RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is one of the newest technologies for automatic data collection. Initially, it emerged as a solution for access control and tracking systems in the 1980s.
In this sense, it should be noted in principle that one of the greatest advantages of RFID-based systems is the fact that they allow operation in harsh environments and in products where the use of bar codes, for example, is not efficient.
How does RFID technology work?
RFID systems basically consist of three components: Antenna, Transceiver (with decoder) and a Transponder (usually called RF Tag), the latter is composed of an antenna and a chip that, electronically, is programmed with certain information.
The antenna emits a radio signal activating the RFID Tag. In fact, the antenna will serve as the medium capable of making the RFID Tagt send the information to the reader. The antennas exist in different sizes, each configuration has different characteristics, each one indicated for a type of application.
There are solutions where we have the antenna and the transceiver and decoder are in the same device. This type of configuration is used, for example in mobile applications. In this case, the antenna and transceiver assembly is called a reader.
The reader, through the transceiver, emits radio waves that are scattered in various directions in space, from an inch to a few meters, depending on the output power and the radio frequency used.
When the RFID Tag passes between the electromagnetic zone generated by the antenna, it is detected by the reader. The reader decodes the data that is encoded in the RFID Tag, passing it through the computer for processing.
RFID Tags are available in various formats and sizes. They exist in the format of tablets, rings, cards, rectangular and others, and the materials used for encapsulation can also be plastic or glass. The type of RFID tag is defined according to the application, use environment and performance.
How do RFID Tags work?
One of the most important components to be able to implement the revolutionary RFID technology within the production chain of a company, is undoubtedly the use of RFID-type labels , which will be in charge of accompanying the products, to transport relevant information to the same.
Due to the advantages of this type of automatic identification system for individual merchandise, experts say that in the coming years 95% of world products will travel accompanied by RFID-type tags.
This projection has arisen due to the evaluation of the behavior and functionalities that RFID technology offers in the productive sector. The great advantages of RFID tags lie in their slim and flexible format, practically unbreakable, and in the extensive information storage space they provide, thanks to the use of chips with different memory capacities.
Types of RFID Tags
It should be noted that there are two types of RFID tags , which differ basically in the way they work with respect to the need to use an energy source.
Passive RFID Tags
They are those that are only activated when they receive the proximity signal from an RFID reader , from which they will capture the necessary energy that they use for their activation.
Active type labels
Also known as semi-passive or semi-active labels, which require an independent power supply to function , which is usually taken from an internal battery that includes the label.
Passive vs Active
Due to the manufacturing and marketing costs, passive tags are the most used by the current market , since lacking an internal battery, their value is much lower than that of active tags.
On the other hand, active tags tend to be more resistant to water and metal , thus providing greater reliability and accuracy of the data carried on them. However, active tags offer a greater reading range , which can be captured by RFID readers from distances ranging from tens of meters.
For their part, passive tags allow reaching a distance of between 10 cm to a few meters , according to the HF and UHF frequency antenna that they include and the design of the tag itself.
Today, most of the passive labels used by companies to identify their products come from factories such as Hitachi, Alien Technology, SmartCode and Symbol Technologies.
It should be noted that as a whole, passive labels are made up of different layers that allow them to perform their function correctly.
The first layer is the front paper on which all the data related to the accompanying product is printed. This paper also serves as a protector for the chip that is located behind it.
The next layer is the one for the RFID chip , which consists of a miniaturized circuit where product information is stored by means of a non-volatile memory. Let us remember that in this type of labels, the chip is capable of feeding itself with energy taken from any electromagnetic wave.
The chip is attached to the label by means of supports called bumps , which have been made of gold, in order to offer great resistance, conductivity and pressure on the element.
The next component is the printed RFID antenna, made of a special conductive material, whose task will be to capture the electromagnetic waves that feed the chip, and transmit the information that it stores.
Beyond being active or passive tags, tags are also often differentiated according to the relationship they will have with the articles they represent . Thus, there are three different types of labels: associable, implantable and insertable.
Likewise, RFID systems are also defined by the frequency band they operate. In the case of Low Frequency Systems (30 to 500 KHz), they are those with short reading distances and low costs, and are normally used for access control, tracking and identification of animals.
On the other hand, High Frequency Systems (850 at 950 MHz and 2.4 at 2.5GHz) are medium and long distance reading, and high speed reading. They are normally used for reading Tags in vehicles, and automatic data collection.
In any case, beyond these technical characteristics , one of the fundamental aspects when using RFID tags on products resides in the choice of the location of said tag . Bear in mind that the location of the tag can affect its effective operation , especially when it comes to passive type tags, which will need to receive power from the reader devices to activate.
Advantages of RFID technologies
As we mentioned before, RFID technology for automatic identification by radio frequency is one of the most widely used systems today for handling data from individual products.
Due to the enormous possibilities offered by RFID tags, in which it is possible to include a large, almost infinite amount of data related to the accompanying product , in addition to other characteristics such as the durability of the tags and ease of use, This technology has managed to insert itself in the business market with more and more presence.
For this reason, it is not strange to imagine that in the coming years RFID technology will replace other types of procedures for the automatic identification of articles, even that it will be used in various environments beyond the business system.
RFID technology has a series of characteristics that make it the best alternative to other types of identification systems, such as the popularly known bar codes.
One of the great advantages of this technology is the possibility of establishing a stable and efficient combination between RFID systems and the Internet.
Let us remember that all the data carried by the RFID tags will be captured by the readers and sent to the Middleware RFID system that will be in charge of managing the information and transmitting it to a global database that will be easily located through a simple connection to the network.
In this way, the information on a certain product can be consulted from anywhere in the world, at any time , with the use of a simple desktop computer that has an Internet connection.
On the other hand, the RFID system is currently the most immediate and precise way that can be used to automatically identify and locate any type of product , accelerating the available times of companies and their sectors, through better development and speed in the supply chain.
RFID tags also allow obtaining a faster and more accurate reading of your information , without the need for the reading devices to be in a direct vision direction with the tag that accompanies the product.
Likewise, one of the great advantages of the implementation of this type of technology resides in that it reduces inventory levels and possible breakages of stock items, improves cash flow, thus significantly reducing general expenses of the operations.
With RFID technology, the personnel in charge of replenishments in the company’s warehouses can know exactly and in real time when it is necessary to replace a certain item or raw material, and even point out when a product is misplaced, thus improving comprehensive warehouse management.
In the same way, RFID tags allow us to know when a product has been stolen, and offer the possibility of knowing where it is located. Likewise, if the RFID system is combined with other technologies, such as location systems, video cameras and other elements related to surveillance, it becomes a more than useful tool to prevent theft in stores.
On the other hand, RFID tags allow companies to face the problem of possible counterfeiting of their own products, a fundamental point for industries such as pharmaceuticals, thus avoiding the possible damages that the brand may suffer due to counterfeit items.
These are some of the advantages offered by RFID automatic identification technology, which although it has not yet become the most popular system, it is not risky to assure that in the near future it will become the most used technology not only by large companies. companies, but also by SMEs and retail businesses.
Summarizing everything that has been said so far, we can say that the main advantage of using RFID systems is to read without contact and without the need for direct visualization of the reader. In this way we could, for example, place the RFID Tag inside a product and read it without having to unpack it, as well as apply the Tag on a surface that will later be covered with ink or grease.
The response time is very low, less than 100 ms, becoming a good solution for production processes where you want to capture information with the Tag in motion. It is also important to mention that the cost of the RFID Tag presented a significant drop in recent years, becoming viable for some projects where the cost of the product to be identified is not very high.
Some of the main applications of this type of system are the following:
- Access control
- Vehicle traffic control
- Industrial Dry Cleaners
- Applications in harsh environments (for example: industrial painting process and lubrication of parts or products identified with RFID Tag)
- Baggage control at airports
- Container control
- Pallet Identification
RFID Technology Implementation
One of the fundamental aspects in an ERP-type business management system , which works in conjunction with an EPC system for product identification , is undoubtedly the effective implementation of RFID technology .
The inclusion of the new EPC code in the products, which allows obtaining information on the merchandise throughout the supply chain, offers us through an open database the possibility of consulting, from anywhere in the world , relevant information related to the accompanying product.
For an article to carry all this data, it is essential that a tag or tag is used in which RFID technology is used .
As we have already seen, RFID tags carry a unique number for each item , which can be transmitted through radio waves, allowing the product to be identified at any time and place, for effective traceability throughout the entire chain of production and supply. It should be noted that RFID technology is grouped within Auto ID , that is, technologies created for automatic identification.
As for RFID labels or tags, as we have seen, these are small devices that include a microscopic radio frequency antenna inside , and can be easily attached to the packaging of the product that it should accompany.
The antennas that make up these tags are those that allow the transfer of information from the product to any RFID-type receiver. In addition, one of the fundamental characteristics of RFID tags resides in that it is not necessary to establish a direct vision between the sender and the receiver to achieve communication and data transfer between them. In this lies one of its greatest advantages, compared to other types of technologies, such as infrared.
The operation of this type of system basically consists of a communication that is established by the RFID tag through radio frequency signals , in which the data they contain are transported to an RFID reader, which will be in charge of capturing the information, to then send it to a specific computer application, transforming that data into digital files.
To implement an automatic identification system through RFID technology, it is necessary to use three basic components , without which the implementation of this system would be impossible.
In principle, it is necessary to use RFID tags , also called Transponders, which, in addition to the antenna to transmit the information, consist of a memory chip that allows it to store the pertinent data.
The chips that accompany the RFID tags can offer different storage capacities , according to the requirements of the company that will use them, and in turn there are memories that only allow the reading of information, others that offer the possibility of reading and writing , and a third type called anti-collision.
Another of the elements necessary to implement an RFID system are the readers or transceivers of this technology, which will be in charge of capturing the radio signals emitted by the tags, extracting the information and sending the decoded data to the processing subsystem.
On the other hand, and as a third fundamental component, it is necessary to implement an RFID Middleware , also called a processing subsystem, which will be in charge of collecting and managing the information, and then transmitting it to the database.
Data management with RFID
For the correct implementation of an EPC system for the automatic identification of products in an efficient supply chain of a company , one of the fundamental elements that this system must include will be the so-called RFID Middleware.
To do this, in principle we must define the concept of Middleware , which is a software developed to perform the connectivity between two different points .
How does the Middleware work?
Middleware works by offering a group of services that allow the correct operation of the different applications that are distributed in heterogeneous platforms, that is, it works precisely on the connectivity between operating systems and networks.
Based on this tool, the so-called RFID Middleware arises , which although it works differently than conventional Middleware, allows the indispensable connectivity for the transmission of data related to a product to the database where the information is stored.
What is RFID Middleware?
RFID Middleware basically consists of the platform that exists between RFID tag or tag reader devices and business management systems, allowing data management and delivery.
RFID Middleware, unlike traditionally known IT Middleware, works at the edge of the network, transmitting data and performing a series of basic tasks such as monitoring and managing information and managing devices.
Specifically, the RFID Middleware is responsible for the extraction of the data that were captured by the RFID readers , to filter information, and if necessary add data, and then send it to the management system used by the company, which It can be an ERP system or any vertical type tool.
Due to the benefits of the use of RFID systems in the supply chain of companies, together with the implementation of an effective EPC system , RFID Middleware becomes one of the most important pieces in the development of competent productivity.
That is why, nowadays, more and more companies decide to invest in this type of information technology, in order to increase productivity, reduce costs, offer the best services and take advantage of business opportunities with decision-making in real time.
Although there are currently a large number of companies that offer different types of RFID Middleware , a large percentage of these are incomplete systems that do not work properly to carry out an accurate EPC system.
Those organizations that decide to implement this type of product management must previously select an RFID Middleware in detail that offers the necessary tools for the correct operation of the system.
Fundamental aspects of an RFID Middleware
In principle, let us bear in mind that one of the fundamental aspects of a complete RFID Middleware resides in that it should be capable of transforming the data obtained from any type of AIDC-type device , that is, barcode, GPS, RFID, satellite, sensors. and else.
Then, the RFID Middleware must redirect the information obtained to any of the applications and networks used by the company , regardless of which ones have been chosen for this task.
It is essential that RFID Middleware allows the understanding and use of data in real time, natively , and in the future respond to changes in new applications used.
Today, leading companies known for their RFID middleware computing products include Manhattan Associates, RedPrairie, HighJump, and Logility.