Most people have some concept of how an RFID solution works: you put RFID tags on the items you want to track, and then you can use an RFID reader to scan the tags and collect information about the tagged items. While this straightforward explanation is superficially true, there’s a lot more to it than that.
RFID Solution Overview
An RFID solution can be used to track the movement of assets, inventory and resources for many purposes. There is a use case for RFID in nearly every industry. RFID technology is versatile and can be used to generate data simultaneously for multiple applications.
RFID solutions combine a few key components that work together to meet a variety of needs. These components are:
- RFID tags
- RFID readers
- RFID software
It’s important to note that, technically speaking, a tag is just one of many types of RFID transponder. In industry slang, though, “tag” is often used as a catch-all term for all kinds of RFID transponders, including labels.
An RFID tag contains a microchip that is encoded with information about the object being tagged. Usually, that data identifies the item, but some tags have the capacity to include additional information, such as an item’s date of manufacture or a location code.
What kind of tag you’ll need depends on the items you’re trying to track. Metal and water are two elements that can interfere with RFID tags and prevent readers from being able to collect their data. An experienced solutions provider can add value, helping you select the most appropriate RFID technology for your needs.
Other factors that will influence tag selection include:
- The distance at which you want to be able to track items (within a few inches? from several feet? etc.)
- The environment in which you want to track items (outdoors? in a warehouse filled with metal shelving? on a crowded showroom floor? etc.)
- Whether or not there will be other technology nearby that could interrupt a signal
RFID readers collect data from tags. The kind of reader you need will depend on what you’re trying to track, where you’re trying to track it, the materials around it, and what you want to know about it. RFID readers don’t have to directly “see” a tag to read it. They can collect information from tags even if they’re located behind wood, plastic, and other materials.
Readers are either fixed or mobile. Fixed readers are mounted in specific locations, and are used to track items as they move from one place to another, functioning kind of like a checkpoint. Fixed readers offer convenience and consistency, tracking tag movements automatically, without human involvement.
Most mobile readers are hand-held. With handheld readers, you can scan individual items or a pallet of items on the go. For taking a quick inventory of a room filled with RFID-tagged items, for locating a particular asset ID, and for encoding tags or updating tag details on the spot, handheld readers offer a lot of flexibility. Handheld readers are great for use in retail environments and other instances where being able to bring the technology to your assets, rather than relying on having all of your assets move past the technology, is key.
Tags and readers both have antennas that allow them to communicate with each other. How far apart they can be and still communicate is known as the read range. Read range is determined in part by the size of the tag antenna and in part by the shape of the reader antenna.
At a high level, RFID system antennas come in two shapes – linear and circular.
Linear antennas propagate electromagnetic waves along a single plane, either vertically or horizontally. RFID tags have to be aligned along the same plane as a linear antenna in order for them to be read. When you have predictable control over how your RFID tags will be positioned, linear antennas offer a high degree of read consistency from a greater distance than circular antennas of the same strength allow.
Circular antennas propagate electromagnetic waves across two planes, covering their read areas in a helix or corkscrew pattern. This gives circular antennas a wider angle for reading than linear antennas can offer and enables reading regardless of how tags are oriented. When tag orientation is unpredictable or less controllable, circular antennas will offer better performance than linear antennas.
Tag antennas come in a variety of sizes. A larger antenna can absorb and return more energy from a greater distance than a smaller antenna. However, the larger the antenna, the larger the size of the tag itself will be – which may be another critical consideration, depending on the size of the items you want to tag.
In business, being able to read RFID tags for the sake of reading RFID tags is not enough. An RFID solution is not complete without giving you the ability to access and use the data you’ve collected. Software provides this link and helps make the information meaningful and actionable.
When dealing with RFID solutions, generally three different types of software are involved.
First, there’s firmware, the software that resides on the RFID hardware itself. Firmware is essentially responsible for running the device, and that’s all it does.
There’s also application software, which makes use of your RFID-collected data to address a particular business need. It can be anything from an inventory management software application to an employee time and attendance application.
And between the firmware and the application is middleware, which gathers your raw RFID data and serves as a vehicle for sharing this data with your application software. Middleware functions behind the scenes of your solution and can also offer you the ability to control and monitor your RFID hardware and overall system health. You can think of middleware as a communication link between your other RFID components and your applications.
Want to Learn More?
Are you searching for more information about RFID solutions? Let us provide you with a complimentary RFID assessment. We will take a look at your specific needs and give you a customized recommendation that includes an estimated cost-benefit analysis and an idea of how long it would take for you to be able to start using it.
For other questions about RFID technology, contact us. We’re here to help.