All About RFID
What is RFID?
In the simplest terms, Radio Frequency ID - RFID, for short - is
the transmission of data via radio waves from a special tag to an
antenna and then to a computer for management purposes. The information
in the data can be extensive product information, or it could simply
be the "key" to a larger record in a database of products.
The data can give managers information on the product itself, or
handling information (such as when it was manufactured, shipped,
delivered, etc.), or even information about the use of the product.
Unlike traditional barcodes, RFID tags can hold vastly more data.
The beauty of RFID is that it doesn't depend on "line of sight"
or "contact" scanning by a reader, therefore saving time
and effort to get the information. In addition, the data volume
it can hold is significantly higher, so managers can have more information
with which to make important handling and tracking decisions.
For an excellent introduction to RFID and the Electronic Product
Code network, use the links below. Each Adobe Acrobat (.PDF) file
will launch in a new browser window. (Files were downloaded from
the AutoIDCenter web site, which was closed in the Fall of 2003.)
Don't have the Adobe Acrobat Reader? It's a FREE download from
Adobe, and you can get it by clicking
here or on the "Get Acrobat" button below.
History of RFID
Radio waves have been used to transmit data since Guglielmo Marconi
began experimenting with voice transmissions in the late 1800s,
culminating with his famous experiment in December, 1901 that transmitted
a radio signal from Canada to England, ushering in a new era in
During World War II, the Allied Powers used radio signals to identify
aircraft, called "Identification, Friend or Foe," or "IFF"
for short. IFF is still in use today to control civilian and military
aircraft around the world.
Since World War II, radio communications have become ubiquitous,
and RFID has been used in agriculture, transportation, manufacturing,
healthcare, and other industries. Some uses include locating livestock,
tracking high-value shipments by truck, allowing automobiles to
make automatic payments at gas stations and at toll booths on highways,
tracking products as they're produced and delivered, keeping tabs
on newborn babies in hospitals, and hundreds of other applications.
In the past two years, considerable attention to RFID has been
given, thanks to initiatives by several giants in the retailing
and defense industries. These initiatives have forced manufacturers
to design and produce new equipment, integrators to design new processes
for specific operations, and end-user companies to consider new
and innovative ways to implement RFID operations.
WalMart, Target, Proctor & Gamble and Other Retailers
In late 2003, WalMart told its top 100 suppliers that it would
require them to use Electronic Product Code (EPC) RFID tags on pallets
delivered to WalMart no later than January 2005. This "mandate"
stirred the RFID world because WalMart is such a huge retailer.
Target and Proctor & Gamble quickly followed suit with initiatives
of their own.
The goal is to have 100 percent read rates on pallets passing through
WalMart's doors. Since the "mandate," companies have tried
to comply despite some daunting technological challenges, and WalMart
maintains that it is "on track" for it's January, 2005
deadline. Some of the problems faced include read-rates that are
not quite up to the 100 percent goal, optimized antenna placement
and orientation, and problems with certain products - such as liquids
or metal cans - which tend to distort RFID signals.
Links to some WalMart articles for further reading. (Links will
launch in a new browser window):
General Electric - or GE, to most people! - plans to use RFID to
revolutionize its supply chains and track high-value assets within
the company. One security initiative uses a handheld device to arm
and disarm a container security device (CSD), which could ensure
the integrity of containers used to ship 90 percent of all international
Department of Defense
The U.S. Department of Defense jumped on the RFID bandwagon, hoping
RFID technology would lead to better logistical management of supplies
for troops and operations. One interesting aspect of the U.S. DoD
initiatives is the possible use of RFID without much of the usual
"cost consciousness" of private industry, perhaps leading
to new and unexpected processes and operational parameters that
might not be possible in private industry.
Click here to find out how RFID
can be used in a wide variety of applications.
Click here to read Frequently Asked Questions
Click here to view important terms and
definitions you may hear about RFID.
Find out how to start planning for
your own RFID System, the things to watch for, some important considerations,
and steps and tips for a smooth implementation.