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Guidelines for Selecting and Implementing an RFID System
RFID systems are becoming more and more common and the list of applications is continuously growing. RFID systems have many benefits over typical bar codes systems. These benefits include more flexibility in tag placement, an RFID reader can read many tags at the same time, and the ability to encode more information for better visibility and tracking. However, an RFID infrastucture involves extensive planning and preparation in order to optimize the technology to its fullest potential. We have created a list of guidelines to consider when choosing RFID so that you can better understand the components of an RFID system and the best ways to apply the technology.
1. Product Use
You will need to define the business objectives, the process, and the metrics that will be used. Ask questions such as, “How to track assets with RFID?” or “How to improve warehouse operations?” These questions and more will allow you to decide the ways in which the product will be used, as well as the processes involved and which assets will be tagged. You should understand the intricate journey that a product takes, because from manufacturer to retailer, there are numerous ways that readability can be affected. Also, consider how the use of the product may change. For example, the use may now call for reading cases on a conveyor, but a long-term goal may be to read all cases on a pallet. Predicting future needs will make it less expensive to change the scale of the application in the long run.
2. Composition of Packaging
The material composition of the items to be tagged must be addressed. It is necessary to find out whether the material transmits, reflects or absorbs the RF signal from the RFID reader. RF powers the tag, so this information is very important. Material types include: •Paper, cloth and cardboard which are transparent to RF. This means that the RF energy penetrates them easily. •Plastics are typically transparent to RF. However, some types of plastics can be difficult to tag due to high carbon content which absorbs RF, namely polycarbonate. •Metal reflects RF. However, you can successfully tag metal by using an on-metal tag that uses an insulator to space the tag from the metal surface. •Metal or foil packaging can also be difficult to tag because, like metal, it reflects the RF. Yet, various design options can alleviate this problem.
3. Contents of Tagged Items
The contents of the tagged items can impact read performance. •Dry materials can usually be tagged without any problems •Liquid applications can vary. Water and alcohol absorb RF which leaves little RF energy to activate the tag and return data to the reader. Oil-based products are RF transparent. •Semi-liquid or pastes vary depending on the percent of the contents that are water-based. Items that contain a lot of sugar can also be difficult to tag due to the carbon in sugar which absorbs RF. •Wood or moist products, such as wood pallets, can be difficult due to high amounts of moisture found in these products. The use of more sensitive tags can sometimes alleviate the problem.
4. Environmental Conditions
Surveying the operations site, as well as considering the customer’s environment will help to identify conditions that could create read challenges. For example, presence of wireless alarms or industrial machinery could cause interference. Temperature and humidity can also affect tags. Adhesives may no longer stick if frozen or wet. So it is important to anticipate the temperature extremes that the tags will be exposed to and to ensure that the tags will be able to operate under those conditions.
Tag performance often decreases with size. It is best to use the largest size possible that fits the object. Consider high volume, general purpose mainstream tags; however, if the item is difficult to tag, it may be best to consider a high-end or custom tag.
6. RFID Tag Placement
Investing the time initially to determine the best location for the RFID tag will save money over time. As previously stated, certain factors must be considered, such as materials of the product and packaging, position of products within the packaging, and how cases build a pallet. It is best to avoid placing tags symmetrically on cases, which can cause “shadowing” at the pallet level. This can occur when multiple tags are placed too close to one another and cause the tag antennas to detune each other which minimize their chance of being activated.
7. Encoding the RFID Tag
With an RFID tag, many different pieces of information can be stored. Information such as destination, object, and special handling information can be encoded onto the RFID inlay with the use of an RFID chip. The inlay contains an antenna and an integrated circuit (IC), also known as a chip, which is capable of storing a great amount of information. The antenna is what drives the tag performance and allows for the stored information to be read. Choosing the right inlay to store your information depends on your own needs for frequency, etc. Among other things, the encoded information on the RFID tag allows for more efficient and accurate recordkeeping and tracking.
8. Read Range
Longer ranges require larger tags. A longer read range indicates that the read rates are slower and that more reader power or more sensitive tags are needed. Extra range may also be needed if items are moving quickly past the antenna in high volumes. Read ranges of just a few inches can be attained with a very small tag and lower reader power levels.
Geographic compliance needs to be considered. Global tags are often necessary for export items so that reads are possible at the country of origin, as well as the point of sale. Global tags cover a wide frequency band, from 860MHz to 960MHz. However, keep in mind that the differences between RFID reader operations in different regions go beyond frequency range. Differences exist in emitted power and how the reader moves between frequencies. There are many factors that go into creating a successful RFID infrastructure; however, RFID has many benefits and many potential uses. RFID can significantly reduce costs over time compared to a bar code system due to the fact that it greatly reduces the loss or misplacement of tagged items. This allows both time and money to be saved. Still, that is just one of the many benefits of an RFID system! When considering which system will be best for you, just remember Better ID with RFID™. If you would like to learn more about an RFID system and how it could help your business, please contact us for a free consultation at 708-430-4190.