What is RFID technology and how does it work?


RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. An RFID device serves the same purpose as a barcode or a magnetic strip on the back of a credit card. It uses radio frequency waves to wirelessly transfer data between itself and a RFID label or a tag attached to an object in order to identify, read and track an asset. A main advantage of using RFID devices is that it does not need to be scanned directly or positioned precisely relative to the scanner. The RFID tag or the label must be within the range of the reader, which range from 10cm to 100m in order to be read. This technology allows several items to be scanned and enables fast identification of a product.
RFID technology was once limited to tracking cattle. But in today’s world it is used to track consumer products worldwide. Many manufactures used this technology to track the location of each product they make, from the time it’s made until it’s pulled off the shelf and to into shopping carts. Apart for the retail merchandise, RFID technology is also used to track vehicles, highway toll pass cards, airline passengers, Patients and pets.
This technology uses a special tag or a label to be placed on the products. These tags are intelligent barcodes that can communicate to the reader over a networked system to track products. At a basic level each RFID tag works the same way. It consists of integrated circuit and an antenna. The integrated circuit store and process information while the antenna is used to receive and transmit a signal to the RFID reader. These tags also have a protective material that holds the pieces together and protects it from various environment conditions. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes are either passive or active. Passive tags are the most common as they are smaller and less expensive to implement. They have powered by the RFID reader in order to transmit data. Active tags have an on board power supply such as a battery thereby enabling them to transmit data over a greater distance. Using power from its internal battery or power taken from the RFID reader, the tag sends radio waves back to the reader. The reader picks up the tag’s radio waves and interprets the frequencies as data. RFID labels incorporate both RFID and barcode technology. They are made with adhesive label embedded with an RFID tag inlay and they may also feature a barcode or other printed information. These can be printed using a desktop label printer with RFID reader/ encoder.
RFID Technology can be used in many industries to perform tasks like

  • Inventory management
  • Asset tracking
  • Person and animal tracking
  • Travel documents
  • Barcode and security tags
  • Healthcare data management
  • Supply chain Management etc.

RFID tags and barcode both carry information about products. However there are important differences between these two technologies.

Barcodes RFID
Barcode readers need a direct line of sight to the printed barcode. RFID Tags do not require a direct line of sight to read the tags.
The range of barcode is typically 1 meter RFID can pull information up to 100 meters
Due to the fact that a direct line of sight is required, reading barcodes is much slower. RFID can integrate or read tags much faster. Read rates of forty or more tags per second are possible
Barcodes have no read/write capability. You cannot add information written on a printed barcode. RFID tags can be read/write devices. The RFID reader can communicate with the tag and alter information.
Barcodes are typically less expensive than RFID tags. RFID tags are more expensive than barcodes.

RFID technology is not as popular as barcodes even though it has been available for more than 50 years. One reason that it has taken so long for this technology to come into common use is the lack of standards to implement RFID in industries. Also far too many businesses currently use UPC scanners. Businesses that currently use barcode technology are good candidates for upgrading to a system that uses RFID or a combination of the two. RIFD tags are an improvement over barcodes because the RIFD tags have read/write capabilities. Data stored in RFID tags can be changed, updated and locked. RFID tags can hold much more data about an item than a barcode. Also they are not prone to the damages that may incur to barcode labels such as ripping and smearing.
As time goes on we'll definitely see more products tagged with RFIDs and an increased focus on seamless wireless transactions. RFID solutions enable you to advance your business to a new level of efficiency by providing greater visibility into your inventory as it moves across the supply chain. With real time tracking information you will always know where your critical assets are.