Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) uses readers and tags to transfer data via radio waves. A reader can communicate with a tag some distance away (between a few centimeters and 20 meters, depending on the type of RFID). Active RFID tags have batteries, which they can tap to send information to a reader. Passive RFID tags do not have batteries; they use a reader’s electromagnetic energy to communicate with the reader.
Unlike barcodes, RFID tags can be read even if they are not within a reader’s line of sight. Compared to barcodes, RFID tags are more expensive, bulkier and more prone to physical and electrical damage.
While RFID tags are often placed on top of or inside objects, they need not be. You can bury an RFID marker one inch below the ground and put information on that tag indicating what kind of material is further below the tag, and at what depth. For example, data on a tag one inch below ground could reveal that a sewer pipe exists 8 feet below the tag.
Initially used to identify enemy aircraft in World War 2, RFID is used by Fortune 500 companies for logistics. In 2004, Walmart spent $50 million on RFID initiatives. Today, in France, a piping company is using an RFID system to track buried polyethylene pipes, allowing users to write data to tags in pipes up to 1.6 meters away and in Taipei, workers are using RFID to interrogate tags within manholes without opening them, up to a depth of 2 feet.
By 2020, the value of the RFID market will exceed $24.5 billion.
RFID Use In Industries
RFID systems have found application in the following industries:
1 Retail: RFID streamlines business processes, enabling faster shipping, better inventory management and better productivity. Walmart, Target and Tesco are among the leading users of RFID for retail.
2 Pharmaceuticals and Health Care: The Food and Drug Administration is weighing how to use RFID to encourage pharmaceutical manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers to thwart counterfeiting. In hospitals and clinics, RFID tagging of medical assets (and even patients) helps reduce errors and cut costs.
3 Airline baggage: Misdirected or lost bags can cost airlines over $200 per bag. To reduce these costs, a handful of airports have piloted RFID for baggage tagging, to reduce operational costs and improve outcomes for passengers.
4 Airplane parts: Boeing and Airbus use passive RFID tags to track and maintain airplane parts on their latest aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration allows the use of passive RFID tags, provided that the tags are not interrogated while planes are in use.
5 Animal tagging: Tracking animals from farm to table is of interest to farmers, livestock professionals, food service providers, restaurants and consumers. In addition to location tracking, RFID tags are useful for collecting and analyzing long-term trends such as genetic problems and health issues.
6 Passports: US passports include digital biometric data in embedded RFID chips, since RFID can store large, high-quality image files.
7 Libraries: In libraries, RFID chips are sometimes used instead of barcodes, to improve the book checkout process without the need of a librarian.
RFID Use Cases
Additionally, RFID systems power the following use cases:
1 Logistics & Supply Chain Visibility: In chaotic manufacturing, shipping and distribution environments, real-time data on the status of individual items provides insights that can be converted into actionable measures. RFID can identify each unique SKU and distinguish products based on style, color and size, while allowing complete traceability throughout the supply chain. So, logistics can be fully automated, minimizing errors, boosting stock control accuracy to roughly 99% efficiency and reducing out-of-stocks.
2 Item-level Inventory: RFID systems allow sellers to quickly take stock of goods. In a retail environment, this could mean that a store employee can count inventory in a few minutes using a handheld RFID reader.
3 Timing: RFID can be used to time how long an object takes to get from one place to another. So, RFID chips are popular in races.
4 Tracking Conference Attendees: RFID is increasingly used to track attendees at conferences, reducing the need for registration desks, tracking which events are well attended and collecting various kinds of data to inform decision making.
5 Managing Materials: On large project sites, including construction sites, it can be hard to locate materials. RFID systems enable up-to-date material locations, resulting in higher worker productivity and making planning easier.
6 Tracking IT Assets: Most organizations invest significantly in IT assets such as servers, laptops, tablets, phones and other peripherals. Using RFID tags to track these assets gives IT staff the ability to quickly account for assets, improving efficiency and security.
Currently, organizations generally use RFID systems within closed loops - each organization tracks objects only while they are within that organization’s control. Since most organizations operate beyond closed loops (for example, by buying or selling goods), building interoperable RFID systems will allow organizations to better realize the benefits of RFID tracking.
As RFID becomes more affordable, it will see rapid adoption in pharmaceuticals, health care, food safety and retail, for both tracking and anti-counterfeiting uses. Previously, RFID could only operate within specific environments. This is changing – some tags can now be used in extreme temperatures or in chemical contaminants. In the next decade, the number of RFID tags, the value of the RFID market, the variety of RFID tags, and the number of RFID use cases can all be expected to skyrocket.