RFID or Radio Frequency Identification technology has been around for decades. RFID is one of the cost effective solutions which transfer data wirelessly within the proximity. What are the components of RFID technology and what are the applications?
Components of RFID Technology
RFID technology consists of four components such as RFID tags, antenna, RFID receiver (transceiver) and software.
1. RFID Tag
RFID tags are small devices consists of an electronic microchip embedded inside and an antenna. The microchip has the unique identification number of the RFID tag.
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 at the proximity of the tags (line of sight not required).
Antenna coil will act as 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: Logic circuit chip uses battery power. Need RF signals from the reader to activate and function.
Active Tags: Uses a power source like battery, does not require power from source/reader.
RFID antennas are designed to operate at a specific frequency for each applications 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, antenna is often attached to the device. Size and shape of the antenna depends on the application and the operating frequency of the system.
3. RFID Reader
RFID reader is one of the significant hardware component in the RFID system which read information from the RFID devices/tags and connected 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.
|Frequency Band||Range||Data Rate|
|LF: 120–150 kHz||10 cm||Low|
|HF: 13.56 MHz||0.1–1 m||Low to moderate|
|UHF: 433 MHz||1–100 m||Moderate|
|UHF: 865–868 MHz||1–12 m||Moderate to high|
|microwave: 2450–5800 MHz||1–2 m||High|
|microwave: 3.1–10 GHz||up to 200 m||High|
RFID technology uses specific software depends on service providers. This software controls the RFID reader, initiate scan and retrieve information from the tags and stores the information to a local computer or send to the cloud storage.
RFID tags can be erased and re-used using control software.
How RFID works?
RFID technology works based on the principle of inductive coupling which include a source antenna and receiver antenna. Each RDID tag will have a microchip which contains a unique identification number, model, manufacturing date, expiry date, access information etc.…
RFID reading is a process of accessing information of 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 it’s antenna, small coils embedded on 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 to transmit data back to the reader using the same antenna coils using inductive coupling (backscatter coupling) method.
What are the applications of RFID technology?
1. Retail and Supply Chain
RFID technology is revolutionizing the 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 adapted RFID technology; it helped them to modernize the store and improved customer satisfaction. RFID technology helps faster check outs, reduce number of support staff.
Theft control is another advantage of RDIF technology in retail stores. RFID readers will detect any items pass through the exit without payment is completed.
2. Access control
Access control and security is one of common applications of RFID technology. Employers can assign different level of access to each work group personnel in office environment, manufacturing plants, hospitals, airports and shops etc.… Using modern RFID technology, 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 movement of medical equipment, update medicine stock and authorized access for medical professionals. A simple RFID tag on patient’s wrist does not require scanning (like barcode scan); it helps medical practitioners to efficiently handle patients for different procedures.
Implementation of RFID technology facilitates hospitals to improve efficiency, avoid errors during medication and better customer satisfaction. An RFID can store more data like personal information, allergy to some medicine, chronic conditions like diabetes etc.
Furthermore, RFID implementation can reduce wait time during busy hours in hospitals and clinics. 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 reaching the market.
4. Logistics and shipping
RFID tags were primarily developed to improve efficiency of logistics and shipping. Manual recording of inventory movements are not feasible for larger quantity of items from warehouse, manufacturing and storage area.
RFID readers can easily read hundreds of tags within seconds with accuracy. Once the items move out a warehouse premises, data will be updated to 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 smart factory concept to help automate different stages during manufacturing. During each stages of manufacturing, RFID readers will record the movement of products and update to the database without additional action from the operator.
RFID technology is suitable for large scale production sites where hundreds or thousands of products are being monitored and status information is recorded real-time. Manually updating this information is time consuming and cause error while entering the data.
6. Animal tracking
Implementation of RFID tags on livestock helps farmers to update, identify and easier tracking. Manually updating large amount of data is not an easy task especially on a remote location.
Using a handheld reader, information (age, weight, vaccination data etc.…) can be easily accessed within seconds. Veterinary doctors will be able to retrieve information about a pet by just scanning the tag (without going through records).
7. Baggage handling in aviation
Numbers of airline passengers have been increasing every year and it will continue to grow in coming years. Baggage handling of huge number of passengers is a heavy task for airlines, mishandling of baggage often costs millions of dollars every year.
Efficient usage of RFID technology helps airlines to solve this issue and significantly reduce mishandling of luggage. RFIF tags does not require is line of sight angle to read information, this is an advantage compared to barcode scanning.
Tracking of baggage is much easier than other technologies; operator will get notification if the baggage is placed at wrong location or moving to different location.
RFID gate for inventory management, records in and out of a warehouse location
8. Toll gate systems / Electronic Road Pricing
Electronic toll gates and Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) are using RFID technology to allow access and charge for entry to an area. These are mostly active tags with payment option 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 date, location and organic farming information etc.…
Advantages of RFID technology
- Cost effective solution compared to other technologies
- Does not requires 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, and 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 surface, liquids and thick materials.
- Higher implementation cost compared to barcode scanners
- Accuracy is affected due to signal quality (any obstruction could cause error in data)
- Implementation is more complex than barcode system
- Privacy and security vulnerabilities often argued with increased use of tags (especially personal information)
As any other available technologies, RFID also not has it’s downsides in terms of security and accuracy. With 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.