Today’s economy has turned into a reality of on-demand. Customers need speedy order fulfillment, speedy deliveries, and the ability to quickly and easily return or exchange products. Ecommerce is booming and sales are expected to only rise, from $3.53 trillion in 2019 to $6.54 trillion in 2022.
While upgrading your facilities to accommodate the rise of on-demand, you may have some questions regarding specific equipment that would be easier to identify, track, and manage products that are coming and going from your facility. RFID is a great product to process this information at lightning speed with precise accuracy. So here are some answers to common questions about RFID.
Q: WHAT IS RFID?
A: RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. It uses a miniature chip and attaches an antenna inlay to a hard physical tag or is inlaid with a principal label for identification purposes.
Q: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A RFID CHIP AND A RFID TAG?
A: The RFID chip is how much storage space is available within it, the RFID inlay. The RFID inlay consists of a chip and a micro thin antenna that the chip is adhere to. That combination can then be inserted into the tag material. The tag material can be encased in plastic, making it more rugged and mounted to physical equipment.
Q: HOW IS RFID USED IN TODAYS ECOMMERCE ECONOMY?
A: RFID is used for tracking high value products throughout an entire workflow, as it’s being manufactured through the supply chain. For example, an RFID tag is put onto a product during manufacturing, put the product onto a pallet, and scan all of the RFID tags on each item on that pallet from the manufacturer, to a warehouse, through transport, and on to the retailer.
RFID also provides the ability to serialize individual units because of the nature of the RFID tag. Each tag has its own unique serial number, which then enables you to input data in addition to that number, directly onto the tag. In essence, it is a mobile database that you can encode data.
There are various chip sizes, or capacities, that enable users to have more or less data, depending on what the requirements are. Customers use it for tracking products throughout a process or supply chain system. This gives the user visibility without any proactive scanning of the product.
Q: HOW WILL RFID AFFECT ECOMMERCE IN THE FUTURE?
A: RFID will make e-commerce more efficient and more visible, reducing the amount of physical touching or scanning of an individual unit. From a supply chain standpoint, RFID can geo-locate an item so the employee can very quickly locate the item, get to the item, identify it, retrieve it, and put it into a load. The flow is smooth through the whole process.
RFID also enables auditors who are doing the final pack to automatically scan and know that all items are packaged and ready for transportation. They can generate the label, package it, and ship it out knowing the accuracy of scanning RFID products. This increases efficiency of picking and packing.
Q: WHAT DOES RFID TRACKING DO?
A: RFID tracking gives traceability to products as they move through a workflow or a supply chain. This provides a greater ability for tracking what the status of the product is as it is being manufactured, such as what station it is at. It provides real-time visibility to the product without having to actively scan a barcode at each stage.
Q: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BARCODE SCANNING AND RFID SCANNING?
A: A barcode is a visual concept. It requires a line of sight, meaning that you physically have to see the barcode in order to scan it. RFID is a listening concept. RFID scanning can go through a wall, around a corner. There is no visual needed for the RFID to register where it is, at what time.
RFID tags are either active or passive and essentially have ears (the antenna) that hear a signal that comes from the RFID reader. The active tags are essentially always awake and responds when it hears it. Passive tags are asleep until pinged by the signal, at which point will wake up and respond.
Q: CAN TODAY’S EQUIPMENT SCAN REGULAR BARCODES AND RFID TAGS?
A: The short answer is yes; in case someone does not have an RFID reader. If a customer is printing and encoding a RFID tag and encoding to apply to a pallet, the physical print on that particular RFID tag will have the same amount of data that’s in the RFID chip.
So, if the RFID chip is encoded to say 1234 then typically it's best practice to then print a barcode that also has RFID chip ID 1234. This way, if someone does not have an RFID reader or they want to scan and gather data, they can scan do so with a barcode scanner.
Q: WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT RFID USE IN WAREHOUSING?
A: Using RFID in a warehouse speeds up the flow of data. To the earlier point of seeing versus hearing, if I have to scan a barcode, there are physically two ways to do it. If I have an automation system, I can have inline scanners or inline vision systems that will scan a barcode. Every barcode must be visible during scanning or the entire system will have to pause to be recalibrated.
RFID readers can be strategically placed throughout a warehouse or at dock doors. The RFID reader and antennas would energize the tags, ping them for location, and the data is reported back. As products move in and out of a facility, or through a facility, the data can be automatically captured without physically scanning barcodes.
Q: ARE THERE FINANCIAL BENEFITS TO USING RFID?
A: Clients get more data with less labor costs. With any automation project, there is an analysis to what requirements are needed for FRID fitting. In some cases, the return on investment is very quick, making it a fantastic technological choice. Workflow requirements are partly what determines if RFID is the best solution.
Q: WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF RFID TECHNOLOGY? WHERE IS IT GOING?
A: As technology advances, so too has RFID technology. RFID is going to become more prevalent in warehouses and facilities with the advancement of geo-location of RFID products. It is the wave of the future for tracking materials.
Our Specialists are doing a RFID site survey for a potential customer in a yard application where they have been losing material. By coupling RFID with GPS location services, we can use the RFID without having to manually scan barcodes to know what the product is. When the material is parked in the yard, the material is correlated with the GPS positioning, so the material is easily locatable.
RFID readers are lowering in cost and becoming more commonplace. You can easily saturate a space with RFID readers. As you place materials and items, you can quickly geo-locate them. This enables the end-user to find them much more quickly.
Q: WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TAG TYPES?
A: RFID tags are grouped into categories based on the range frequencies they use to communicate data and the way the tags communicate with the reader. The frequencies are LF (low frequency), HF (high frequency), and UHF (ultra-high frequency). Tags communicate with readers as active or passive.
UHF provides optimal processing of active and passive RFID tags, up to about 39 feet. HF provides a range of scanning up to about 3 feet. LF ranges only up to about 3 inches. LF tags tend to have a shorter read range and therefore provide slower data reading capabilities.
The benefit between an HF tag and a UHF tag is that UHF tags are affected by placement on metal and in on or around products that have a liquid. The UHF energy does not flow through a liquid or on metal, it bounces. So, these are special considerations to determine.
Specialists do site surveys to determine which is the right tag to use; LF, HF, or UHF. Although LF has a shorter range, LF does have the ability to be placed directly on metal, and liquid does not affect them (LF can scan through liquid)
Q: WHAT ARE ACTIVE AND PASSIVE RFID TAGS?
A: A passive RFID tag is a tag that is a chip with an inlay. It is read when it passes close to an RFID reader. The RFID reader is like a radio transmitter. It sends energy to an antenna that broadcasts when that energy hits an RFID tag. That ambient energy wakes that tag up, which then sends a pingback with its ID number. The RFID reader and antenna hear the ping and translates it, capturing the data.
Active tags have their own transmitters and power source. One type of active, transponder, wakes up and transmits data as soon as it receives a radio signal, conserving its power source. Beacon type of tags send out a signal at set intervals for real-time location tracking.
Active tags are similar to an automobile toll pass in Illinois. People use I-PASS for open road tolling. That is a product that actually has a battery (active tag) that powers that tag at all times. The tag is pinged by a radio signal as the traveler passes through the toll area, waking up the tag to respond to the checkpoint.
Active tags enable clients to have longer scanning distances while passing through the read area at a much higher rate than in passive tags.
Q: IS IT EASY TO INTEGRATE RFID SYSTEMS?
A: Imprint Enterprises offers a turnkey solution that enables customers to integrate RFID in a very simple fashion using either very simple handhelds or going full scale for a more logical RFID system with fixed readers. Imprint Enterprises has an off-the-shelf software application that enables customers to quickly deploy and manage RFID readers within a facility. Our specialists can then wrap an application layer around that to collect data and report it to an ERP or WMS system. Another option is to make a complete overall solution that enables the customer to interact just with that particular software.
Q: ARE RFID TAGS PREPROGRAMMED WITH DATA OR DO I PUT DATA INTO IT?
A: RFID tags can either be preprogrammed or programmable to suit client needs. When a tag is produced, it has its own serial number attached to it. Tags come in 96-bit, 128-bit, 512-bit. As the amount of storage gets bigger, the more data that can be programmed into the tag.
Let's say the serial number is 001. Then the next one, 002. The phrase of digits is longer, but it enables you to then scan the tag and you know that the tag is tag number 001. If I'm producing 100 items, I can also have today's date on it. Or I can have today's date and then a process that was done on that particular product. Even though the variable data that's being encoded into the tag is the same, each tag has a prefix that would be the unique identifier.
Taking that entire phrase of numbers, you have a unique number on everything. In today's world, from a regulatory standpoint, serialization is becoming more and more prevalent in multiple industries. This really started in pharma, and now this trend is going into pharmaceutical distribution. UID is an example of using a barcode for individual unit serialization. The food industry is rapidly moving towards serialization of every piece of produce or every piece of meat that is processed to help from a recall perspective.
Q: WHAT IS THE AVERAGE COST AND LIFESPAN OR EXPECTANCY OF A PASSIVE RFID TAG?
A: It really depends on what the application is. The correlation between simplicity and cost to complexity and cost is logical. If a client has a very simple paper RFID tag, then it will be run through a printer for approximately 10 cents. If a client has more of an odd metal, that's going to increase the cost. If a client uses something that's a passive RFID tag that is designed to be bolted to a tote or bolted to a piece of equipment, the price can range from $2 to $15. Active tag prices go up from there.
Life expectancy really depends on the type of tag. Typically, an RFID tag that's used for logistics purposes is used for the life of its journey through the supply chain. A manufacturer using RFID in their facility is sending its products to a retail supply chain. The product is going to flow through their logistics supply chain, eventually ending up at a store.
There is a growing trend with large retailers starting to use RFID in their back warehouse so that as an RFID tagged asset enters the facility, the retailers’ inventory is automatically updated.
Whatever that journey of the RFID tagged material is, if it's a matter of days or weeks, that would really be the life expectancy. For a product with a permanently mounted tag, the life expectancy of the RFID tag would be the same as that of the product or until the tag is broken. That could be months or even years; for as long as the tag is alive.
With the life expectancy of the tag and the data having been untouched since it was programmed, some customers use RFID tagging for warranty and repair tracking. For example, a medical device manufacturer tags all of their assets during the manufacturing process and then through their supply chain. When that tagged product is returned to the manufacturer for repairs or refurbishment, the manufacturer can then update that RFID tag to show that it was serviced on X date.
Q: CAN AN RFID TAG BE REUSED?
A: Reusing RFID tags depends on what the application is. A simple RFID tag that's printed through a printer, is used once, maybe twice. During the manufacturing process, the RFID tag can be updated as it goes through each manufacturing process step. It then might be used as it goes out to the logistical chain. From that point, it is typically the end of the tags real use unless the customer is using the RFID as well. Reusing the tag really depends upon the overall use of the product it is attached to.
We have decades of experience in RFID solutions – from printers, readers, and tags/labels.