Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a generic term that is used to describe a system that transmits the identity (in the form of a unique serial number) of an object or person wirelessly, using radio waves. It's grouped under the broad category of automatic identification technologies.
RFID is in use all around us. If you have ever chipped your pet with an ID tag, used EZPass through a toll booth, or paid for gas using SpeedPass, you've used RFID. In addition, RFID is increasingly used with biometric technologies for security.
Unlike ubiquitous UPC bar-code technology, RFID technology does not require contact or line of sight for communication. RFID data can be read through the human body, clothing and non-metallic materials.
A basic RFID system consists of three components:
The purpose of an RFID system is to enable data to be transmitted by a portable device, called a tag, which is read by an RFID reader and processed according to the needs of a particular application. The data transmitted by the tag may provide identification or location information, or specifics about the product tagged, such as price, color, date of purchase, etc. RFID technology has been used by thousands of companies for a decade or more. RFID quickly gained attention because of its ability to track moving objects. As the technology is refined, more pervasive - and invasive - uses for RFID tags are in the works.
A typical RFID tag consists of a microchip attached to a radio antenna mounted on a substrate. The chip can store as much as 2 kilobytes of data.
To retrieve the data stored on an RFID tag, you need a reader. A typical reader is a device that has one or more antennas that emit radio waves and receive signals back from the tag. The reader then passes the information in digital form to a computer system.
It's no surprise that asset tracking is one of the most common uses of RFID. Companies can put RFID tags on assets that are lost or stolen often, that are underutilized or that are just hard to locate at the time they are needed. Just about every type of RFID system is used for asset management. NYK Logistics, a third-party logistics provider based in Secaucus, N.J., needed to track containers at its Long Beach, Calif., distribution center. It chose a real-time locating system that uses active RFID beacons to locate container to within 10 feet.
RFID has been used in manufacturing plants for more than a decade. It's used to track parts and work in process and to reduce defects, increase throughput and manage the production of different versions of the same product.
RFID technology has been used in closed loop supply chains or to automate parts of the supply chain within a company's control for years.
As standards emerge, companies are increasingly turning to RFID to track shipments among supply chain partners.
Retailers such as Best Buy, Metro, Target, Tesco and Wal-Mart are in the forefront of RFID adoption. These retailers are currently focused on improving supply chain efficiency and making sure product is on the shelf when customers want to buy it.
RFID is all the rage in the supply chain world, but the technology is also catching on as a convenient payment mechanism. One of the most popular uses of RFID today is to pay for road tolls without stopping. These active systems have caught on in many countries, and quick service restaurants are experimenting with using the same active RFID tags to pay for meals at drive-through windows.
RFID has long been used as an electronic key to control who has access to office buildings or areas within office buildings. The first access control systems used low-frequency RFID tags. Recently, vendors have introduced 13.56 MHz systems that offer longer read range. The advantage of RFID is it is convenient (an employee can hold up a badge to unlock a door, rather than looking for a key or swiping a magnetic stripe card) and because there is no contact between the card and reader, there is less wear and tear, and therefore less maintenance.
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