Discovering the Capabilities of RFID Chips and Tags

In a world where technological advancements are reshaping our everyday lives, one innovation has quietly embedded itself into the very fabric of our existence – RFID chips and tags. From tracking inventory in supply chains to enhancing contactless payments, these tiny marvels have become the unsung heroes of a connected world. Thanks to their proficiency and efficiency, RFID chips are continually growing in popularity.

Underneath, we attempt to boast your understanding of RFID technologies and to help you settle on the best RFID equipment for your distinct application.

Figure 1 RFID chip.

What Are RFID Chips?

RFID is a contraction that stands for Radio-Frequency Identification. RFID chips are tiny data collection and exchange tools reliant on radio waves. For RFID chips to function as desired, they must be synced to an RFID reader or scanner. Ideally, they are linked to a compatible RFID reader by antennas, which can be internal or external. The deployment of RFID technology is proliferating tremendously and this is mainly because RFID facilitates live monitoring.

Owing to their small sizes, most RFID chips and tags lack an inherent energy source hence they depend on the linked RFID reader for power and activation. This facilitates the processing of data collected by the RFID chip. RFID chips can be implanted on tags, business cards, products, key fobs, and even human beings and animals. They are utilized in a wide range of applications, such as access control systems, inventory management, asset tracking, payment systems, transportation and logistics, and animal tracking, among others.

The Working Principle Behind RFID Chips.

Here is a step-by-step process of how RFID chips function.

  • Tag Initialization: Before deployment, each RFID tag is initialized with a unique identifier or serial number, which is programmed into the chip’s memory.
  • Tag Activation: All that is needed for the RFID tag to become functional is activation by a close-by RFID reader. The reader transmits power to the chip via an electromagnetic field, which consequently feeds the chip. This energy is used to power up the chip.
  • Energy Supply: The powered-on RFID tag has active circuitry, which renders it fit to perform its intended functions. It uses the energy received from the reader to power its internal components, including the microchip.
  • Data Transmission: With the RFID chip powered by the RFID scanner, it utilizes radio waves to send stored information to the synced scanner. The data typically includes the unique identifier stored in the chip’s memory.
  • Reader Detection: Data gathered and stored by the chip is transmitted back to the reader where it is detected and decoded The RFID reader interprets the unique identifier or any other relevant information encoded in the chip.
  • Data Processing: After decoding the received data, the RFID scanner interprets the data and initiates any follow-up action as programmed. This can include updating a database, triggering an event, or executing a specific command.
  • Communication Protocol: RFID systems use specific communication protocols to ensure accurate and reliable data transmission between the reader and the RFID chip. The most common protocols include ISO/IEC 14443 for proximity cards and NFC (Near Field Communication) for passive UHF tags.

Figure 2 How RFID Technology Works.

RFID System Constituents.

● RFID Tags.

RFID tags are attached to the objects or items that need to be identified and tracked. You can find RFID tags in different variations. Passive tags are engineered to draw power from the synced reader. Active tags, on the other hand, are independent meaning they can power themselves up thanks to an inbuilt energy source.  The final tag varieties, semi-passive tags, are characterized by an attached battery, which powers isolated functionalities.

● RFID Reader.

An RFID reader is a colossal component of the RFID system. It is responsible for disseminating radio frequencies to activate the RFID tags and consequently intercepting the relayed signals. For this reason, it is also referred to as an interrogator. Readers can be fixed or handheld, and they come in different frequency ranges depending on the application.

Figure 3 RFID Reader.

● Antenna.

An RFID antenna plays the role of a middleman between the RFID reader and compatible tags. It transforms the reader’s radio waves into consumable power for the RFID chip before relaying the signal released by the chip back to the reader. Antennas can be integrated into the reader or exist as a separate component.

● Middleware.

RFID middleware has numerous responsibilities in RFID systems. Essentially, it marries distinct RFID hardware, related databases, and software to guarantee optimal performance. Additionally, middleware offers integration possibilities with interlinked enterprise software.

● Enterprise Software.

The applications of this software encompass numerous business functionalities, for instance, asset tracking and inventory management.

● Network Infrastructure.

The network infrastructure enables communication between the RFID reader, middleware, and enterprise software. It may include wired or wireless networks, such as Ethernet or Wi-Fi, depending on the deployment requirements.

● Data Storage.

The RFID system may require a database or storage system to store and manage the collected data for further analysis or retrieval. This can be a local database or a cloud-based storage solution.

● Power Source.

RFID chips either have an internal power source or they depend on RFID readers. Active tags are self-sufficient, whereas passive tags depend on compatible scanners for energy supply.

An RFID system as well as its components can be individualized to guarantee user satisfaction. Additional components, such as sensors, actuators, or security features, can be integrated into the system to enhance functionality and address specific needs.

RFID Tag Types.

Figure 4 Passive RFID tag.

● Passive RFID Tags.

Characteristically, passive RFID tags have no internal battery. As such, they are only activated when in close proximity to an accompanying RFID scanner. These tags are cost-effective and commonly used for applications such as inventory management and supply chain tracking. They have a limited read range and require the reader to be in close proximity for successful communication.

● Active RFID Tags.

These tags bear the name active because they are capable of powering their own operation. They come with an inherent battery, which facilitates the transmission of signals from the chip to a nearby RFID reader. They are vastly exploited in high-value asset tracking courtesy of their impeccable read range (433MHz). Active tags are more expensive and have a larger form factor due to the inclusion of a power source.

● Semi-passive RFID Tags.

Alternatively, they are referred to as battery-assisted passive (BAP). Semi-passive tags are quite advanced and can support more complex functions like sound notifications and environmental sensors. This is made possible by their incorporation of batteries, electrical circuits, and antennas. However, they are not equipped with onboard transmitters and this keeps their read range on the lower scale compared to active RFID tags.

● UHF RFID Tags.

Ultra-High Frequency RFID tags can be passive or active with the active tags exhibiting extended read ranges. They can function in a frequency range of 860 MHz to 960 MHz. People use them a lot because they can read from farther away and transfer data faster.

● HF RFID Tags.

HF RFID tags are characterized by a frequency of 13.56 MHz. When embedded onto items, they allow tracking for longer distances of up to 1.5 meters. HF RFID tags can communicate with RFID scanners from nearby and they are manufactured in both passive and active variants.

● NFC Tags.

NFC tags are like special stickers that work with certain devices. They use a particular frequency to communicate (13.56 MHz), and they only work when they’re really close, like within a few centimeters. Gadgets that can read and write NFC tags can be used to share information or make things happen.

Figure 5 NFC tag.

● RFID Applications.

Inventory Management

  • Live Monitoring of Items: Any inventory item can be monitored for life as long as it has an embedded RFID chip. This enables companies to have better visibility of their inventory, know the exact location of products, and streamline logistics processes.
  • Reduced Human Errors: RFID automates repetitive processes which makes inventory counting and monitoring easy. By using RFID scanners or readers, businesses can quickly and accurately identify and count multiple items simultaneously. This eliminates the need for manual scanning or barcode reading, reducing human errors and saving time and labor costs.

Asset Tracking:

  • Monitoring assets: If you need to be wary of the location of a certain valuable asset, you can utilize RFID to gain live location data. This enables you to monitor the movement and location of assets in real-time. It provides an efficient way to track assets within a facility or across multiple locations, ensuring their proper usage and minimizing loss or misplacement.
  • Enhancing security and preventing theft: RFID-based asset tracking systems can help improve security by triggering alerts or alarms if assets are moved without authorization. This enhances theft prevention and acts as a deterrent. Additionally, it provides a means to authenticate assets, ensuring that only authorized personnel have access to them.

Access Control and Security Systems:

  • RFID-enabled key cards and badges: RFID technology is commonly used in access control systems to grant authorized personnel entry to secure areas. Key cards or badges embedded with RFID chips can be easily scanned by readers to authenticate and grant access, replacing traditional lock-and-key mechanisms.
  • Tracking employee movements and restricting access to authorized personnel: By integrating RFID technology into access control systems, it becomes possible to track and log employee movements within a facility. This information can be used for attendance management, monitoring employee activity, and restricting access to specific areas based on authorization levels.

Contactless Payment Systems:

  • RFID-enabled credit cards and mobile payment solutions: RFID chips are used in contactless payment systems, allowing users to make transactions by simply tapping or waving their RFID-enabled credit cards or mobile devices near the payment terminal. This technology provides a quick and convenient method for making payments without having to type in your pin or put in your card.
  • Swift and convenient contactless payments: RFID technology is known for its speed and convenience especially when it comes to contactless payment systems. The speed of RFID-based payment processes trumps traditional methods hence explaining the widespread adoption of RFID. The speed and convenience make them popular in environments requiring quick and efficient payment processing, such as retail stores, public transportation, and events.

Figure 6 RFID card for cashless payment.

Pros of Using RFID Chips.

● Automated Identification and Tracking.

RFID chip implant enables automated identification and tracking of objects, assets, or individuals without the need for line-of-sight or physical contact. This allows for efficient and accurate data capture, reducing manual effort and human error.

● Swift and Systematic Operations.

Compared to human data collection and processing, RFID technology is extremely faster and more efficient. It is like a productivity booster, helping businesses be more efficient and getting things done in a snap.

● Live Monitoring.

With RFID, we can track and find things instantly. We can access up-to-date details about their whereabouts, condition, and movement. This helps us make smarter choices, respond faster, and to have better control over our operations.

● Out-of-sight Functioning.

By employing radio waves, RFID chips can function normally even when RFID readers and tags lack a clear line of sight. They are able to read, write and transmit relevant data when obstructed. This feature makes it suitable for applications where barcodes or other optical-based identification methods may not be practical or feasible.

● Scalability.

RFID chip programming allows users to scale up to accommodate a large number of items or assets. With RFID tags, there are no limits to the number of tags that can be scanned by a compatible reader at once. This translates into swift data capture, making the suitable for inventory management and logistics.

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