RFID – evolving technology for positive ID solutions
What is RFID?
Radio frequency identification or RFID is not an entirely new technology, but it is now starting to make inroads into areas that were previously the exclusive domain of bar codes. That’s thanks to its inherent advantages over other auto ID technologies.
Rather than a printed bar code, RFID uses small chips with attached antennae, known as tags. These transmit and receive data through the air as part of a dialogue with scanning/reading devices. The most common RFID tags are passive UHF models – they are powered by transmitted UHF waves and, as such, require no battery and are maintenance-free.
The absence of a battery makes these passive tags light and small enough to be embedded into packaging and even woven into clothing labels, for example.
Advantages over bar codes
Unlike bar codes, which require line of sight visibility to be read, RFID is a form of near field communication (NFC). In other words, signals can be read from a distance, without the need to actually see the tagged item.
While conventional 1D bar codes can only hold very basic information, a typical RFID tag can hold and transmit or receive up to 2KB of data. RFID scanners can read multiple tags simultaneously, saving time, making human operators much more productive and enabling real-time transaction visibility. Embedded tags tend to be more durable than printed bar codes, which reduces the potential for errors.
The extremely high degree of accuracy, speed of use and lack of need to get so close to items means that RFID technology is particularly well suited to adverse operating conditions, such as outdoor environments and cold storage units.
RFID – the future of supply chain management
Just like bar codes, RFID tags have multiple applications in track and trace, asset management and inventory control situations. The data they contain can easily be read by fixed or mobile scanners, with the data from multiple tags being read simultaneously. Unlike printed bar codes, RFID tags can be updated by receiving new information that is transmitted to them – in other words, data can be both written to and read from the tags.
This greatly enhanced versatility helps explain the exponential growth in the use of RFID technology. As a leading auto ID solutions provider, Kemtek is actively driving the adoption and roll-out of RFID technology, working closely with CipherLab, Honeywell and SATO.
Challenges associated with RFID
With data being transmitted to and from RFID tags (albeit over relatively short distances), data security is vital. Encryption and multi-frequency technology ensures only authorised users and devices can read tags and that tags cannot be cloned.
Integration with existing network ecosystems and infrastructure is, of course, vital, and companies need to be able to leverage the information generated by RFID in order to take full advantage of the benefits of this technology.
RFID has almost limitless applications in both B2B and B2C scenarios. Essentially, any situation where an asset needs to be identified, tracked and traced or located can be addressed by RFID innovations. These include supply chain management, retail, manufacturing, food, logistics, healthcare, asset tracking and automotive applications such as access control, parking payment and electronic toll collection. The e-toll system on highways in Gauteng, South Africa is an example of RFID technology at work.
Clothing manufacturers have been among some of the most rapid adopters of RFID technology, as they seek ways to overcome the inventory management challenges posed by multiple, very similar SKUs – for example, a plain black T-shirt produced in a range of sizes, and in cuts for men and women.
In the retail sector, RFID is used to accurately manage inventory and pricing, and to enhance customer choice by tracking which sizes and styles are the most popular in which location – this data can then be used to tailor stocking levels in each store. RFID (in the shape of animal-safe tags) also has obvious applications in the veterinary and agricultural sectors.
Kemtek RFID solutions
Kemtek specialises in supplying solutions for creating, writing to and reading RFID tags. In collaboration with our technology principals, we supply lightweight handheld readers as well as ruggedised units for more demanding situations, and fixed RFID readers. We also specialise in RFID label printers and consumables, as well as label design and management software such as Nicelabel.
PC-independent RFID printers can print and encode labels while operating as standalone devices. The elimination of manual data entry removes the potential for human error, while cloud-based software applications allow for the discovery and management of all associated RFID devices.
Integration is everything
As noted earlier, seamless integration into existing network architecture is a key component of successful RFID implementation. The SATO BizTalk RFID Solution (which is built on the Microsoft Windows platform) is an excellent example of an integrated software solution that can boost performance while lowering the total cost of ownership.
Features such as remote label and template creation, management and storage, plus auto-detection of RFID printers, further increase the productivity enhancements made possible by RFID solutions.