RFID Radio Frequency Identification Technology Tutorial

- RFID Radio Frequency Identification is a technology that is used for identification in everything from shop tagging to vehicle tracking and many more applications.

The use of RFID, Radio Frequency Identification technology has become widespread within many areas of industry. RFID, Radio Frequency Identification provides an ideal technology for tracking assets and identifying them by using a simple low cost antenna attached to the item in question.

Alongside RFID provides automatic data collection for which there are now several standards, and this enables RFID technology to be deployed in an effective and known manner. With RFID technology standardised, users are able to rely on the technology to provide the results they need.

RFID - the benefits

RFID technology provides many benefits for organisations ho use the system. RFID provide an easy way in which data can be collected and assets tracked:

  • RFID technology provides a low cost form of data collection and asset management.
  • RFID technology is widely used and therefore the economies of scale can be utilised to advantage.
  • RFID technology enables data collection in environments that are unsuitable for workers as RFID tags can provide data in harsh environments.
  • RFID is able to provide many reads and write functions per second, although it is not a very high data rate system, it is sufficient for most data monitoring applications.
  • Data on an RFID tag can be altered repeatedly.
  • RFID technology can be used with existing systems including bar codes and Wi-Fi

As a result, RFID technology is being used increasingly as organisations need automatic methods of tracking assets and collecting data.

RFID - the applications

RFID systems can be used in a variety of ways. There are many RFID applications which have gained popularity over the past years:

  • Store product identification - RFID technology can be used within shops and stores as a form of alert for goods that have / have not been paid for.
  • Asset tracking - RFID systems can monitor when RFID tags pass given points and in this way track the assets.
  • Airline baggage identification - airlines need to monitor where baggage is and route it to the required destination. RFID tags can be attached to the bags to automate baggage routing
  • Parts identification - Data can be written to an RFID tags defining the identity of a part. This can then be used within a manufacturing, stock holding or other process to identify and locate parts.
  • Production control - when items are manufactured they pass through many stages. RFID tags can be attached to items. These can be updated each time the item passes through a stage in production. This will enable the manufacturing system to track all items and know what stage they are at, and any other information such as test failures, etc.
  • Employee access control - many companies today require intelligent access control systems. RFID technology is able to provide control as well as tracking, noting when cards pass particular access points, etc.
  • Supply chain control - with manufacturing working to much tighter timescales with items such as Just-In-Time techniques being involved tracking of the items in a supply chain becomes more critical. RFID tags can be added to items to enable this to be undertaken accurately and more quickly.
  • Vehicle tracking - RFID technologycan be used to determine when vehicles have passed particular points and in this way their location can be approximately determined.
  • Livestock identification - RFID tags can be injected into animals, under the skin and this enables accurate determination of which animal is which so that injections, etc can be given to the correct animal.

These represent some of the more standard applications for RFID technology. Many more specialised applications are also in use.

What is RFID? - the basics

RFID technology is a simple method of exchanging data between two entities namely a reader/ writer and a tag. This communication allows information about the tag or the element carrying the tag to be determined and in this way it enables processes to be managed more easily.

An RFID system comprises a number of elements:

  • RFID reader / writer:   The reader write is used to communicate with the tags that may pass within range. The RFID reader writer will normally be located in a fixed position and will be used to interrogate an RFID tag. Dependent upon the application and the format of the system and the RFID reader / writer, data may also be written to the RFID tag
  • RFID tag:   RFID tags may also be called RFID transponders and are typically located on items that are mobile. They are small and generally cheap so that they can be attached to low cost (or high cost) items that need to have information associated with them. They are also generally considered as being disposable. The RFID tag contains data that is relayed to the reader, and in some systems it may also be possible to update the data within the tag to indicate that the tag and hence the item has undergone a specific stage in a process, etc.
  • RFID application software:   Like all systems these days, RFID systems need application software to run the overall system. With many systems there will be a number of different reader / writers and the data to and from these needs to be coordinated and analysed. Application software will be required for these.

Although each RFID system will vary according to its requirements, these are the main elements which can be found.

RFID technology has become widespread in its use. It offers may advantages and RFID is a particularly versatile system, being able to be used in many areas from shops, to manufacturing plants and also for general asset tracking as well as a host of other innovative applications.

By Ian Poole


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