RFID: movies and magic vs reality and the laws of physics

Read time 3min 20sec

Radio frequency identification (RFID) is not an unknown technology, thanks to Hollywood and the Sci-Fi big screen. There are however a lot of misconceptions around the capability of RFID.

Unlike the movies, RFID is not a mind control tool or able to track an individual to an exact location via satellite thousands of miles away.

There ARE small RFID implants available that use near field communication (NFC) technology, the same as in contactless credit cards or mobile payments. When activated by a reader a few centimeters away, a small amount of data flows between the two devices via electromagnetic waves. The implants contain information that other devices can read, but cannot read information themselves. This is commonly seen today in the chipping of our beloved pets.

During the last few decades, the most common applications for RFID technology has been seen within access control and security. Like the implants, these are low frequency or "near field" tags that don't require a permanent power source (passive tags). These tags also vary dramatically on costs. As little as a few rand to a couple of hundred rand depending on the application. Testing for selection is a very important exercise. Very often a combination of tags is used for the best result.

Then there are high frequency tags that can work over a much longer range due to an added power source, like a battery (active tags), as more recently seen used for vehicle gantry e-tolling. The cost of these can be much higher.

Both of these options require strategically placed readers in order to interact with the myriad of tag options available.

Today we see the business use cases for RFID technology has increased exponentially. RFID is a FANTASTIC technology with many advantages that through the years has been developed into a viable and effective solution to fulfil many asset management requirements over and above the known traditional applications of access control and security.

Some examples are:

* Intelligent asset management;
* Intelligent field service management;
* Intelligent document management;
* Smart storage;
* Yard management; and
* Cold chain management.

Asset management vs security

When it comes to security and asset management, there are two VERY different disciplines and processes associated with these two requirements.

Asset management and tracking is most certainly the intended and preferred fit to purpose application for RFID. The benefit of this data enables a business intelligence layer that is useful for reporting, planning and analysis. Customised dashboards can also be created to relay this data in the most effective manner.

Additional business benefits are realised as it increases process efficiency and optimisation, and even a process automation layer (i.e. reduced stock picking/taking time, continuous counting/location verification etc.).

We have now also seen the benefits of RFID in the Internet of things (IOT), by adding the value of what's going on at a particular point on a specific object at a particular time.

RFID can work well as part of a larger security based implementation with the integration of CCTV systems, biometrics and alarms, but is not advisable to be used solely as an anti-theft mechanism.

"You shall not Pass!!!"

Unlike Gandalf, RFID cannot perform magic. There are the laws of physics that need to contended with. Considerations need to be taken in on the type of environment that is being targeted.

As previously mentioned, when dealing with radio frequency, we depend on electromagnetic waves. The laws of physics apply here i.e. metal deflects, water absorbs.

Hence the viability of an RFID solution needs to be determined. This is verified through sometimes rudimentary testing, but more often than not some serious R&D needs to be undertaken. Synertech has for over a decade now been actively researching, developing, implementing and supporting various RFID applications that are fit to purpose and have been tried and tested, successfully.-


Synertech's core business solution consists of the automation with radio frequency identification (RFID) and ensures the provision of unique yet sustainable services and solutions harnessing a combination of technical, management, innovative, quality and entrepreneurial capabilities including:

* RFID systems and solution engineering;
* Project management (RFID-related);
* Product support and upgrading;
* Software development;
* Manufacturing and integration of various components;
* Installation and commissioning of complete solutions; and
* Rapid ramp-up ability and flexibility to deliver any RFID project.

For more information:

Editorial contacts
Synertech Patrick Bauer (+27) 010 350 5200
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