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What is RFID and How Does RFID Work?

What is RFID?

RFID is an acronym for “radio-frequency identification” and refers to a technology whereby digital data encoded in RFID tags or smart labels (defined below) are captured by a reader via radio waves. RFID is similar to barcoding in that data from a tag or label are captured by a device that stores the data in a database. RFID, however, has several advantages over systems that use barcode asset tracking software. The most notable is that RFID tag data can be read outside the line-of-sight, whereas barcodes must be aligned with an optical scanner. If you are considering implementing an RFID solution, take the next step and contact the RFID experts at AB&R® (American Barcode and RFID).

How does RFID work?

RFID belongs to a group of technologies referred to as Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC). AIDC methods automatically identify objects, collect data about them, and enter those data directly into computer systems with little or no human intervention. RFID methods utilize radio waves to accomplish this. At a simple level, RFID systems consist of three components: an RFID tag or smart label, an RFID reader, and an antenna. RFID tags contain an integrated circuit and an antenna, which are used to transmit data to the RFID reader (also called an interrogator). The reader then converts the radio waves to a more usable form of data. Information collected from the tags is then transferred through a communications interface to a host computer system, where the data can be stored in a database and analyzed at a later time.

RFID Tags and Smart Labels

As stated above, an RFID tag consists of an integrated circuit and an antenna. The tag is also composed of a protective material that holds the pieces together and shields them from various environmental conditions. The protective material depends on the application. For example, employee ID badges containing RFID tags are typically made from durable plastic, and the tag is embedded between the layers of plastic. RFID tags come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are either passive or active. Passive tags are the most widely used, as they are smaller and less expensive to implement. Passive tags must be “powered up” by the RFID reader before they can transmit data. Unlike passive tags, active RFID tags have an onboard power supply (e.g., a battery), thereby enabling them to transmit data at all times. For a more detailed discussion, refer to this article: Passive RFID Tags vs. Active RFID Tags.

Smart labels differ from RFID tags in that they incorporate both RFID and barcode technologies. They’re made of an adhesive label embedded with an RFID tag inlay, and they may also feature a barcode and/or other printed information. Smart labels can be encoded and printed on-demand using desktop label printers, whereas programming RFID tags are more time consuming and requires more advanced equipment.

RFID Applications

RFID technology is employed in many industries to perform such tasks as:

– Inventory management
– Asset tracking
– Personnel tracking
– Controlling access to restricted areas
– ID Badging
– Supply chain management
– Counterfeit prevention (e.g. in the pharmaceutical industry)

RFID Applications

Although RFID technology has been in use since World War II, the demand for RFID equipment is increasing rapidly, in part due to mandates issued by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and Wal-Mart requiring their suppliers to enable products to be traceable by RFID.

Whether or not RFID compliance is required, applications that currently use barcode technology are good candidates for upgrading to a system that uses RFID or some combination of the two. RFID offers many advantages over the barcode, particularly the fact that an RFID tag can hold much more data about an item than a barcode can. In addition, RFID tags are not susceptible to the damages that may be incurred by barcode labels, like ripping and smearing.

From the read distance to the types of tags available, RFID has come a long way since World War II and there is a bright future ahead. Review the evolution of RFID.

For more information about how RFID works and how to integrate this technology into your business processes, read our RFID Basics.

Have questions about RFID Solutions? Leave us your contact information and we’ll be happy to help you!

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AB&R®’s Solution Process

Site Survey & SRDS

Phase I

In Phase I, AB&R® experts analyze your operation and environment to begin developing a solution. It starts with a site survey which allows our team to understand exactly where your pain points lie. Once the site survey is complete, we move into the System Requirement & Design Study (SRDS). During the SRDS our technical team will determine exactly what hardware and software work best in your environment. In this sample SRDS, we examine a proposed solution for a company that wants to better track their fabrication employee’s progress. The current system has them manually entering updates.

Pilot

Phase II

Once all the data is gathered from Phase I, the pilot phase can begin. At this point, our team of engineers will begin placing and testing equipment. As the solution is tested, more data accumulates, and our team will make the adjustments to achieve the expected outcome.

Implementation

Phase III

The problem has been assessed, a solution has been developed, and rigorously tested. We are ready for Phase III, full implementation. This includes installing all of the hardware, wiring, software, and training your team to comfortably handle all of the new tools they’ll be using on a regular basis. AB&R® provides future follow up strategies to validate the performance of the solution and evaluation of ROI.