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Is RFID a Plug and Play Technology?

You’ve heard about the amazing benefits of RFID technology and are eager to get started. You just need tags, readers and reader software, right? Wrong. RFID is not a plug and play technology. Implementing RFID requires careful consideration of the systems and environments within which the technology will be operating. Here are 5 things you must consider first.

Your Barcode Equipment Won’t Work

RFID systems require different hardware and software from other tracking systems, such as those used for barcodes. If you try to use an RFID tag with a barcode system and reader, it won’t work.

You need a specialized and compatible software that is designed to handle the information flow from RFID. While barcode interfaces can take in one serial number at a time, RFID can read hundreds of tags in seconds. Because of this, the algorithms for capturing and storing information need to be very different.

Your barcode readers won’t work either. Barcode readers are optical, meaning they read tags using visible light. In contrast, RFID tags and readers use radio frequencies to communicate. Because it doesn’t need a direct line of sight, RFID provides a lot of benefits, like reading through cardboard in a way visible light doesn’t. Because of this, the two technologies are totally different and incompatible.

Your Environment Might Require A Specific Kind of Tag

The environment around the tag affects performance. RFID is radio energy and it is affected by the presence of liquids and metal. This means you might need a specialized RFID tag designed for your specific environment.

Packaging materials can also affect RFID. While common materials like plastic, cardboard and foam packaging won’t cause trouble for RFID systems, metallic material will. This includes metal containers, foil and certain conductive composites.

Additionally, if your package contains fluid, pay extra attention. You can design a tag that will work with a package containing fluids, but you’ll need to work around it. This is because fluid absorbs radio frequencies.

You Will Want to Optimize for Your Business Process

RFID allows you to gather data automatically without engineering alignments like you have to with barcodes. But if you’re implementing RFID, you’ll want to optimize your businesses process to maximize the effectiveness of the deployment.

This is especially critical if you’re trying to automate data collection and reduce labor. When implementing RFID, you need to plan and consider how RFID will affect your personnel. If you have people reading barcodes, those people can likely be removed from the process.

Because of this, optimizing your business process for RFID involves identifying where you need to apply labor and where you don’t. RFID allows you to eliminate manual operations. This makes your business processes more accurate than humans can manage while also freeing up labor for other areas.

You Might Need a More Durable Tag

Under extreme conditions, ordinary RFID tags can fail due to adverse agents like heat, water, chemicals and dust. To track assets in these settings, you need a tag that is compatible with the environment. And there are certain factors you’ll need to consider.

Temperature directly impacts RFID tags. You need to know the maximum and minimum temperatures your tags will encounter. And if those conditions are going to be repeated, you need to ensure that the tags are able to withstand more than one thermal cycle.

If you don’t factor in temperature, your RFID tags are likely to fail during deployment. But if you use tags designed to meet the necessary temperature requirements, they’ll last as many cycles as you need them to.

RFID tags must also endure rugged physical abuse, such as vibrations, impacts and abrasions. RFID can excel in punishing conditions, but only if you give careful consideration to what your tags will need.

Additionally, tags are affected by adverse, aggressive chemistries, such as cleaning fluids, fuels, lubricants and alkaline or acid chemistries used in industrial processes. Tags need to be able to tolerate exposure to this.

Lastly, your tag may need to be readable when it’s wet or covered in dirt or oil. Tags also frequently go through a painting process, while still having to perform under a coating. RFID tags can handle all of these conditions, but only if you properly account for them.

You Will Need a Tag Sized for Your Asset

The size and shape of the RFID tag is a key factor in mounting the tag to the asset. For specialized industries such as electronics, a small tag is necessary to fit on or in the existing hardware. Depending on the dimensions of your asset, you might need an RFID tag that meets a specific requirement for size and/or shape.

You also have to consider the geometry of the object and how large of a tag it can handle. For example, convoluted surfaces will have limited locations to mount the tag. And when mounting the tag, you need to ensure that the tag does not impair the use of the object and interface. There are limits to how big of a tag you can mount, and there are parameters that are driven by the application.

For passive tags, mostly UHF (ultra-high frequency), the larger the tag is, the longer the read range. And a lot of the time, people like longer read ranges. But larger tags are more expensive because they require more materials. It is possible to encounter scenarios where you need a larger read range and a larger tag than the object can support. If you need a 20 foot read range but your object is too small to mount that large of a tag, you need to reengineer your process.

Once you’ve identified the key attributes you’re looking for in an RFID tag, the next step is to find an existing RFID tag or create a custom solution. Take a look at our Custom RFID Solutions and RFID Tag Finder or Contact Us to learn more.

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