Imagine walking into a supermarket, loading your cart and walking right through the exit. You don’t have to wait in a checkout queue where a cashier would ring up each item in your cart. Does it seem possible?
Soon, these queues may disappear when the bar codes on most packages are replaced by what is called RFID tags. RFID tags are smart codes that can communicate to an electronic reader to track every item that goes into your shopping cart almost instantly. The reader is connected to a large networked system that will send information on the products. Eventually, your bank will receive a notification, and the amount will be debited from your account.
Improvement of Barcode Technology
Both barcodes and RFID tags can help track things; however, these two technologies can vary quite a bit.
- Barcodes are scanned one at a time, RFID tags can be read all at once
- With barcodes, the scanner must maintain a line-of-sight with each code. In the case of RFID, the reader only needs to be within a field range of the tags for detection.
- Data stored in barcodes is read-only, whereas data stored on RFID tags can be changed, updated and locked.
- Barcodes are susceptible to damage since they are usually printed on paper, while an RFID tag is designed to withstand more damage.
How does it work?
The RFID technology uses radio waves to automatically identify objects, extract data and feed it into integrated computers with minimal or no human intervention. The system broadly consists of 3 components – an RFID reader, an RFID tag and an antenna.
An RFID tag contains an integrated circuit and an antenna which facilitates transmitting data to the RFID reader through radio waves. The reader then converts these signals to a more usable form of data. The actionable information gathered is then transmitted to a system, where it gets stored in a database and later worked upon.
The tag also has a protective material that keeps the components in place and acts as a damage shield. They come in different sizes and are either active, semi-passive or passive.
- Active and semi-passive tags have their internal batteries to charge their circuits
- An active tag uses its power supply to transmit radio waves to the reader
- A semi-passive tag depends on the reader to obtain power for sending radio waves
- A passive tag doesn’t have an internal battery; it relies on the RFID reader to operate
- Passive tags have relatively lower production expenses than Active and Semi-Passive tags
- Passive tags can be used on less expensive merchandise like a box of chocolates, whereas Active and Semi-Passive tags are used on things that need a wider detection range and more complex information storage.
Some Applications of RFID
Asset Tracking and Supply Chain Management
- Facilitates increased visibility and better control over asset allocation and utilization
- Provides retailers with actionable information about the inventory and product consumption
- Retailers can avoid out-of-stock situations
- Reduces shoplifting by monitoring the inventory movement
- Enhances the picking and packing operations and the overall supply chain transparency
Manufacturing Unit Tracking
- RFID readers can track equipment usage which facilitates repairs and maintenance
- Increases the productivity and safety of manufacturing units
- Improves the equipment lifecycle management and ensures compliance
IT Asset Tracking
- Leverage RFID to prevent theft of assets like laptops and tablets
- Enable a quick inventory count of a company’s expensive investments
- Speeds up the check-in and checkout process
- Improves inventory management
- Enhances the circulation operations
RFID has the potential to replace current tracking technologies like the bar code. It is a valuable tool for businesses. It can offer advantages like tracking inventory more efficiently, monitoring assets, providing real-time inputs and enriching customer experience.