Will RFID Technology Really Change the Supply Chain?

What-is-RFID

RFID technology has made it possible for organizations to better track consumer goods, improve security and track employee attendance. An RFID tag can include specific information about the object being scanned, and it can be updated as needed to include additional information. An additional benefit of RFID tags is the ability to scan tags from a great distance, making them an ideal option for warehousing, security and supply chain applications.

How RFID Tags Work

An RFID tag sends and receives information from a tag to a device that can interpret the data. The tag doesn’t have to be directly in the line of sight of a reader to work properly. Tags must simply be within the transmission area of a reader. RFID tags can be classified as active, passive and semi-active. Active and semi-active tags are powered by batteries or use an external power source. This makes them more expensive, but it also increases the transmission range. Passive tags don’t require a battery to run, and are often thought to be more resilient. The power for a passive RFID chip comes from the reader’s electromagnet. The range of passive readers is typically limited to around 30 meters, while active readers can extend up to 300 meters.

The Types of RFID

There are essentially three types of RFID technology available on the market – low-frequency, high-frequency and ultra-high-frequency. Each option has its own positives and negatives.

Low-frequency(LF) implementation uses low range frequencies around 135 KHz for tracking animals, livestock and auto-immobilization systems. These low frequency options make it easier to work in harsh environments and can even work under water. However, there are limits to this type of technology, namely, you can’t read multiple tags at the same time and the read rate is slower.

High-frequency (HF) implementations are usually used in consumer retail environments, and use a frequency of 13.56 MHz. Garments typically use these types of tags, which can be used to track inventory, and set off alarms if the tag leaves the store without being deactivated or removed. Ticket payments, pharmaceuticals and even passports may also include this technology to make reading information simple and efficient.

Ultra-high-frequency (UHF) implementations are generally used to work in fast moving operations. For example, they can be used to track pallets moving across an assembly line or for applications that demand real-time, quick scanning technologies. The military often uses this type of RFID tag to maintain and track its assets, since the technology can be implemented directly into a circuit board.

New Innovations in RFID Technology

There are a variety of innovative uses for RFID technology that are hitting the consumer market. Coffee cups may automatically start up a computer, or open files on your PC when you arrive at work in the morning. Smart tiles can be used to program smart phones and other devices to complete entire programs, such as starting a playlist, or turning on a set of lights in a home. Refrigerators can help manage your inventory and give you a quick grocery list or alert you when your stock is low.

Automated shipping systems can also use RFID technology to automatically pick and select items for shipment. This can greatly reduce the cost of labor associated with warehouses that ship pharmaceuticals, retail products and other companies that have complex distribution systems. These complex systems have an RF picking system, conveyors belt scales, carousels and pick-to-light systems that make collecting and shipping packages much more efficient.

The main uses for RFID users in the consumer technology field aim to make finding and locating information easier. Many self-checkout machines in grocery stores use a form of RFID. This makes it possible to scan products quickly and pay for items without having to go to a cashier. Electronic tags or displays can provide information about products, and get easily updated as information changes. Trolley readers can be used to scan products and find out the price of an item with taxes and other fees. Shelf tags are used in stores to quickly update the prices of several products, just by walking through the aisle with an updated transmitter. Additionally, different prices can be applied to the same item with an expiration data that is coming up soon, or for an item that has been damaged in some way.

In 2014, the RFID Journal awarded Bechtel with a Best RFID Implementation Award. The award was given for a new, groundbreaking use of technology. The company uses thousands of active RFID tags to control construction materials and shipping systems for three natural gas projects. This proves that RFID technology can be used in large-scale projects with thousands of variables. It pushes the envelope of what is available, and can be an essential tool for companies that want to deliver projects on time.

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Hazards of RFID Technology

While RFID technology has the ability to transmit a large amount of specific information in a quick manner, it isn’t without its risks. Thieves can use readers to get information on RFID cards and tags without having to come in contact with the actual card. This threat can be neutralized by taking care to keep cards in special holders that prevent unauthorized access, and by encrypting information on the cards.