RFID is an identification technology that allows a tagged object to automatically identify itself. A reader, sometimes handheld, broadcasts a request, the tag responds and the reader relays the information to a database. The tags can be embedded in the object or the packaging. In many cases, a standard, off the shelf RFID tag can provide the solution. However, there are applications where a custom RFID tag is necessary. The design and manufacture of these custom RFID tags, which are engineered to solve unique problems with RF performance, durability or special processes is the subject of this discussion.
Types of Problems RFID Tags Can Solve
RFID is a fundamental technology used to solve many types of tracking, identification and security problems. When used correctly, it allows real time monitoring and decision-making. For example, RFID tags are applied to cargo containers and trailers. When the containers enter and leave the freight yard, their contents are automatically logged into or out of inventory, and the owners of the cargo can be automatically updated regarding progress. RFID tags user memory can, also, be used as local information repositories, and can store service information on aircraft parts, or chain of custody information for pharmaceuticals. RFID tags can, also, be used for security, to ensure tagged assets do not leave their assigned locations, or to ensure only properly authorized people enter secure facilities.
A November 2009 report from ABI Research suggests three areas where RFID will grow the most during the next five years.
- Fashion apparel
- Asset tracking and management – spare parts, tools, IT and medical assets, and rental-item management
- And active RFID tags – real-time location systems
Choosing the right RFID Tag
Many RFID applications can be satisfied with a standard RFID tag. However, there are many use cases where a custom RFID tag is needed. Applications where high or very specific RF performance is required will need a custom RFID tag. If the tag will see extraordinary environmental or processing conditions, such as pressure washing, autoclaving or steam cleaning, a custom tag may be required. It sometimes occurs that the tag must fit in an existing physical footprint on a product or container, and this will require a specially designed tag. In people tracking applications, whether using cards, wristbands or tags, the interaction of the tag and the human body must be managed, and a custom tag will be needed to get the RF performance needed in the application.
If you should need a custom RFID tag design, be sure to choose a partner with a proven track record, knowledge and experience in a wide variety of RFID applications and environments, and a solid network of partners. The RFID tag design firm should be able to use your specifications to design and configure a custom RFID tag for optimal data collection and security.
Testing the Custom RFID Tag Design in the Application
Because communication with the tag is the essential data link that makes RFID deployment work, it is vital to test the tag in your application. Conformance to specification is not always enough in custom RFID deployments. Structures, vehicles, fluids and people as well as readers and tags can affect the performance of the system. Many of these problems can be anticipated by a seasoned RFID tag designer, but it is always best to test in the ‘real world’ before rolling out a program.