track individual objects. The reader comprises a radio transmitter and receiver. Upon powering, the reader continuously transmits radio frequency signals. When there is an RFID tag within the reader's range, it energises the tag and gathers information. The reader uses this information to identify the object. Readers are generally categorised as either fixed or mobile.
Fixed Readers: These readers are mounted in particular locations and are mainly used for tracking items as they move from one place to another. Fixed readers provide comfort and consistency by automatically tracking tag movements without the need for human involvement, like at a loading dock. They’re commonly used for inventory or asset management.
Mobile Readers: These readers are mainly hand-held and can be used for scanning individual items. These readers offer a lot of flexibility and are widely used in the retail sector. For example, retail staff can count inventory in real-time using handheld mobile RFID readers.
RFID tags are a vital component of any traceability system. These tags are small devices containing a chip and an antenna that use radio waves to receive, store and send data to nearby readers. Simply put, RFID tags are labels that can store various data such as serial numbers, short descriptions, or even pages of information.
Generally, there are three main classifications of RFID tags. These are:
Active Tags: Active tags consist of a transmitter and a power source, mainly a battery. They actively send a continuous signal. These tags are usually equipped with sensors that can measure and transmit temperature, light, humidity, and vibration data for the attached objects. In addition, these tags have the widest reading range that can extend up to 100m. As a result, active tags are usually larger and more expensive than passive tags. They are often used to track significantly large assets such as cargo containers.
Active tags are of two types:
Passive Tags: Passive tags remain asleep until they receive a radio signal from the reader. The tag then uses this radio signal from the reader to turn on and reflect back the energy to the reader. Thus, the reading range is comparatively shorter than the active tags, typically less than 10m. In addition, since these tags do not need a transmitter or power source and need only an antenna and a tag chip, they are smaller, cheaper, more flexible and easier to manufacture than the active tags. The most common application of passive tags is the item-level tracking of pharmaceuticals and consumer goods.
Semi-passive (or battery-assisted) RFID tags: There is the emergence of a third type of RFID tag, a hybrid type known as semi-passive (or battery-assisted) RFID tags. These tags consist of a power source, usually a battery, in a passive tag configuration. What this means is the battery turns on the chip and can reflect back the energy to the reader, but they do not have a transmitter. As a result, their reading range is higher than the passive tags. However, they are more expensive and have a limited life when compared with passive tags. These tags are suitable for applications where extra features like environment monitoring are required and tagged items are within the range of the reader.
The following table represents the most common operating frequencies that an RFID system can use:
RFID offers countless possibilities for present and future use by offering a cost-effective, efficient and reliable method of collecting and storing data. Below are just a few of the infinite applications of RFID technology:
There are two main issues to consider with RFID. These are:
Here we’ve listed the most commonly used terms used in relation to RFID technology.
An active tag has its own power source, enabling it to transmit a signal.
Provides a link between a reader and a tag enabling them to send and receive data.
A method of preventing interference of radio waves from one device to another device.
Semi-active RFID tags operating like passive tags but having batteries, like active tags. Consider it a hybrid tag.
A type of active tag that transmits signals at set intervals.
A component of an RFID tag that stores data.
A device that connects several RFID readers and gathers data from them.
The method of linking a reader to a tag.
A unique identification number encoded within an RFID tag.
A reader securely fastened or installed at a specific location, such as affixed to a wall.
Another name for an RFID reader or scanner.
The area in which an interrogator’s signal is strong enough to attract a passive tag and obtain its information.
Tags that do not require an onboard battery; instead receiving power from the reader. This process is known as energy harvesting.
The process of collecting data from an RFID chip.
The percentage of the number of tags that are read successfully.
The maximum distance that a tag remains readable from a reader.
The part of a reader that receives the information from the tag.
It stands for Radio Frequency Identification, which is a type of identification using radio waves.
These tags are small devices containing a chip and an antenna and use radio waves to receive, store, and send data to nearby readers.
Another term for a tag. A transponder consists of two main parts, a chip and an antenna.
Many industries have adopted RFID technology in recent years. It has truly made real-time locating systems much easier, cost-effective, and reliable. The next innovation for RFID technology will be to provide in-built visual feedback, using low-cost, low-power displays.
These are just a few of the RFID display innovations to expect in the near future. Some of which we are working on right now with clients. But of course, with the flexibility RFID technology offers, there are many more possibilities.
At Ynvisible, we design and manufacture ultra-low-power displays using innovative electrochromic technology. Using roll-to-roll production methods, we can produce display technology at high volumes and low cost. Not only that, our displays have endless design freedom, so you can create exactly what you need. Discover our segment display kit today to get started.
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