Created the 01 from August from 2019
RFID Labels: Definition and Applications
Concepts such as digitalization, IOT, industry 4.0, or traceability, are heard more and more frequently among the most diverse sectors. One of the motor technologies for achieving traceability and the digitalization of processes is RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), a wireless communication system that operates through radio signals.
There are a number of different RFID systems, but they all have these fundamental elements in common:
- Labels (which are adhered to the objects we wish to identify)
- Reader (responsible for receiving the radio signal and transmitting it in a comprehensible way to a computer)
- Antenna (which operates as the link between the labels and the reader)
- Software (in charge of the management of the received information)
In this article we'll explain what RFID labels are, what they're made of, and their most common applications.
What are RFID labels?
We could say they are the easy way to identify a product or object so it can be wirelessly detected; and to guarantee its traceability. They have a chip attached to them (several models with different memory capacity are available) to which the information deemed necessary in each case is added. They are printed and recorded with printers specifically designed for this.
There are different types of RFID labels:
- Passive: the most common type of label, called “passive” for the lack of a battery of its own. They are short range labels (signal detectable from a distance of 0 to 15 meters). However, they offer very interesting advantages, such as the possibility of being manufactured in extremely small sizes, or having a more competitive price.
- Active: they have their own power supply, which allows them to expand and emit their signal over a wider distance.
- Semi-passive: as with passive ones, it is the RFID reader that emits a signal when it wants to communicate. The characteristic that makes them different is the small battery that they have built in to power the chip, and thus, store information and respond more quickly and safely.
What are RFID labels made of?
The main components found in this type of labels are: the substrate (material from which the label is made); the antenna (which allows communication with the reader); and the IC (Integrated Circuit).
- Material/substrate: Depending on the composition (metal, plastic, cardboard, etc.) of the product to identify, and the environmental conditions to which the label will be subjected, we will choose a different type of material, inlay, and format: the requirements for a correct operation will not be the same in a label destined to logistic operations, than in one to be used inside freezing chambers. Taking all these factors into account, we'll choose the material that best suits our needs (paper, plastic, pet, cardboard, polyamide, etc.), and the delivery format (in rolls, loose, printed, etc.).
- Antenna: In order to select the antenna we'll use, we must take into account the reading processes which the product we want to identify during the supply chain will be subjected to. The reading sensitivity may vary depending on the readers, the number of tags to be identified, and the positioning of the tag.
- IC (Integrated Circuit): There are many memory capacity and security options. For most applications, a memory with low capacity (from 128 bits) is more than enough; although there are industrial RFID applications where memories of more than 512 bits are used.
RFID Labels Applications
With this technology, we can give an answer to a wide variety of processes. The uses we can give to it are many; as well as the sectors in which it can be applied. Some of its most common applications to date are the following:
One of the fundamental applications we can find is destined to the global improvement of the supply chain, automating, simplifying, or even eliminating the works of identification and capture of data that occur in the different points of the chain, and in that way guarantee traceability.
To be able to carry it out, RFID labels are placed on all the products we want to control, in order to obtain information about them in each of the processes.
From this simplification many benefits derive, such as increasing productivity and efficiency, or reducing operating costs.
To be competitive nowadays, it is essential to have the ability to improve production times, reduce direct labor in those processes that do not add value to the product, and in general, increase the overall productivity of the company.
The industrial sector has found in RFID technology a great ally, since it provides great advantages such as data capture in procedures where it is impossible, or very expensive, to do it manually. It has managed to revitalize and optimize all the processes within the industrial activity, and there are many sectors that have incorporated it into their system.
One of them is the automotive sector: there are many car manufacturers who use these technologies to have a global vision and control of the supply chain, being able to manage the assembly chain more easily, rapidly detecting errors, and storing important information of each piece (such as serial number, or date of manufacture) thanks to RFID labels. This ensures complete traceability of their products, and simplifies the interactions between the various chain actors: from material suppliers, to dealers.
Logistic processes have undergone a positive change thanks to RFID systems: the interaction between manufacturing, distribution centers and stores is much more agile and effective. It is possible to identify in a massive and reliable way the received goods, avoiding manual verification of the information. In addition, warehouse management is improved, being now able to leave and collect items in an automated way. It is also possible to reduce the time of preparation and collection of orders, easily detecting any type of error during the procedure.
With this technology we will have a global vision of the business, guarantee a good service, and see how productivity increases a 20-30% more than when using barcodes.
Retail is one of the sectors that has obtained the most benefits using this technology. The adhesive RFID labels placed on the products help us know at all time the exact location of each item, in addition to storing relevant information about it. That greatly simplifies inventory management, avoiding out of stock. These labels can also be used as an anti-theft system: they are only deactivated after the item is paid at the cash register; an alarm will go off in case someone tries to take a product without paying.
In addition, we can offer our customers a new shopping experience, thanks to interactive screens and fitting rooms that allow identifying and giving product information; offer purchase recommendations; or request different sizes and colors, among other options.
RFID is a very useful tool to improve customer satisfaction and increase sales volume. Fashion, jewelry, and cosmetics industry are some of the sectors where this technology has become essential.
- Hospitals / Pharmaceutical industry
RFID technology is a great tool to make possible the management, security and monitoring of assets and people in the health sector. Some of its main functions in hospitals are: to mark surgery tools that must be under very precise control; access control of patients and staff through the different areas of the hospital; and store information related to the medical history of each patient to facilitate their treatment and avoid confusion.
One of the essential concerns of the food industry is the health safety of the products. RFID technology offers a large number of advantages to ensure the traceability of food at any stage of the production process:
Allows entries of field products with maturation time alerts or other associated processes; temperature control through the cold chain; movement registration between drying chambers/curing zones; and even control the flips in the curing processes of cheeses and similar products. We can also create alerts to avoid obsolete or expired stock.
We can store all the necessary information about the products (expiration dates, sizes, varieties, etc.) in RFID labels, thus ensuring compliance with current legal regulations.
RFID tags give books and/or documents a unique identification number, achieving a more accurate and effective tracking, since the system can read the identification of many units at once, and manual identification is avoided. In addition, this technology is also used for the authentication of official documents, avoiding their falsification.
RFID technology allows better management and control of the participants in races and other sporting events. The RFID label assigned to each participant allows controlling the route he/she takes while timing him/her. These labels are disposable, and allow precise timing without causing any discomfort to the athlete. They can be worn attached to the back, sports shoes, or other clothing items worn by the runner.
- Asset tracking and identifiation
We will be able to register asset's movements in real time, being able to carry out the control and management in situ or from a remote point. By identifying the assets with the appropriate labels, we'll be able to locate them easily, even if they have been moved and placed somewhere they do not belong. We can even register changes of environmental conditions for those critical products.
These systems help to prevent the loss of assets, as well as simplify their management and reduce operating costs.
Proper inventory management is essential for the proper functioning of any company.
We can manage the inventory process in real time, automatically, with the help of RFID technology: we can provide each of the products we have stored with a unique identifier, which will avoid duplications and imbalances; we'll easily obtain relevant information about stored products, as well as their location; and we will have a more accurate and always updated stock.
We can save time and reduce costs increasing productivity while avoiding mistakes and preventing unnecessary expenses.
One of the most common uses of this technology is access control, both of people and goods.
By placing RFID portals at the access points we'll control, in real time, the number of labels that pass through them, identifying their bearer.
This allows companies to easily obtain very valuable information for the management and control of their activities. Some examples of the information that can be collected are: goods entering or leaving the warehouse; distribution of orders (departure, delivery, and if there are mobile devices, the place and route used); identification and access of workers; monitoring of entries in an event; door lock in hotels; and many more.
As you see, there are many advantages and opportunities offered by RFID technology. For more information about it and its applications, do not hesitate to contact us. In Dipole we have been installing and manufacturing RFID products for many years.