Technology | RFID

Radio-Frequency Identification Technology

Words by Alex Matheson
Radio-Frequency Identification Technology

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology is quite a mouthful considering it’s a thing that most of us probably encounter or are affected by on a daily basis. From the tags on certain shop-bought items to devices that track components through manufacturing processes, RFID tags are widespread and exceptionally useful. Let’s find out why!

What is RFID technology and how does it work?

Radio-frequency identification is a way of transferring data without contact using radio frequency waves. RFID tags are applied to items and those tags contain information about the item, allowing for their unique identification.

These tags can be read by an RFID reader, which reads the radio frequency waves encoded in a chip within an RFID tag and returns the unique information about the item it’s attached to.

What types of RFID tags are there?

There are two main types of RFID tags, passive and battery powered. A passive RFID tag is powered by the electromagnetic energy given off by an RFID reader. A battery powered RFID tag instead has an inbuilt power source. This means that the battery powered alternative is able to actively send out information, whereas the passive version only transmits information when it’s being read.

What is RFID used for?

Due to their relatively simple design and cheap production costs, RFID tags have found incredibly widespread use. Some notable examples are:

  • Tracking and identifying pets and farm animals
  • Protecting luxury items from theft in shops
  • Timing races accurately
  • Measuring event attendance
  • Tracking items throughout manufacturing processes

That final one is of particular interest in our industry, so let’s break that down further.

How is RFID used in manufacturing?

The ability to easily add a unique marker to components within a manufacturing process is incredibly useful. RFID tags mean a component can be tracked and identified amongst thousands of others. At a glance, professionals can see how various elements of a manufacturing process are flowing together and how efficient that process is.

Being able to uniquely identify individual components is a massive boon to quality assurance as well. If defects appear in a component that’s made its way to a finished product, there’s a digital record of that component’s life cycle; where it was born, where it travelled, how it was integrated and amended and where any defect might have originated.

Beyond that, RFID tags can be linked to supply chain systems that can anticipate expected product delivery times and quantities. By integrating these systems with logistics and ordering systems, everything can be automated on a holistic level based on very granular data.

What are the drawbacks of RFID?

  • Cost – While RFID tags are not as expensive as some other component tracking methods, they still require materials and time to make.
  • Interference – Radio-frequencies can be blocked by certain materials and liquids, making them vulnerable in certain environments
  • Privacy – RFID technology is relatively easy to ‘hack’ due to its nature. If an RFID tag carries sensitive information, it can inadvertently transmit that data to unwanted readers.

So, there are some drawbacks. But that’s the same with almost every technology and, as with every technology, if adopted with the pros and cons in mind any drawbacks can be mitigated. While cost is governed by availability of resources and production volumes, things like interference and privacy come down to how one chooses to use RFID technology.

With all that in mind, we hope you’ve learned a little something today. Perhaps when you next see that little sticker on the back of a luxury item you’re picking up for a treat, you’ll spare it an extra thought.