RFID, or Radio Frequency Identification technology, has been around for decades. RFID is one of the cost-effective solutions that transfer data wirelessly within proximity. What are the components of RFID technology, and what are the applications?
Components of RFID Technology
RFID technology consists of four components: RFID tags, antenna, RFID receiver (transceiver), and software.
1. RFID Tag
RFID tags are small devices that consist of an electronic microchip embedded inside and an antenna. The microchip has the unique identification number of the RFID tag.
A passive RFID tag does not have a power source; it will receive power from radio signals transmitted from the RFID receiver. These tags will operate when the reader is in the proximity of the tags (line of sight not required).
The antenna coil will act as a power source and medium to transfer data to the reader.
Types of Tags
Passive Tags: Does not have a power source, uses power from the reader to operate.
Battery-Assisted Passive Tags: The logic circuit chip uses battery power. Need RF signals from the reader to activate and function.
Active Tags: Uses a power source like a battery and does not require power from the source/reader.
RFID antennas are designed to operate at a specific frequency for each application in which it operates. These antennas are often mounted on the RFID reader and easily accessible for tags to tap on it.
In some handheld devices, the antenna is often attached to the device. The size and shape of the antenna depend on the application and the system’s operating frequency.
3. RFID Reader
The RFID reader is one of the significant hardware components in the RFID system, which reads information from the RFID devices/tags and connects to the network to transfer the information to the database.
Specification of RFID Reader
Frequency: Operating frequency is one of the specifications of the RFID reader.
|LF: 120–150 kHz
|HF: 13.56 MHz
|Low to moderate
|UHF: 433 MHz
|UHF: 865–868 MHz
|Moderate to high
|microwave: 2450–5800 MHz
|microwave: 3.1–10 GHz
|up to 200 m
RFID technology uses specific software depending on service providers. This software controls the RFID reader, initiates a scan, retrieves information from the tags, and stores the information on a local computer or sends it to the cloud storage.
RFID tags can be erased and re-used using control software.
How does RFID work?
RFID technology works based on the principle of inductive coupling, including a source and receiver antenna. Each RFID tag will have a microchip that contains a unique identification number, model, manufacturing date, expiry date, access information, etc.…
RFID reading is a process of accessing information on a tag using a reader. When the user initiates a scanning, the tags are placed near the RFID reader or vice versa.
RFID reader sends radio frequency signals using its antenna; small coils embedded in the RFID tag pick up the signal from the reader and activate the tag (in passive tags) by powering it.
Once the tag is activated, it starts transmitting data back to the reader using the same antenna coils using the inductive coupling (backscatter coupling) method.
What are the applications of RFID technology?
1. Retail and Supply Chain
RFID technology is revolutionizing operational efficiency across the supply chain. Retail stores can efficiently manage stocks, and customers can access information about a particular product or self-checkout from the stores.
Many fashion retailers have already adopted the applications of RFID technology; it has helped them modernize their stores and improve customer satisfaction. RFID technology helps faster checkouts and reduces the number of support staff.
Theft control is another advantage of RDIF technology in retail stores. RFID readers will detect any items that pass through the exit without payment being completed.
2. Access control
Access control and security is one of the common applications of RFID technology. Employers can assign different levels of access to each work group personnel in office environments, manufacturing plants, hospitals, airports, shops, etc.… Using modern RFID technology, a highly secure access control system can be implemented and monitored remotely.
Companies are using personal identification badges with RFID technology for employees.
3. Medical and hospital
RFID technology can be used in medicine and healthcare to track the movement of medical equipment, update medicine stock, and authorize access for medical professionals. A simple RFID tag on a patient’s wrist does not require scanning (like a barcode scan); it helps medical practitioners efficiently handle patients for different procedures.
Implementation of RFID technology facilitates hospitals to improve efficiency, avoid errors during medication, and increase customer satisfaction. An RFID can store more data like personal information, allergies to some medicines, chronic conditions like diabetes, etc.
Furthermore, RFID implementation can reduce wait time in hospitals and clinics during busy hours. Healthcare personnel can track the patient’s location within hospitals and guide them for other procedures if necessary.
Pharmaceutical companies use RFID technology to prevent counterfeit products from reaching the market.
4. Logistics and shipping
RFID tags were primarily developed to improve the efficiency of logistics and shipping. Manual recording of inventory movements is not feasible for larger quantities of items from the warehouse, manufacturing, and storage area.
RFID readers can easily read hundreds of tags within seconds with accuracy. Once the items move out of the warehouse premises, data will be updated in the database without manual action.
RFID gates are used for inventory management in big warehouse storage areas. RFID readers installed on the gates will record inventory movement in and out of a warehouse location.
5. Automation of manufacturing
RFID technology is one of the significant enablers for the smart factory concept to help automate different stages during manufacturing. During each stage of manufacturing, RFID readers will record the movement of products and update the database without additional action from the operator.
The application of RFID technology is suitable for large-scale production sites where hundreds or thousands of products are monitored, and status information is recorded in real-time. Manually updating this information is time-consuming and cause error while entering the data.
6. Animal tracking
Implementing RFID tags on livestock helps farmers update, identify, and easily track. Manually updating large amounts of data is not easy, especially in a remote location.
A handheld reader can easily access information (age, weight, vaccination data, etc.) within seconds. Veterinary doctors can retrieve information about a pet by scanning the tag (without going through records).
7. Baggage handling in aviation
The number of airline passengers has been increasing every year, and it will continue to grow in the coming years. Baggage handling a huge number of passengers is a heavy task for airlines; baggage mishandling often costs millions of dollars every year.
The efficient application of RFID technology helps airlines solve this issue and significantly reduce luggage mishandling. RFID tags do not require a line-of-sight angle to read information; this is an advantage compared to barcode scanning.
Tracking of baggage is much easier than other technologies; the operator will get a notification if the baggage is placed at the wrong location or moved to a different location.
RFID gate for inventory management, records in and out of a warehouse location
8. Tollgate systems / Electronic Road Pricing
Electronic toll gates and Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) use RFID technology to allow access and charge for entry to an area. These are mostly active tags with payment options enabled.
RFID readers can read these tags from up to 20 – 30 feet above the vehicles.
Agriculture: RFID tags can be implemented in agriculture and smart farming. Smart tags can store information about crops like harvested dates, locations, organic farming information, etc.
Advantages of RFID technology
- Cost-effective solution compared to other technologies
- Does not require a direct line of sight to operate
- RFID readers can read hundreds of tags simultaneously within seconds
- RFID tags can be rewritten and easily reused
- Data from tags can be encrypted for enhanced security
- Tags can store more information than just basic product information (serial number, lot number, manufacturing date, expiry, website URL, etc.)
- RFID systems can be integrated with other existing systems
- RFID technology is easily scalable and easy to implement
Limitations of RFID technology
- Signals from the RFID reader can be blocked by metal surfaces, liquids, and thick materials.
- Higher implementation cost compared to barcode scanners
- Accuracy is affected due to signal quality (any obstruction could cause an error in data)
- Implementation is more complex than the barcode system
- Privacy and security vulnerabilities often argued with the increased use of tags (especially personal information)
As with any other available technology, RFID also does not have its downsides in terms of security and accuracy. Continuous development and use of complex modulation techniques will ensure a better solution in the future. Higher demand and more vendors in RFID technology will reduce the implementation charges to lower levels.