Frequently Asked Questions

General RFID Information

  • What is automatic identification?
    Automatic identification, or auto ID for short, is the broad term given to a host of technologies that are used to help machines identify objects. Auto identification is often coupled with automatic data capture. That is, companies want to identify items, capture information about them and somehow get the data into a computer without having employees type it in. The aim of most auto-ID systems is to increase efficiency, reduce read more
  • What is RFID?
    Radio frequency identification, or RFID, is a generic term for technologies that use radio waves to automatically identify people or objects. There are several methods of identification, but the most common is to store a serial number that identifies a person or object, and perhaps other information, on a microchip that is attached to an antenna (the chip and the antenna together are called an RFID transponder or an RFID read more
  • Is RFID better than using bar codes?
    RFID is not necessarily "better" than bar codes. The two are different technologies and have different applications, which sometimes overlap. The big difference between the two is bar codes are line-of-sight technology. That is, a scanner has to "see" the bar code to read it, which means people usually have to orient the bar code toward a scanner for it to be read. Radio frequency identification, by contrast, doesn't require read more
  • Will RFID replace bar codes?
    It's very unlikely. Bar codes are inexpensive and effective for certain tasks, but RFID and bar codes will coexist for many years.
  • Is RFID new?
    RFID is a proven technology that's been around since at least the 1970s. Up to now, it's been too expensive and too limited to be practical for many commercial applications. But if tags can be made cheaply enough, they can solve many of the problems associated with bar codes. Radio waves travel through most non-metallic materials, so they can be embedded in packaging or encased in protective plastic for weatherproofing read more
  • If RFID has been around so long and is so great, why aren’t all companies using it?
    All technologies take time to reach a level of maturity at which standards exist, uses of the technology and its benefits are well understood, systems do what users need them to do and early adopters prove the solutions work. Bar codes were invented in the 1950s. The first bar code was scanned in a store in 1974, and it took almost a decade more for the technology to be widely read more
  • What have the initial benefits of RFID technology been?
    RFID technology can deliver benefits in many areas, from tracking work in process to speeding up throughput in a warehouse. Visit RFID Journal's Case Studies section to see how companies are using the technology's potential in manufacturing and other areas. As the technology becomes standardized, it will be used more and more to track goods in the supply chain. The aim is to reduce administrative error, labor costs associated with read more
  • What has prevented RFID from taking off until now?
    There are well-developed standards for low- and high-frequency RFID systems, and these technologies are widely used. For instance, LF tags are used to track livestock around the world. HF is used in access control systems for buildings, ticketing applications, and automobile immobilizers. UHF is relatively new. The first UHF products didn’t reach the market until 2003, and the first ISO standard was not introduced for UHF until 2005. Another issue read more
  • In what ways are companies using RFID today?
    Thousands of companies around the world use RFID today to improve internal efficiencies. Club Car, a maker of golf carts uses RFID to improve efficiency on its production line (subscribers, see Golf Car Maker Scores with RFID). Paramount Farms—one of the world's largest suppliers of pistachios—uses RFID to manage its harvest more efficiently (see Farm Harvests RFID's Benefits). NYK Logistics uses RFID to improve the throughput of containers at its read more
  • What are some of the most common applications for RFID?
    RFID is used for everything from tracking cows and pets to triggering equipment down oil wells. It may sound trite, but the applications are limited only by people's imagination. The most common applications are payment systems (Mobil Speedpass and toll collection systems, for instance), access control and asset tracking. Increasingly, retail, apparel, aerospace, defense, manufacturing, consumer packaged goods and pharmaceutical companies are looking to use RFID to track goods within read more

RFID Technology

  • How does an RFID system work?
    An RFID system consists of a reader (sometimes called an interrogator) and a transponder (or tag), which usually has a microchip with an antenna attached to it. There are different types of RFID systems, but usually the reader sends out electromagnetic waves with a signal the tag is designed to respond to. Passive tags have no power source. They draw power from the field created by the reader and use read more
  • What is the difference between low-, high-, and ultra-high frequencies?
    Just as your radio tunes in to different frequencies to hear different channels, RFID tags and readers have to be tuned to the same frequency to communicate. RFID systems use many different frequencies, but generally the most common are low-frequency (around 125 KHz), high-frequency (13.56 MHz) and ultra-high-frequency or UHF (860-960 MHz). Microwave (2.45 GHz) is also used in some applications. Radio waves behave differently at different frequencies, so you read more
  • How do I know which frequency is right for my application?
    Different frequencies have different characteristics that make them more useful for different applications. For instance, low-frequency tags use less power and are better able to penetrate non-metallic substances. They are ideal for scanning objects with high-water content, such as fruit, but their read range is limited to less than three feet (1 meter). High-frequency tags work better on objects made of metal and can work around goods with high water read more
  • Do all countries use the same frequencies?
    No. Different countries have allotted different parts of the radio spectrum for RFID, so no single technology optimally satisfies all the requirements of existing and potential markets. The industry has worked diligently to standardize three main RF bands: low frequency (LF), 125 to 134 kHz; high frequency (HF), 13.56 MHz; and ultrahigh frequency (UHF), 860 to 960 MHz. Most countries have assigned the 125 or 134 kHz areas of the read more
  • I’ve heard RFID can be used with sensors. Is that true?
    Yes. Some companies are combining RFID tags with sensors that detect and record temperature, movement and even radiation. The technology can also be used in the health-care sector. For instance, Belgium's University Hospital of Ghent has implemented a system that detects when a patient is having cardiac distress, and sends caregivers an alert indicating the patient's location (subscribers, see Belgium Hospital Combines RFID, Sensors to Monitor Heart Patients.)

The Electronic Product Code

  • What is the Electronic Product Code?
    The Electronic Product Code (EPC) was created by the Auto-ID Center as an eventual successor to the bar code. The aim was to create a low-cost method of tracking goods using RFID technology. The benefit of RFID is that it doesn't require line-of-site, which means goods can be scanned through packaging and without needing people to scan items. EPC tags were designed to identify each item manufactured, as opposed to read more
  • How does the EPC work?
    The EPC is a string of numbers and letters, consisting of a header and three sets of data partitions. The first partition identifies the manufacturer. The second identifies the product type (stock keeping unit) and the third is the serial number unique to the item. By separating the data into partitions, readers can search for items with a particular manufacturer's code or product code. Readers can also be programmed to read more
  • Why is EPC technology important?
    EPC technology could dramatically improve efficiencies within the supply chain. The vision is to create near-perfect supply chain visibility—the ability to track every item anywhere in the supply chain securely and in real time. RFID can dramatically reduce human error. Instead of typing information into a database or scanning the wrong bar code, goods will communicate directly with inventory systems. Readers installed in factories, distribution centers, and storerooms and on read more
  • Will there be just one type of EPC?
    No. The Auto-ID Center originally proposed EPCs of 64-, 96- and 128-bits. Eventually, there could be more. The 96-bit number is the one the center believed would be most common. It chose 96 bits as a compromise between the desire to ensure that all objects have a unique EPC and the need to keep the cost of the tag down (the less information on the microchip the cheaper the cost read more
  • What’s the EPC header for?
    The EPC header is used to indicate the format of the EPC code, (i.e. the length of field partitions), and was designed to make the system flexible. For instance, the header tells the reader whether the tag has a 64-bit or a 96-bit EPC. The header also makes it possible to divide the data partitions in different ways, so a manufacturer that makes large amounts of only a few products read more
  • How can a company track items using EPCs?
    Companies have to create a network of RFID readers. In a warehouse for example, there could be readers around the doors on a loading dock and on every bay. When a pallet of goods arrives, the reader on the dock door picks up its unique license plate. Computers look up what the product is in a database, where the ID of the tag is linked to a specific product, carton read more
  • How do you know what item 1-2345-67890 is?
    The EPC by itself tells you no more about a product than a car's license plate tells you about a car. Computers need a way to associate the EPC with information stored elsewhere about the unique item. To help computer systems find and understand information about a product, EPCglobal created the Electronic Product Code Information Service (EPCIS), which uses Internet to allow companies to look up information associated with each read more
  • How do companies use the EPC data to become more efficient and more profitable?
    How companies use EPC data and the EPCIS will be up to them, just as it's up to them to decide how they want to use the Internet. But the EPCglobal has hosted committees of end users in specific industries to create the framework for what data will be collected and shared and what software codes will be associated with tag reads to provide context for the RFID data. For read more

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