Education

Basics in RFID

 Overview

This white paper describes the basic components of a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) system and explores the technology, applications, and competitive advantages of RFID technology and its uses for Automatic Identification Data Collection (AIDC).

1. Introduction

Traditional bar-coding technology provides an economical solution for Automatic Identification Data Collection (AIDC) industry applications. However, this technology has a primary limitation: each barcoded item has to be scanned individually, thus limiting the scanning speed. Extra costs are incurred through the use of manual labor or automating the scanning process. And when the scanning is manually performed, there is the added possibility of human error. As a result of these limitations, RFID technology has been making inroads in AIDC applications. RFID offers greater flexibility, higher data storage capacities, increased data collection throughput, and greater immediacy and accuracy of data collection. An increasing number of companies in a variety of markets worldwide are embracing RFID technology to increase quality and quantity of data collection in an expeditious manner, a feat not always possible with barcoding systems. The technology’s enhanced accuracy and security makes it an ideal data collection platform for a variety of markets and applications, including healthcare, pharmaceutical, manufacturing, warehousing, logistics, transportation and retail.

2. Components of an RFID System

A basic RFID system consists of these components:

      • A programmable RFID tag/inlay for storing item data consisting of:
                     – an RFID chip for data storage
                     – an antenna to facilitate communication with the RFID chip.
      • A reader/antenna system to interrogate the RFID inlay.

The RFID Tag

RFID tags are categorized as either passive or active. Passive tags do not have an integrated power source and are powered from the signal carried by the RFID reader. Active tags have a built-in power source, and their behavior can be compared to a beacon. As a result of the built-in battery, active tags can operate at a greater distance and at higher data rates in return for limited life driven by the longevity of the built in battery and higher costs. For a lower cost of implementation, passive tags are a more attractive solution. The RFID tag consists of an integrated circuit (IC) embedded in a thin film medium. Information stored in the memory of the RFID chip is transmitted by the antenna circuit embedded in the RFID inlay via radio frequencies, to an RFID reader. The performance characteristics of the RFID tag will then be determined by factors such as the type of IC used, the read/write capability, the radio frequency, power settings, environment, etc.

The information stored in an RFID chip is defined by its read/write characteristics. For a read-only tag, the information stored must be recorded during the manufacturing process and cannot be typically modified or erased. The data stored normally represents a unique serial number which is used as a reference to lookup more details about a particular item in a host system database. Read-only tags are therefore useful for identifying an object, much like the “license plate” of a car. For a read/write tag, data can be written and erased on demand at the point of application. Since a rewriteable tag can be updated numerous times, its reusability can help to reduce the number of tags
that need to be purchased and add greater flexibility and intelligence to the application. Additionally, data can be added as the item moves through the supply chain, providing better traceability and updated information. Advanced features also include locking, encryption and disabling the RFID tag. RFID systems are designed to operate at a number of designated frequencies, depending on the application requirements and local radio-frequency regulations:

• Low Frequency (125kHz)
• High Frequency (13.56MHz)
• Ultra High Frequency (860-960 MHz)
• Microwave (2.45 GHz).

Low-frequency tags are typically used for access control & security, manufacturing processes, harsh environments, and animal identification applications in a variety of industries which require short read ranges. The low frequency spectrum is the most adaptive to high metal content environments, although with some loss of performance. Read ranges are typically several inches to several feet.

High-frequency tags were developed as a low cost, small profile alternative to low-frequency RFID tags with the ability to be printed or embedded in substrates such as paper. Popular applications include: library tracking and identification, healthcare patient identification, access control, laundry identification, item level tracking, etc. Metal presents interference issues and requires special considerations for mounting. Similarly to the low-frequency technology, these tags have a read range of up to several feet.
UHF tags boast greater read distances and superior anti-collision capabilities, increasing the ability to identify a larger number of tags in the field at a given time. The primary application envisioned for UHF tags is supply chain tracking. The ability to identify large numbers of objects as they are moving through a facility and later through the supply chain, has an enormous opportunity for ROI in retail such as reduction of wasted dollars in inventory, lost sales revenues due to out of stock inventory, and the elimination of the human factor required today for successful barcode data collection. There are large number of additional markets with demand for UHF RFID technology such as transportation, healthcare, aerospace, etc.

Microwave tags are mostly used in active RFID systems. Offering long range and high data transfer speeds at significantly higher cost per tag making them suitable for railroad car tracking, container tracking, and automated toll collection type applications as a re-usable asset.
The table on the following page highlights the different characteristics of the three RFID operating frequency ranges:

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3. Applications

Library Information Systems

Tracking a library’s assets and loan processing is very time-consuming and traditional bar-coding systems help to improve the process. However, RFID technology offers additional enhanced features:

Efficient processing – When each library item contains an embedded RFID tag on a printed label, its availability can be tracked much more efficiently (versus manual tracking). Library items can be checked in and out much faster than manual barcode or human readable data processing. In fact, with RFID, processing returned items no longer requires any human intervention at all. RFID enables libraries to provide certain services around the clock, without incurring additional costs.

Security – If a tagged library item has not been checked out, any attempt to remove it from the library premises will be detected via the RFID antenna at the entrance gate, hence the RFID tag doubles as a EAS anti-theft device.

Inventory management – Book inventory that previously took weeks or months to execute can now be shortened to hours using RFID tagging. Using a portable RFID device, a librarian needs only to walk through a corridor of book shelves to check the status of the books available. The RFID reading device reads item information from the books’ IC chips and then automatically interfaces with library inventory software systems to update the appropriate databases. In addition, it can notify the operator immediately if an item is not in its designated location.

Supply Chain Management

Key challenges faced by companies in their supply chain, is the visibility, tracking and traceability of materials and products as well as the quality and quantity of data collected in real time. RFID’s ability to increase data collection throughput and accuracy enable companies to identify materials, products and trends in supply chain with greater accuracy in real-time, compared to data collection technologies utilized to date. Once RFID technology is fully integrated, minimal human effort is required in this
process thus reducing errors and costs. By providing accurate, real-time data and information, RFID solutions enable companies to capture “live” data, converting it to meaningful information and automating all associated transactions and processes.

Healthcare

Erroneous patient data, including administering incorrect medications or dosages, is a major factor resulting in serious and in some cases, fatal medical mishaps. According to the Institute of Medicine:

• Between 44,000-98,000 Americans die from medical errors annually (Institute of Medicine;
Thomas et al.; Thomas et al.)
• Only 55% of patients in a recent random sample of adults received recommended care with
little difference found between care recommended for prevention to address acute episodes or
to treat chronic conditions (McGlynn et al.)
• Medication-related errors for hospitalized patients cost roughly $2 billion annually (Institute of
Medicine; Bates et al.)

These statistics have dramatically increased the demand for fail-safe accuracy in managing patient care; RFID is providing an effective solution.

In RFID-equipped hospitals, patients wear wristbands with RFID tags containing encoded medical information. All prescription bags contain an embedded RFID tag containing details of the medication. Before any medication is administered to a patient, an RFID reader verifies the information between patient’s tag and the prescription bag’s tag. Information about the patient’s medical allergies or other relevant patient care criteria is also highlighted on the RFID host computer. This secure patient-data
system greatly reduces the possibility of human error thereby preventing a majority of unnecessary medical mishaps.

4. Benefits

The primary benefits of RFID technology over standard barcode identification are:

• Information stored on the tag can be updated on demand
• Large data storage capacity (up to 4k bits);
• High read rates
• Ability to collect data from multiple tags at a time
• Data collection without line-of-sight requirements
• Longer read range
• Greater reliability in harsh environments
• Greater accuracy in data retrieval and reduced error rate

What About Barcodes?

As barcodes approach their “middle ages” (it’s been 40 years since a pack of gum was scanned at a Marsh grocery store in Ohio), they are as “alive” and useful as ever. And while RFID provides advantages, the demise of the barcode is greatly exaggerated. The Auto-ID Center, the research and development group that formulated and standardized much of the RFID technology evolution, did not set out to make barcodes extinct. According to its spokesperson, “The Auto-ID Center does not advocate replacing barcodes as barcode-based systems such as the UPC are a standard automatic identification technology in many industries and will be an important complimentary technology for
many years.”

5. Caveats

The main caveat of RFID technology is the cost of the physical RFID tag. A typical barcode label costs about $0.02, whereas an RFID tag label can costs upwards of $0.10 or more depending on quantity. The initial implementation costs for RFID are also higher, depending on requirements and equipment specifications.

Although initial RFID implementation may currently cost more, the cost will gradually drop to a competitive level in the coming years as companies adopt the technology. Meanwhile, companies that can exploit the strategic benefits of RFID today stand to gain significant advantages over their competitors slower to adopt RFID. Early adopters can clearly benefit from cost savings and intangible long-term competitive advantages which outweigh the cost of the RFID implementation.

6. RFID Summary

Over the past few years, RFID technology has been attracting considerable attention. Giants such as Wal*Mart, Target, BestBuy, U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), Tesco, REWE and Metro Group have announced RFID mandates instructing their top suppliers to start utilizing RFID technology as part of a supply chain compliance program. In January 2005, there were in excess of 400 major companies worldwide required to use RFID technology. As a result of the current RFID supply chain mandate schedules, an estimated 50,000+ suppliers who will ultimately be affected by these plans and RFID solutions are a large driver for future business growth.

The long-term focus in the United States will be on the retail and DoD adopters, who have to be compliant in the near future. Eventually, they will move beyond compliance only, and attempt to use RFID to increase efficiency and start gaining return on their investment. This will almost certainly mean more upgrades and additional spending on enterprise solutions.

The dominant RFID dynamic behind supply chain applications is the EPC standard using the UHF frequency band: 902-928 MHz (North America) and 868 MHz (Europe). EPC Global, a joint venture between GS1, Inc. (formerly EAN International) and GS1 US (formerly the Uniform Code Council [UCC]) is focused on helping supply chains and industry implement the Electronic Product Code™ (EPC) through the development of global standards and support of the EPC global network™. The EPC Global Network ideally intends to transform the global supply chain through a new, open global standard for real-time, automatic identification of items in the supply chain of any company, in any industry, anywhere in the world.

8. General Information

There are numerous sources of information regarding the latest RFID developments. Two good places to start are:
www.epcglobalinc.org

 

RFID System Components

The basic components of an RFID system are:

  • Tags
  • Reader
  • Antenna
  • Host computer with appropriate application software

rfid-labels-7

RFID Tags

RFID tags are tiny microchips with memory and an antenna coil, thinner than paper and some only .3mm across. RFID tags listen for a radio signal sent by a RFID reader. When a RFID tag receives a query, it responds by transmitting its unique ID code and other data back to the reader. There are two types of RFID tags-passive and active.

RFID Readers

rfid-labels-16

RFID readers, also called interrogators wuery RFID tags in order to obtain identification, location, and other information about the device or product the tag is embedded in. The RF energy from the reader antenna is collected by the RFID tag antenna and used to power up the microchip. There are two types of RFID readers.

  • RFID read-only readers: As the name suggest, these devices can only query or read information from a nearby RFID tag. These readers are found in fixed, stationery applications as well as portable, handheld varieties.
  • RFID read-write readers: Also known as encoders, these devices read and also write (change) information in an RFID tag such RFID encoders can be used to program information into a “blank” RFID tag. A common application is to combine such a RFID reader with a bar code printer to print “smart labels”. Smart labels contain a UPC bar code on the front with an RFID tag embedded on the back.

Frequencies

There are 4 major frequency ranges that RFID systems operate at.

  • Low Frequency (LF) 125 to 148KHz
  • High Frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz
  • Ultra High Frequency (UHF) 915 MHz
  • Microwave 2.45 GHz

Generally, low-frequency systems are distinguished by short reading ranges, slow read speeds, and lower cost. Higher-frequency RFID systems are used where longer read ranges and fast reading speeds are required, such as for vehicle tracking and automated toll collection. Microwave requires the use of active RFID tags

 

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RFID Technology for Warehouse and Distribution Operations.

Download the PDF Here

 

1. Introduction

Interest in using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in warehouse and distribution operations is at an all-time high. Wireless identification and tracking with RFID represents a new way to conduct operations, which creates new bene- fits and challenges. Users need to understand RFID’s capabilities and limitations to accurately assess the impact it can have on their business.

This white paper will provide an overview of RFID technology and how it may be applied to warehousing and distribution operations. It will describe the technology and its maturity, standards and industry initiatives, and will also provide examples of how RFID technology can be best used in warehouses and distribution centers.

2. Overview

You’ve probably heard the acronym “RFID,” which stands for radio frequency identification.You may know that RFID tags can contain unique information that identifies whatever they are attached to, and can share that information wirelessly with computer databases and networks so items can be tracked efficiently.

What you may not know is how far the technology has come and what is being developed right now that could help your warehouse or distribution center. To help decide if RFID would be beneficial, consider if any of the following statements apply to your business:

• Processing speed is essential or could provide a competitive advantage;
• We deal in high-value assets that need to be protected;
• A bar code cannot physically survive our processes;
• Areas of our facilities need to be protected from unauthorized access;
• We need more unique information on each item than a bar code can contain;
• We are highly automated and need to minimize human intervention;
• We could benefit by knowing where products are at all times in the supply chain, in real time.

If any of these statements apply to your business, RFID should be given serious consideration in your system design.

2.1 How RFID Works

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 2.18.25 PMScreen Shot 2017-06-12 at 2.18.17 PMFirst, the basics: RFID is a means of uniquely identifying an object through a wireless radio link. The identification is accomplished by an interrogator, also called a reader or “master,” and a tag, also called a transponder or “slave” that has a unique identification code. Data is exchanged between tags and readers using radio waves between the tag and interrogator, and no direct line of sight is required for the transaction.The interrogator asks the tag for the code, or processes the signal being broadcast by the tag, decodes the transmission and transfers the data to a computer.The computer, in turn, may simply record the reading, or look up the tag ID in a database to direct further action, and may also direct the interrogator to write additional information to the tag.

The latest generation of RFID allows the dozens of individual objects within a group to be uniquely identified at the same time.This is in contrast to bar codes, which must be read one by one, and can be very advantageous in high-speed reading, sorting and material handling applications. Because no line of sight is required between the reader and the tag, unattended reading stations can be set up to identify objects on a conveyor belt or within a transport container. Fast simultaneous processing and unattended reading are the main performance characteristics that set RFID apart from bar code.

This advanced functionality comes with a price, which in the past often made RFID systems cost-prohibitive. Today, however, pricing has come down considerably, with many tags suitable for warehouse and distribution operations costing considerably less than a dollar per RFID tags are often reusable and can be packaged to be extremely durable, which helps amortize the initial system cost and provides strong total cost of ownership (TCO) advantages compared with identification methods that must continually be replaced.

2.2 Tags

The lower-cost tags generally are passive (meaning they have no internal power source), have limited data storage capacity (typically 32 to 128 bits), are read-only (not re writable), and have limited read range. Like bar codes, they are usually used as “license plate” identifiers, i.e., they hold little actual data but serve to identify the object to a database containing larger amounts of information. For example, a tag attached to a product in a work-in-process application would uniquely identify the product each time it passed by a reader. The reading, and any work performed on the assembly, would be recorded in a database. In turn, a conveyor-based sorting system could identify the item and receive routing instructions from a data-base application, allowing products to reach their loading destination without human intervention.

Higher-cost tags are available for many more complicated longer read applications.They often have their own power source (these are known as active tags), making them heavier than passive tags, and large data storage capacities (upwards of 1M), making them essentially self-contained databases. These higher-capacity tags could, for example, monitor temperature through a process or give operational instructions to a robotic workstation when they arrive attached to their item, then have updated status information appended to the tag when the task is complete.This flexibility does have a cost, however; the internal power source can burn out, giving these tags a life span of 5-10 years.

2.3 Frequencies

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 2.21.15 PMRFID systems are available in a wide range of frequencies to suit various performance needs. Frequency is an important factor in transmission range and speed. However, bandwidth availability is regulated by telecommunications authorities in each country, and not all frequencies are available for use throughout the world. This is an important consideration when planning logistics and supply chain applications. Most tag frequencies share the ISM (Industrial, Safety and Medical) bands. Compatibility problems are gradually being solved through standardization efforts, particularly in standards sponsored by the ISO.

Most RFID technology used in warehousing and distribution operates at either 13.56MHz (high frequency), 860-930MHz (ultrahigh frequency, or UHF) or the 2.45GHz (microwave) band. Still in use are 125 KHz low-frequency tags, which are used for access control and vehicle identification. Standards that have been ratified or are in deve- lopment for material handling, logistics and supply chain applications are concentrated in the UHF band and 13.56MHz. Wal-Mart, which will begin requiring its 100 largest suppliers to tag shipments with RFID, has specified the use of draft stan- dards in these frequency bands.

Here is a very brief overview of different RFID frequencies and their performance characteristics.

2.3.1 Frequencies – High Frequency

The high frequency, which some call intermediate, band encompasses the 10 to 15MHz range, with 13.56MHz being the most common. Read range with a fixed station reader is around 1 to 3 meters (3 to 10 feet), although the reading speed is higher than the low-frequency band. Sizing of the antennas and tags becomes more critical. More expensive than low fre- quency, this band has the potential to become more cost-competitive through volume purchase of tags.Typical applications here include access control and smart cards.The first “smart labels” which are RFID tags embedded within adhesive bar code labels, were produced at 13.56MHz, but are now also available in other frequencies.

2.3.2 Frequencies – Ultrahigh Frequency (UHF)

Ultrahigh-frequency RFID encompasses the 850 to 950MHz band and is frequently championed for distribution and logis- tics applications.The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard for RFID identification of returnable transport items, which complements the ANSI MH10.8 bar code shipping label standard, specifies the 902-928MHz band for item iden- tification.The ePC specification (discussed later) supported by Wal-Mart also utilizes the UHF band.

Read range, which as with all frequencies depends on tag size, power output and interference, is up to 10 feet.

2.3.3 Frequencies – Microwave

Some RFID products are also produced in the microwave bandwidth, typically at either 2.45GHz or 5.8GHz. These pro- ducts offer the highest data read rates, but are also more expensive and have higher power requirements. These are often appropriate in specialized applications.

2.4 Read/Write Capabilities

When considering what RFID technology is right for your warehousing or distribution application, it’s important to under- stand the difference between the various types of writing capabilities available. In general, the more versatile, or the more stand alone a system is, the more memory needed, which increases both the size and cost of the tag. Read-only tags have fixed information securely programmed into them when they are manufactured.Write once, read many (WORM) tags may have data written to them once only post-manufacture and are the most popular kind of tag currently used. Rewritable tags are the most memory- and cost-intensive, but provide flexibility to update data. Rewritable tags have a shorter writing range than reading range, which must be considered when planning the application.

3.Standards

The International Organization for Standardization, best known by its acronym ISO, has undertaken the most RFID stan- dardization projects and focuses on technical standards that are accepted globally. One of its most important subcommit- tees is JTC 1/SC 31 Automatic Identification and Data Capture Techniques, which is working on a series of RFID standards for item management.ANSI, which coordinates much of its work with the ISO is another important standards body and has established an RFID standard for shipping container identification.The Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) and other industry associations are also developing their own RFID standards, which are often based on ANSI and ISO efforts.

The Auto-ID Center at MIT led research to create a specification for RFID for item-level tagging in the consumer goods industry, which it calls the Electronic Product Code (ePC).The Auto-ID Center’s work has since been transferred to a new entity, AutoID Inc., which was created by the Uniform Code Council (UCC) and EAN International, which maintain the U.P.C./EAN bar code system and many other standards. See the ePC section for more details and visit the UCC Web site – www.uc-council.org – for the latest information.

Any technology needs standards to gain acceptance, and RFID is no exception.Working to get standards in place can delay that procedure, but too many conflicting standards can have the same consequence. Such as in the case of the current situation regarding UHF, too many standards can be the same as having no standard at all. Further complicating the matter, there are technical standards, which specify performance requirements for interoperability, and application standards, often set by industry associations, that describe how RFID can be used for a specific function.

AIM Global, the trade association for the automatic identification industry, maintains an updated guide to current RFID standards activity on its Web site. Visit www.aimglobal.org for more information about specific standards and proposals. Check with relevant associations and professional societies for specific information about standards in your industry.

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4. Applications

Applications are constantly being developed and refined as the technology advances and the supply chain industry conti- nues to work for the cradle-to-grave data flow that will streamline the product pipeline. Because of the visibility it can provide, and its newfound cost effectiveness, RFID is emerging as an intriguing option to complement data collection and product identification in the supply chain.

Many hardware and software suppliers are just beginning to explore how RFID technology can tie into warehouse management systems (WMS) to produce a warehouse/DC of incredible efficiency. Several WMS providers now support RFID data entry in their software. Here are some potential RFID applications in warehousing and distribution environments:

• Pallet and case tracking, particularly when the pallets are reused within a closed system.
• Forklift identification. RFID can identify forklift location to allow systems to monitor activity and assign the closest forklift to those pallets needing moved, and serve as a permanent asset ID.
• Access control: Chips embedded in ID cards can control locks and prevent unauthorized entry; chips on products, cases, pallets and equipment can control item movement and sound alarms in case of unauthorized removal.
• Smart shelves: Retailers are experimenting with readers embedded in stocked store shelves to keep track of tagged

inventory and notify either the back room or the supplier when stock is low.The application could be modified for use in warehouses and distribution centers for materials management and inventory control.

4.1 An RFID Enabled Warehouse or Distribution Center

There are several possibilities for how RFID technology can be utilized in warehouse and distribution center, in concert with existing systems and other ADC technologies. Step by step, here’s one example of what could happen:

In receiving, items, cases and/or pallets are read by a portal reading unit placed at the dock door as they are unloaded from the truck. Data are transferred into the warehouse management system (WMS), updating its database.The system reconciles its orders and sends back information that will allow some items to be cross docked for immediate transport, while others can be staged and stored. If bar codes were being used here, all received items would have to be scanned, their labels clearly visible, by workers, making the process much more labor-intensive.

When stored on shelves with readers, the readers automatically record what items have been placed there; when they are removed, the action is also automatically recorded. All of this happens without human hands ever touching a scanner, keyboard or clipboard.

If cases are broken up and items repacked, each item is reassigned to a tagged case by scanning the item’s bar code or RFID tag and the case/pallet tag.That information transfer initiates an assignment of the pallet or case to a truck or dock. Cases/pallets are moved along conveyor belts, triggering readers along the way that track the movement and also adjust conveyors as needed to redirect the cases/pallets.

Should there be a specific item out there that is needed to fill an order, a worker can go through the aisles, with a handheld reader loaded with the needed unique ID, until the unit beeps, locating the needle in the haystack with keen efficiency.

When cases/pallets are loaded back onto trucks, door-mounted units again record the activity, updating the central data- base and also initiating a sequence that produces documentation such as advance shipping notices (ASNs), packing slips, invoices, etc.

4.2 Item-level tracking

Item-level tracking in supply chain applications has always been a coveted thing. Having each and every item uniquely identified, instead of generally identified with, for example, a U.P.C. symbol- opens up a whole new level of tracking management. The Electronic Product Code, or ePC, being developed by the Auto-ID Center at MIT (see sidebar/addendum) is the latest RFID technology proposed for item-level tracking of consumer goods, and other RFID technologies have also been considered for this application.

While the technology is still being developed and tested, there is much speculation on what applications would be best to use the technology with. The Auto-ID Center sees strong possibilities in warehousing for pallet, case-level and item-level tracking as described in the application section. Numerous studies and analysis by the Center and leading independent consulting firms support this assertion, stating that these types of applications can provide strong return on investment (ROI) in most circumstances.

Some estimate that item-level tracking will not happen for some time, up to 10 years. However, analysts say there are clear business advantages in pursuing pallet- and case-level applications now. “RFID projects yield the biggest immediate benefits when they support order fulfillment and logistics,” according to a report by Forrester Research Inc., Cambridge, Mass. “As such, most near-term RFID testing should concentrate on pallets, cases, distribution centers and warehouses – not items and store shelves.”

4.3 Application Planning Considerations

To design a successful system, you must not only understand what you want the system to do (application), but you also must be very clear about what technologies can be used to deliver the performance you seek.When defining your perfect solution, it is important to ask yourself often, “Am I adding this technology to do it better, or am I simply adding technology?” Reading hundreds of tags per second could easily overwhelm a network or software application. Existing identification systems should be retained where they are sufficient, with RFID used to complement them or eliminate blind spots or bottlenecks in processes.

Part of application evaluation necessarily involves defining what the technologies you are considering can and cannot do. Just like any other technology, RFID has its limitations, and it’s important to know what they are.

For example, RFID cannot read tags over great distances, though it can certainly work in concert with technologies that can. Also, because we are talking about radio waves, interference can be a problem, so metal, liquid, and many tags in close proximity to one another or varying orientations could affect performance.Though cost has come down and will continue to decline, an RFID tag will always be more expensive than a paper bar code label, and we doubt you will ever see five cents per tag in low to medium volumes.

Finally, RFID tags cannot replace bar codes. But the two can work together to provide you with an effective, streamlined, highly productive warehouse and distribution management system.

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5.Conclusion

To remain competitive in today’s global – we-want-it-now supply chain – it is imperative to remain open to new technologies and the improvements they can offer your business. RFID is one useful tool to keep in mind for current and future system design.

For additional information on RFID, we suggest you investigate the following resources:

• AIM Global, www.aimglobal.org
• The Uniform Code Council, www.uc-council.org
• Material Handling Industry of America, www.mhia.org
• The RFID Sourcebook, a guide to RFID technology, vendors and applications,

www.frontlinetoday.com/rfidonline

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Choosing the best RFID Label Supplier

We’ve heard some scary stories from companies who have recently purchased RFID tags. It’s surprising, given that the market for tags should be mature enough that tag suppliers have perfected their processes, but with analysts predicting demand for tags growing in the double digits by 2012, there are new tag makers that have more mature marketing skills than manufacturing skills.

The chorus of complaints include:
Inconsistent quality: “Some tags read further away (or better) than others.”

Wrong adhesive: “ The tags start peeling off if the product gets wet” or “The tags start peeling off if the product if they sits in a hot trailer too long”.

Improper tag design: Having to wrap the product in bubble wrap and affix the tag to the bubble wrap.

Out-of-stock: Just last month we spoke with a gentleman who tried to order 100,000 tags from a very well-known supplier to be told, “we don’t have any.” Another company, that already waited 8 weeks for an order, was told on the day they expected delivery, “It’s going to take another 12-16 weeks for delivery.”

Obviously, these stories do not instill confidence in an industry that has struggled for growth in recent years. Given the plethora of companies now marketing themselves as RFID tag providers, it is hard to know who you can trust. That is why we have written this white paper, because the more you understand about how passive RFID tags are manufactured, the better educated you can be when making purchasing decisions. We will also explore what makes up the cost of a RFID tag and explain why there is no 5¢ tag just yet.

We need to clarify exactly what kind of RFID tags this article will address. There are active tags (battery-powered), passive tags (powered by the reader), and semi-passive tags (which offer some combination). This article will focus on passive RFID tags. More specifically, we’ll break down the cost of an ISO 18000-6C (EPCGlobal Gen 2) smart label.

Who are the players and from whom do you buy?

There are several different types of companies in the RFID tag business:

  • Integrated circuit manufacturers;
  • Inlay manufacturers;
  • Finished label converters;
  • Companies that provide some, or all, of these capabilities;
  • And resellers or distributors that buy from one or more of these and then offer them to customers.

 Passive RFID Integrated Circuit Manufacturers

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 12.16.57 PM

At the heart of a passive RFID tag is a little integrated circuit, also referred to as an IC or a“chip”. The picture below shows some very small RFID chips sitting in the middle of the “D” on a US penny.

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The ICs don’t start that way.
They actually begin life as part of a silicon wafer.
The pictures to the left are of an 8 inch silicon wafer. Can you believe
this wafer has approximately 30,000 ISO- 1800-6C compatible ICs?
One of these wafers costs between $1,200 and $1,500, but that price
includes a highly durable and anti-static carrying case.

In most instances, end users do not ever see the wafers, much less
purchase ICs directly. The inlay manufacturer (whom we’ll describe next)
purchases the ICs.

The features and capabilities of the ICs vary a great deal. For example,
ISO 18000-6C IC comes in different configurations of ―

  • Size (physical dimensions);
  • Amount of memory (data storage);
  • Single or multiple tag antenna connections;
  • Power consumption;
  • Sensitivity.

The Cost of an RFID Tag: The Integrated Circuit

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 12.47.43 PMThe cost of the IC varies, but is based chiefly on physical size. Every manufacturer pays roughly the same amount for silicon wafers, so divide the number of ICs by the cost of the silicon wafer. The die-cutting process also plays a factor. Companies that purchase ICs can receive a discount based on quantity purchased, and other design factors mentioned above. Typically, an IC is priced around 4.0¢ – 7.0¢.

Passive RFID Inlay Manufacturers
Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 12.57.29 PM

As we mentioned, the RFID IC is very small and that makes it difficult to stick it to an item. Plus, the tag needs an antenna so that it can “hear” the radio signal from the RFID reader. That’s why the RFID IC becomes part of something called an inlay.

Inlay manufacturing is almost an art form because there are so many factors to consider when designing an inlay. Inlay designers are highly skilled engineers with strong backgrounds in physics and chemistry.

First, they select, and prepare, the substrate―a clear plastic film to which the tag antenna and IC will be affixed. The substrate must be able to stand up to the environmental conditions to which the finished tag will be subjected. This is not as simple as it sounds; for example, certain polyester substrates are supercharged with static and can blow out chips.

On the substrate you’ll also find the tag antenna. The antenna design is one of the most important factors in overall tag performance. As you can see from the picture below, antenna designs can vary a great deal. We’re not going to go into too much detail here except to emphasize the importance of the antenna design.

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 12.54.34 PM

The antennas are printed or etched, depending on the antenna materials used. The most common antenna materials are:

  • Copper, the most expensive but most durable of the materials;
  • Aluminum, which is inexpensive, but difficult to work with;
  • Silver ink, which is priced between the first two metals and works fairly well. Many passive RFID tags use silver ink.All metals can oxidize over time; however, silver has the least affect on the conductivity of the chip. This is an important consideration when you require a tag with a long life.

The IC is affixed to the inlay backing and antenna using an adhesive. This process is commonly referred to as the “Flip Chip Assembly process”. You may have heard the phrases “pick and place” or “fluidic self-assembly”. These terms refer to the manufacturing process used to make the inlay. Keep in mind that the placement of the IC must be extremely precise in order for the IC to make contact with the antenna connects. If placement is off by as little as 1 millimeter, the tag will probably not work.

Most IC manufacturers have a portfolio of different antennas designed for their IC operating under common conditions.

The Cost of an RFID Tag: The Inlay

Start with the cost of the integrated circuit: 4.0¢-7.0¢.

Inlay Substrate 1.0¢ – The clear film used as the foundation for the inlay.

Strap Attachment 1.2¢ – Optional. Some, but not all ICs require something called a strap attachment in order to adhere to the substrate.

Antenna 1.0¢ – 5.2¢ – Depends on antenna design; the larger the antenna, the more expensive it is. The type of metals used in the antenna and the process by which the antenna is manufactured (additive vs. subtractive process) affects costs as well.

Adhesives 0.25¢ – Adhesives are an extremely important part of the RFID tag and are used in several places. Adhesives secure the IC or strap attachment to the substrate. For more information on types of adhesives, see our In-depth article: Adhesives and RFID Tags

Inlay Coating 0.1¢ – Optional. The coating can help the tag resist static and other environmental conditions.

QA 1.0¢ – 2.0¢ – The quality assurance process used to test the inlay.

Labor and Machine Costs 1.0¢ – 2.0¢ –  The process used to manufacture the inlay can have a significant impact on the final tag price. When you consider that millions of tags are made, adding half a cent noticeably increases the overall price. The machines that manufacture inlays are extremely sophisticated and cost millions of dollars. Also consider that there is labor involved in setting up the machine, electricity, and waste from defective materials.

Average Inlay Cost 9.5¢ – 18.75¢ – Of course, this varies by the number of inlays you purchase. Again, volume can significantly increase or decrease the cost. We’re basing our inlay costs on 1 million tags

Passive RFID Finished Tag Manufacturers

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 1.12.01 PMA finished tag manufacturer takes an inlay and turns it into a RFID tag. Like inlays, finished RFID tags come in many different forms. Some of the more common types of passive RFID tags
Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 1.11.10 PMinclude:

  • RFID smart labels (average cost: 9.5¢ – 25.5¢), which typically come on a roll such as the one pictured left;
  • Durable tags (average cost: 75.0¢ – $3.50), which can be mounted on metal, reusable plastic containers, or other items that can encounter harsh environmental conditions;
  • Smart cards and tickets (average cost: ?.?¢ – $1.50), which are used for payment processing systems, mass transit, and access control;
  • Smart forms (average cost:?.?¢  – $ 1.50), which are paper forms with RFID in them. One example is the I-94 Form from the US Government, for non immigrant visitors entering the US with a visa.Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 1.14.36 PMTo make finished tags such as these, the inlay is sandwiched between a backing and a facing (or “topcoat”). On a label, the backing peels away from the inlay to reveal the adhesive that affixes the tag to an item. The facing is not only what you see, but the part that protects the antenna and IC from the environment. The image above graphically depicts the layers on a roll of smart labels.During the process, tags are rolled, unrolled, and rolled again, which results in failed tags. The quality assurance process for finished labels is absolutely critical and normally done in three parts:
    •  Pre-test, which verifies the inlay is good;
    •  Inline test, which verifies the tag during the process of adding the backing and the facing;
    •  Post test, which verifies the finished tag works to specification

    The Cost of an RFID Tag: The Finished Label

    Start with the cost of the inlay: 9.5¢ – 18.75¢

    Backing or Liner 1.0¢– The inlay must be placed on the backing as per the specifications of the printer or label applicator being used. If it is off by more than a millimeter, the equipment may not be able to program that tag.

    Facestock 0.5¢ – 2.0¢– This is the part of the RFID tag you actually see. It could be white paper, a high end polyester, a glossy green finish, or something else.

    Adhesives 0.25¢ – Adhesives are applied to both the back and the front of the inlay.

    Exception to the rule: A Pressure Sensitive Adhesive (PSA) Inlay is an inlay that has an adhesive backing so that it can be used as a tag.

    QA 0.5 – 3.0¢– Quality assurance of the finished tag roll is also critical and adds cost to the tag. For example, if the QA process finds a bad tag on a roll, what should be done with it? Leaving it there is the cheapest way to go, but that means you have bad tags. The common options include punching a hole in the tag and removing the IC, or printing an “X” on the tag. The preferred, but most expensive method is to remove the bad tags from the roll and replace them with good tags.

    Roll Core 0.5¢ – 1.0¢ -The round cardboard tube in the center of the roll costs money. The size of the core varies based on what kind of printer you’re using and how many tags are on the roll.

    Labor and Machine Costs 0.5¢ – 2.0¢ – Like inlay manufacturing, the machines used to make finished labels also cost in the millions of dollars and it takes tag sales to obtain a return on investment for their purchase cost. These machines also wind and unwind rolls, cut the inlay, cut the tags, add perforations, etc. and someone needs to operate them.

    Profit Margin ???¢ – If your finished tag manufacturer doesn’t make a profit, you’re eventually going to have to find a new one.

    Average Finished Label Cost 9.5¢ – 25.5¢ – Of course, this varies by the number of inlays you purchase. Again, volume can significantly increase or decrease the cost. We’re basing our finished label costs on 1 million tags.
    Given the price we’ve listed here, you may be wondering why some tag providers offer finished tags starting at 10¢. That’s because they supplement the cost in order to gain market share. They’re not making money now, but they hope to in the future – given enough volume.

    Why Tag Quality is More Important Than Price

    Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 1.27.17 PMWould you pay for a RFID tag that doesn’t work?

    That’s essentially what you do when you purchase cheap tags. All of the tags you receive need to meet the design specifications of your RFID system otherwise some tags may not work. In our experience it costs more to deal with tags that fail than to pay a few extra pennies for more reliable tags. It is no different from handling exceptions in a manufacturing process: How much do exceptions add to the bottom line?

    Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 1.27.27 PMWe recently spoke with Scott Anderson, at Rush Tracking Systems, regarding a container tracking solution his team is implementing for a $30 billion durable goods manufacturer .

    The manufacturer uses reusable plastic containers
    to track metal parts and turned its standard bar
    code label into a RFID tag. Not wanting to lose the
    business, their current label provider claimed it could
    add RFID but had no previous experience doing
    so. Without informing the manufacturer, the company
    subcontracted to a third party to produce a prototype. The picture to the right shows
    1) the original bar code label;
    2) the prototype from their bar code label provider;
    3) and a second prototype from Mid South-RFID – a company that has been specializing in RFID tags for over ten years.

    After doing some tests, the company selected Mid South-RFID over the competition. Scott explains, “It  wasn’t price―we didn’t even really get that far to compare. Mid South-RFID produced a much better product. The tag was more rigid and highly durable. It also had a superior coating―the plastic containers sometimes get wet and are periodically washed. The tags actually had the same inlay and IC so that wasn’t a factor either. Mid South-RFID was very fair. We worked on numerous iterations to get the tag exactly the way we needed it.”

    Once the manufacturer realized that Mid South-RFID had so much flexibility in final tag design, they started to make improvements to the RFID tag over the original bar code label. More specifically, Mid South-RFID:

    •  made the bar code wider;
    • increased the size of the human readable number;
    • added newer, higher resolution, better quality artwork;
    • changed the colors to be closer to the corporate colors;
    • made it more durable than the current label provider;
    •  improved the adhesive properties.All in a slightly smaller form factor.The result is a better-quality RFID label tag with a 5-10 year lifetime versus a lower-quality tag with half the life. You’re probably asking how much its cost for customizing the tag? Design services for customizing an RFID inlay were included in the price of the tag.

    What You Need to Know Before Talking to Your RFID Tag Provider

    Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 1.39.39 PMHere is some information you should have before contacting a tag provider. The answers to these questions will affect how your tag is designed.

    What are the maximum and minimum dimensions of the tag? This typically depends on what you are tagging and where the tag will be placed.

    At what distances do you need to be able to read the tag?

    How many tags do you need to read at a time and how long do you have to read them?

    To what surface will you affix the tag? The tag needs to be tuned to that surface, be it glass, wood, plastic, corrugate, etc.

    Will the tag be flat or bent?
    Once attached, will the tag ever need to be removed?

    Is there a security requirement? That is, if the tag is removed, does it need to stop working?

    How are you going to encode (write data) to your tags? Typical methods include using an RFID printer/encoder, a high speed label applicator, a RFID hand-held, or a stationary RFID reader .

    Do you have to print anything on the tag?

    If you are using a RFID printer/encoder or high-speed label applicator, what manufacturer / model are you using? Your RFID tag provider needs to know because there are specific insertion specifications for each unit. The inlay has to be placed in the exact position on every label.

    How long is the life-cycle of the tag? How long do you expect the tag to work? Do you need the tag to operate for only a year, 15 years, or some time in between? Remember, the wrong antenna materials can oxidize over time, leaving you with a dead tag.

    What are the environmental conditions the tag will experience during its’ life-cycle? Note the temperature, humidity, electrostatic discharge. Will it be washed with water and soap?

    How many tags to you need? Forecasting your tag consumption is extremely important to both you and your supplier. By forecasting, you can get you better volume discounts and delivery of exactly what you need and when you need it. Ideally, each month the supplier sends you the number of tags you need and charge it to a blanket purchase Order. It is a lot easier than waiting six months for tags.

    Summary

    It is our sincere hope that this article has given you a better understanding as to how passive RFID tags are manufactured, the costs, and what you should know. We’d also like to reiterate a short list of some of the most important factors that affect tag performance:

      • Antenna design (size and shape);
      • Antenna composite materials;
      • Antenna connections (on the IC);
      • IC Sensitivity;
      • Environmental conditions;
      • And adhesives used;

In a project in which RFID tags are consumable, tags will be the most expensive part of the equation. Keep in mind that some “one-stop-shops” mark-up the price of tags 10-20% over what you’ll pay if you purchase directly from a finished tag manufacturer.

Finally, purchasing tags on price alone is not wise. In the end, the vendor with lowest bid may end up having the most expense tag.

Throughout this article, there are breakout boxes that list some of the benefits of working with Mid South-RFID. Mark Davenport and his team have been providing the RFID tags used in some of the largest deployments in the world. If you are an integrator or application service provider, Mid South-RFID is currently looking for experienced companies to help build solutions for customers. I strongly encourage everyone to take a look at their unique offerings. You may also contact Mark Davenport for more information.

About the Authors

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 2.46.59 PMLouis Sirico is an industry-recognized expert with over 23 years of experience. He has successfully implemented RFID solutions for
Target, the Department of Homeland Security, Kimberly-Clark, and numerous Fortune 1000 companies. He is the founder of IndustryWizards.com, an Internet based community including the world’s leading subject matter experts in Industry. He a
founding member of EPCglobal, served as a Subject Matter Expert for the RFID+ certification exam, and was nominated
for Entrepreneur of the Year in 2003. He can be reached at Louis@RFIDWizards.com.

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 2.48.30 PMMark Davenport has over 25+ years of label converting experience and 10+ years of RFID converting experience. His customers include some of the largest companies in the mobile computing world as well as several of the top 100 Wal-Mart & DOD suppliers. He is recognized as one of the worlds leading suppliers / manufactures of Symbol UHF RFID inlay product line. Mark was responsible for producing one of the largest single RFID tag orders in history to Abercrombie & Fitch with over 10 million + tags that was rolled out in a 60 day time frame, produced over 60+ million RFID bag tags for one of the world largest airports located in Asia, and the largest single RFID order ever deployed in the Middle East. He also produced the first UHF smart form for the US Department of Homeland Security. He can be reached via his e-mail address at mdavenport@midsouthrfid.com.

 

Star-Only

The Basics of an RFID System

 An introductory look at the common components in standard RFID systems

Beginner Level: For all you RFID beginners, this white paper is for you. Whether it’s RFID system basics or product information, this paper will guide you through the processes of learning about Radio Frequency Identification technology.
Intermediate Level: For all of you knee-deep in RFID, check out this white paper. After reading you will gain in-depth knowledge giving you the ability to improve your RFID systems.
Advance Level: For all you RFID geniuses, this white paper will further expand your comprehension of RFID. The subject of this paper immediately delves into the high level concepts of RFID and physics behind your systems.

Radio Frequency Identification

RFID technology is used in hundreds of applications such as race-timing, DVD kiosks, asset tracking, and tool tracking. In order to determine if your application is ready for RFID, you need to understand the basics of RFID technology. Once you understand the benefits and limitations of RFID, you will be able to decide if RFID will improve your business.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is the wireless non-contact use of radio-frequency electromagnetic fields to transfer data for the purposes of automatically identifying and tracking tags attached to assets.

The chart below outlines the three primary frequency ranges used in RFID:

 

 Screen Shot 2017-04-11 at 12.07.49 PM

Within the UHF Frequency range of 856 – 960 MHz, there are two primary subsets:

a) The FCC (US) standard frequency range of 902-928 MHz

b) The ETSI (EU) standard frequency range of 865-868 MHz

The FCC standard is used throughout North America as well as the majority of the Caribbean and much of South America. The ETSI standard is used throughout the European Union and most countries adhering to EU standards. Various other subsets within the above ranges are used throughout the world. If you are planning on deploying RFID Equipment in a particular country, but aren’t sure of that country’s standards, then we can assist in providing the appropriate frequency range.

What you need to know…

  •  RFID is not the best fit for every application, and the technology may be expensive depending on the size of the application. The return on investment of the necessary hardware, software, and labor hours must justify the expense. Many times RFID is the right fit – other times barcodes or only a process change may be the solution.
  • All RFID systems require readers, antennas, and tags in order to function (see Figure 1 below). The selection of ancillary items such as cables, mounting brackets, and GPIO devices will greatly impact the effectiveness of an RFID system.Screen Shot 2017-04-11 at 12.11.59 PM
  • Keep environmental conditions in mind when selecting an RFID system. Some environments are not well-suited for certain types of RFID equipment. For example, water causes interference when reading UHF RFID tags. Steps may be taken to mitigate environmental factors, but it is important to consider all variables that may affect tag readability.
  • RFID tag pricing is heavily dependent upon tag type and tag volume. Metal-mount RFID tags and rugged RFID tags are more expensive than RFID wet inlays or RFID labels. Also, pricing on 100,000 tags will be much different than pricing on 10,000, 1,000, or 100 tags. See Appendix A for general pricing ranges
  • Few “out of the box” solutions are available on the market. While certain applications such as tolling or race timing use the same infrastructure and software across a wide spectrum of locations, most RFID hardware and software deployments require specific configuration for each unique location and environment. Even within a particular manufacturing plant, for instance, different hardware and software algorithms may be needed in different locations in order to achieve desired read rates.
  • Test, test, test. Reconfigure. Test some more. In order to ensure your RFID deployment is successful, you need to test a variety of RFID tags, equipment, antenna angles, and power settings. RFID development kits and RFID tag sample packs are great resources for testing a variety of readers, tags, and antennas.

    RFID TagsScreen Shot 2017-04-11 at 12.13.29 PM

    An RFID tag, in its most simplistic form, is comprised of two parts – an antenna for transmitting and receiving signals, and an RFID chip (or integrated circuit) which stores the tag’s ID and other information.

    RFID tag selection is, perhaps, the most critical component of a successful RFID system, and hundreds of tag variations are available on the market today. An RFID tag could be the perfect size and shape for your application, but be the wrong type for mounting on metal. Metal- mount RFID tags are specially designed to read well when mounted on a metallic surface, whereas RFID wet inlays or RFID labels are not readable if applied to metal surfaces. Other specialty types include windshield RFID tags for applying to a car’s windshield, laundry tags for tagging garments or linens, and RFID wet inlays for timing races. Since wet inlays are less rugged but more flexible than traditional tags, they are perfect for race-timing systems.

Primary points of consideration when selecting an RFID tag:

  • What type of surface will you be tagging? On metal, plastic, wood, etc.?
  •  What read range do you desire?
  •  Size limitations (i.e. the tag can be no larger than x by y by z inches)?
  •  Any excessive environmental conditions to consider? Excessive heat, cold, moisture, impact, etc.?
  • Method of attachment? Adhesive, epoxy, rivets/screws, cable ties, etc.?
The key to any RFID system is thorough testing. Some RFID tags will be a better fit for your application than others, but the only way to know for certain is by testing a variety of tags in your environment on the actual items you wish to tag. RFID tag sample packs – UHF, HF, or NFC – can be customized for your application so that you can narrow down to the tags that are right for your application.

RFID tag pricing is heavily dependent upon tag type and tag volume. Metal-mount RFID tags and rugged RFID tags are more expensive than RFID wet inlays or RFID labels. Also, the pricing on 100,000 tags will be much different than pricing on 10,000, 1,000, or 100 tags. See Appendix A for general pricing ranges.

RFID AntenScreen Shot 2017-04-11 at 12.18.48 PMnas

RFID Antennas are a necessary element in any RFID system; however, they are dumb devices which use power from the reader to generate a field allowing the reader to transmit and receive signals from the RFID tags. Antennas vary in size, gain, IP rating, polarization, and connector type. The price of antennas ranges from approximately $100 to about $1,000+ depending on the type, size, and level of ruggedness. Selecting the right RFID antenna for your application is crucial to the success of your system.

As mentioned above, antennas come in many variations; however, at the base level, you should consider a few key variables:

Gain – Simply put, the higher the gain, the more powerful the antenna. A higher gain antenna will produce a larger field, thus extending read range farther than a lower gain antenna.

Polarization – Linear vs. Circular. The polarization of the antenna makes a tremendous difference when it comes to reading tags. Linear polarized antennas emit RF energy along a single plane. Typically, they have a longer range compared to similar gain circular antennas, but due to the linear nature of the field, the tags must line up with the beam in order to achieve the long read range. If the tags do not line up, then the read range is relatively short. In contrast, circular polarized antennas split the energy across two axes and “spin” the field in either a right or left hand direction allowing the antenna to pick up tags regardless of orientation. However, due to the energy being divided, the read range is shorter versus similar gain linear antennas. To gain a more in-depth understanding on the subject, including some visual aids, please read our blog post on circular vs. linear polarization.

IP rating – A measurement of protection against dust and water ingress. In short, the higher the number, the better protected the antenna is against environmental factors. Most indoor antennas have a rating of IP 54, while a good outdoor antenna will have a rating of IP 66 or IP 67.

Primary points of consideration when selecting an RFID antenna:

  •  How much read range do you need?
  •  Is it possible to always know or control the orientation of the RFID tag relative to the antenna’s position in your application?
  •  Any excessive environmental conditions to consider? Excessive heat, cold, moisture, impact, etc.?
  • Will the antenna be mounted indoors or outdoors?
  • Size limitations (i.e. the antenna can be no larger than x by y by z inches)?While RFID antennas are needed for any basic or complex RFID system, each antenna has different strengths and fits specific types of systems. Most systems will need more than one antenna to cover all read zones and maximize efficiency.

 RFID Readers

An RFID reader is the brain of the RFID system and necessary for any system to function. Readers, also called interrogators, are devices that transmit and receive radio waves in order to communicate with RFID tags. RFID readers fall into several classes – fixed RFID readers, handheld RFID readers, and integrated RFID readers. Which one you choose will depend on how and where you deploy the reader.

As you can imagine, a fixed RFID reader stays in one specific location when encoding and reading tags, while a handheld RFID reader is mobile and can be carried around while scanning various items. Fixed readers are typically two, four, or eight port readers meaning they can support up to two, four, or eight antennas, but a few can be configured to support up to 32 antennas. Fixed RFID readers are well suited for

environments where you need the most flexibility in terms of antenna configuration and coverage as you have the option of adding multiple and different types of antennas. While most fixed readers require an Ethernet cable in order to send and receive data, Wi-Fi RFID readers communicate over secure wireless networks.

Handheld RFID readers are typically full mobile computing devices with the reader and antenna built into the device. Usually, they also contain barcode scanners, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. When you need mobility, a handheld reader is the way to go.

An integrated RFID reader is a reader with a built-in antenna and usually has another port to support up to one additional antenna. Integrated readers are a great fit if you are only looking for a lower cost solution and only need one or two antennas.

Another item to consider is how you will power the reader. While handheld RFID readers will use batteries, most fixed and integrated readers will have the option to power via AC power or Power-over-Ethernet (POE). POE RFID readers can provide a lower cost of deployment since you won’t have to run power drops to the various reader locations, and the POE cable will simultaneously act as both the power and communication cable.

Lastly, while most RFID readers are IP-addressable, some, such as USB RFID readers, are not. USB readers are designed to be smaller, low-cost readers that interface directly with a PC. As a result, they cannot be placed on a network, but are great for short-range desktop applications.

Primary points of consideration when selecting an RFID reader:

  • How much read range do you require for your application?
  • Any excessive environmental conditions to consider? Excessive heat, cold, moisture, impact, etc.?
  • Will you be adding the reader to a network?
  • Where will the reader be placed? Fixed location? Vehicle? Does the reader need to be mobile?
  • How many read points/read zones will you need?
  • How many tags might need to be read at one time?
  • How quickly will the tags be moving through the read zone? For example, is this a slow moving conveyor belt or a fast moving race?

    UHF RFID Readers range in price from about $450 – $4,000 or more depending on the type and functionality required. If you need more information on a specific reader, please let us know.

    Development Kits

    RFID developmeScreen Shot 2017-04-11 at 12.24.59 PMnt kits include all the basic RFID equipment needed in order to set-up and test an RFID system. Most RFID development kits come with a reader, one or more antennas, some sample tags, a sample program for reading, encoding, and testing RFID tags, as well as access to the reader’s SDK (software development kit – documentation, API access, and code samples).

    Development kits range in price from around $900 to $2,900 or more. If you are just getting started with RFID, a development kit is the way to go.

     

    Cables

    In order for the reader to transmit and receive data, it must be connected to an antenna via an RFID antenna cable. Choosing the correct type of cable is important because it must connect properly to the reader and antenna, and you want to minimize the amount of loss across the length of the cable.

    Connector options for cables are determined by the connector types on the reader and the antenna. Also, the insulation rating of the cable (i.e. the thickness of the cable) will be determined by the length needed as well as the read range desired. RFID cables are available at three different insulation ratings – LMR195, LMR240, and LMR400. The longer the length of the cable, the better insulated the cable needs to be in order to maximize efficiency and reduce the amount of loss along the length of the cable. Of note, as the insulation rating increases, the cable will be thicker and more rigid. The LMR400 cable, while highly efficient, will be more difficult to bend and work with when turning corners or running through a conduit.

    Primary points of consideration when choosing an RFID antenna cable:

    • How long do you need the cable to be?
    •  What is the read range desired for your system?
    •  Which connector type does your reader have?
    •   Which connector type does your antenna have?

    To read more, check out our blog post on getting the highest performance possible from your RFID antenna cables.

    What about other equipment and accessories for RFID systems?

    Like all electronics, a variety of accessories and equipment have been designed to enhance your RFID system. For example, RFID printers, RFID portals, GPIO adapters, and antenna mounting brackets will all supplement or augment your system. While adding components to an RFID system also adds to its complexity, when used appropriately, they may greatly increase your systems efficiency.

 

RFID Professionals - Starport Technologies

ABCs of RFID: Understanding and using radio frequency identification

Download PDF Here

Introduction

Radio frequency identification (RFID) is one of the fastest growing and most beneficial technologies being adopted by businesses today. Adoption of this automatic data-collection (ADC) technology has recently been fueled by the establishment of key standards, retailer and government mandates, improved technology performance and falling implementation costs. RFID offers great value for many industries and applications. However, misperceptions about what RFID is and what it can do pose obstacles that discourage some organizations from taking advantage of the technology.

This white paper provides an overview of RFID technology and capabilities, describes the common frequencies and technologies used in business applications, identifies major standards, and introduces ways to take advantage of RFID to improve convenience, accuracy, safety and security.

“RFID” describes a class of technology that exchanges data wirelessly. Data is written to and read from a chip attached to an antenna that receives RF signals from a read/write device—commonly called a reader, encoder or interrogator. Data is exchanged automatically, with no operator intervention required to trigger an RFID read.

RFID offers several notable advantages over other forms of data collection:
• RFID enables monitoring and data collection in environments
unfit for workers, because tag reading requires no labor.
• More than a thousand reads can be performed each
second, providing high speed and great accuracy.
• The data on an RFID tag can be altered repeatedly.
• RFID does not require direct line of sight between
tag and reader, making it suitable for many
applications where bar codes are not viable.
• Thousands of organizations in many industries have
exploited RFID’s advantages to develop operations that
monitor processes, provide real-time data accuracy, track
assets and inventory, and reduce labor requirements.
• RFID technology can be used in conjunction with
bar-code systems and Wi-Fi networks.
Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 10.29.42 AM

How RFID Works

RFID wirelessly exchanges information between a tagged object and a reader/writer. An RFID system is comprised of the following components (Figure 1):
• One or more tags (also called transponders), which
consist of a semiconductor chip and antenna.
• One or more read/write devices (also called
interrogators, or simply, readers).
• Two or more antennas, one or two on the tag and
at least one on each read/write device.
• Application software and a host computer system.

Tags are usually applied to items, often as part of an adhesive bar-code label. Tags can also be included in more durable enclosures and in ID cards or wristbands. Readers can be unattended standalone units (such as for monitoring a dock door or conveyor line), integrated with a mobile computer for handheld or forklift use or incorporated into bar-code printers.

The reader sends a radio signal that is received by all tags present in the RF field tuned to that frequency. Tags receive the signal via their antennas and respond by transmitting their stored data. The tag can hold many types of data, including a serial number, configuration instructions, activity
history (e.g., date of last maintenance, when the tag passed a specific location, etc.), or even temperature and other data provided by sensors. The reader receives the tag signal via its antenna, decodes it and transfers the data to the computer system through a cable or wireless connection.

The following sections provide more details about RFID tags, readers, printers and performance.

Tags (Transponders)

Tags (Transponders) RFID tags have two basic elements: a chip and an antenna. The chip and antenna are mounted to form an inlay (figure 2). The inlay is then encapsulated in another material to form a finished tag or label (figure 3).

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Various types of tags serve different environmental conditions. For example, tags suited to cardboard cases containing plastic items may not be ideal for wooden pallets, metal containers or glass. Tags can be as small as a grain of rice, as large as a brick, or thin and flexible enough to be embedded within an
adhesive label. Tags also vary greatly in performance, including read/write ability, memory and power requirements.

Paper-thin labels referred to as “smart labels” usually serve single-use applications, such as case and pallet identification. Printer/encoders produce smart labels on demand, encoding the tag while printing text and/or a bar code on the outer label. Smart labels satisfy most RFID compliance tagging requirements for cases and pallets.

RFID tags also range in durability, depending upon the application and environment. Tags for permanent identification may be encased to withstand extreme temperatures, moisture, acids and
solvents, paint, oil and other conditions that impair text, bar codes or other optical-based identification technologies. RFID tags can be made reusable and suitable for lifetime identification, thus yielding a total-cost-of-ownership (TCO) advantage over bar-code labels and other disposable/impermanent identification methods.

RFID tags can be either read-only or read-write (though the latter is now standard). Read-only tags are programmed at the factory with a serial number or other unalterable data. Data on read/write
tags can be revised thousands of times. Read/write tags are often partitioned with a user-defined secure read-only area that may contain a unique ID number and a writeable portion of memory that
users can freely reprogram. Thus a user may permanently encode a pallet ID number in read-only memory and then use the readwrite bank(s) to record items loaded onto the pallet. Then once the
pallet is unloaded, the writeable section can be erased for reuse.

Tags are also classified as passive, semi-passive or active. Passive tags, by far the most common, receive transmission power from the reader. All RFID smart labels are passive. Active tags include a battery to power transmissions, which also provides a longer range. This makes active tags larger and more expensive than passive tags. Semi-passive tags communicate like passive tags, but also have a battery. Their range falls between passive and active, and though their batteries have a long life, their size is comparable to passive tags.

Writeable tags can also be interfaced with sensors to capture and record variable information. For example, a frozen foods producer may apply RFID tags to pallets and interface them with a temperature sensor to monitor temperatures during shipment or storage. The system could be set to sound an alarm if temperatures moved outside of the preset acceptable range. Temperature sensors could also be used to automatically provide documentation that materials were kept at required temperatures. Sensor applications must use battery-assisted tags and power for the sensor.

Reader/Writer Options

RFID devices allow pronounced flexibility for placement because, unlike bar-code readers, direct line of sight is not necessary and read ranges can be extensive. And the ultrahigh frequency (UHF) band used in many commercial RFID systems can provide a read range of more than 30 feet (10 meters).

Fixed-position readers can be mounted to read items traveling through dock doors, conveyor belts, loading bays, gates, doorways and other areas (Figure 4). Readers may also be attached to lift trucks and other material handling equipment to automatically identify pallets and other items that are being moved. Mobile readers can be integrated with mobile computers for easy hand held use.

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RFID systems can also function simultaneously with wireless networks, and are often integrated with wireless LANs to exchange data with host computer systems—Wi-Fi LANs do not cause interference for RFID systems. (Older, proprietary 915MHz wireless networking equipment can interfere with UHF RFID systems, but few of these devices are still in use.)

The ease with which RFID can be integrated into current operations depends on the openness and flexibility of the technology infrastructure, especially the mobile computers and wireless LANs that will be used to collect and communicate RFID data. One way to maintain flexibility is to use mobile computers with card slots, peripheral ports and other expansion options that can be used to add RFID capability without sacrificing other functions.

Smaller readers, such as those designed to work with handheld computers, can enable users to add RFID capabilities to their existing applications without having to reinvest in entirely new systems (Figure 5). Mobile RFID readers allow users to read and write to tags that may be in remote locations or where it is not feasible or prudent to install fixed-position readers. The RFID reader can also be used with bar code scanners to address applications or environments where both technologies are needed.

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One of the most desirable implementations for RFID readers is mounting them on fork lifts (Figure 6, shown with multiple antennas). The advantage to forklift mounted readers is that there are typically fewer forklifts in a facility than dock doors, so fewer readers are needed to cover a facility. Forklift mounted systems are also portable so that they can go to wherever they are needed.

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“Smart label” tags are typically initially programmed by printers (Figure 7) that have the capability to print bar codes or other visible information on the paper side of the label while also writing to the memory located on the RFID chip inside the label.

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RFID Performance

The basic characteristics described above apply to all RFID technologies. RFID systems vary by the range and frequency used, chip memory, security, type of data collected and other characteristics. Understanding these variables is key to understanding RFID performance and how it can be applied to operations. The following sections briefly describe the most important RFID characteristics.

Frequency

Frequency is the leading factor that determines RFID range, resistance to interference and other performance attributes. Most commercial RFID systems operate at either the UHF band, between 859 and 960 MHz, or high frequency (HF), at 13.56 MHz. Other common RFID frequencies include 125 KHz and 2.45 GHz, both used for long-range identification, often with expensive, battery-powered tags. The UHF band is most common forsupply-chain and industrial-automation applications. EPCglobal’s popular Gen 2 standard (which will be detailed later) is a UHF
technology. Figure 6 compares the different frequencies.

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Range

An RFID system’s read range—the proximity to the tag that a reader antenna must be within to read the information stored on the tag’s chip—varies from a few centimeters to tens of meters, depending on the frequency used, the power output and the directional sensitivity of the antenna. HF technology is used for short-range applications and can be read from up to about three feet. UHF technology provides a read range of 20 feet or more. Range also depends greatly on the immediate physical environment—the presence of metals and liquids may cause interference that will affect range and read/write performance. Thus multiple systems within the same facility may function within differing ranges depending on immediate surroundings and antenna location. For read/write tags, the read range typically exceeds the write range.

Security

RFID chips are extremely difficult to counterfeit. A hacker would need specialized knowledge of wireless engineering, encoding algorithms and encryption techniques. Furthermore, different levels of security can be applied to data on the tag, making information readable at some points in the supply chain, but not others. Some RFID standards entail additional
security. Because of this innate security, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has encouraged RFID as a safeguard against pharmaceutical counterfeiting. Thus, drug makers have begun to exploit RFID’s relative impregnability, as have electronics, apparel and other manufacturers.

Standards

In the early days of RFID, there was a lingering misperception that RFID was a proprietary technology lacking standards. Today, numerous standards ensure diverse frequencies and applications. For example, RFID standards exist for item management, logistics containers, fare cards, animal identification, tire and wheel identification, and many other uses. The International Standards Organization (ISO) and EPCglobal Inc. are two of the standards organizations most relevant for the supply chain. Many national and industry standards are based on ISO or EPCglobal standards, such as the U.S. ANSI standard MH10.8.4, for returnable
container identification (based on an ISO specification).

By definition, ISO standards can be used anywhere in the world, and serve as the national standard in many countries. The EPCglobal Generation 2 (EPC Gen 2) UHF standard is now also the ISO 18000-6C standard..

The Gen 2 standard was created to facilitate the use of Electronic Product Code™ (EPC) numbers, which uniquely identify objects such as pallets, cases or individual products. EPC standards provide both RFID technical specifications and a numbering system for unique, unambiguous item identification. Gen 2 and other EPC standards are administered by EPCglobal, a subsidiary of GS1 (the same not-for-profit organization that issues U.P.C. numbers and manages the EAN.UCC system). Many manufacturers, retailers, other companies, public sector organizations and industry associations have adopted or endorsed EPC standards, particularly Gen 2. Visit Intermec’s Web site (www.intermec.com/RFID) for more white papers and additional resources about Gen 2 and other RFID technology.

Using RFID

RFID provides options when it is impractical or impossible to use other technologies or manual labor to collect data. RFID can operate in environments where factors such as indirect line of sight, high-speed reading requirements, temperature extremes, and exposure to gases and chemicals prevent the use of other data collection methods. RFID also provides
convenience for innumerable common tasks. Consumers regularly use RFID to unlock car doors remotely, to quickly check books in and out of libraries, and to speed gas-station transactions by waving a key fob at the pump. Businesses rely on RFID to securely track and report the locations of thousands of assets, shipments and inventory items.

And RFID still has a wealth of untapped potential—especially when integrated with other technologies and software applications. Imagine a temperature or shock sensor integrated into an RFID tag to automatically issue warnings about changing conditions that could damage or spoil products. RFID and wireless network systems could be integrated to provide full-time, wide-scale monitoring. Inventory movements from monitored locations could automatically trigger a replenishment request, or contact security if the item was moved by unauthorized personnel. These applications are already in the works, as are other future-looking systems to further convenience and efficiency in consumer transactions, healthcare, personal identification, manufacturing, logistics, asset management and many other operations.

Conclusion

Intermec Technologies Corp. offers a complete range of services and products to help organizations evaluate whether they will benefit from RFID, and how it can be integrated into existing business processes. Intermec is a leader in RFID technology and standards development, with extensive experience helping organizations implement complete RFID data-collection systems. Intermec has been helping companies profit by taking advantage of data-collection technologies for more than 40 years.

RFID Professionals  - Starport Technologies

RFID Technology for Warehouse and Distribution Operations.

Download The PDF HERE

1. Introduction

Interest in using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in warehouse and distribution operations is at an all-time high.Wireless identification and tracking with RFID represents a new way to conduct operations, which creates new bene- fits and challenges. Users need to understand RFID’s capabilities and limitations to accurately assess the impact it can have on their business.
This white paper will provide an overview of RFID technology and how it may be applied to warehousing and distribution operations. It will describe the technology and its maturity, standards and industry initiatives, and will also provide examples of how RFID technology can be best used in warehouses and distribution centers.

2. Overview

You’ve probably heard the acronym “RFID,” which stands for radio frequency identification.You may know that RFID tags can contain unique information that identifies whatever they are attached to, and can share that information wirelessly with computer databases and networks so items can be tracked efficiently.
What you may not know is how far the technology has come and what is being developed right now that could help your warehouse or distribution center. To help decide if RFID would be beneficial, consider if any of the following statements apply to your business:
• Processing speed is essential or could provide a competitive advantage;
• We deal in high-value assets that need to be protected;
• A bar code cannot physically survive our processes;
• Areas of our facilities need to be protected from unauthorized access;
• We need more unique information on each item than a bar code can contain; • We are highly automated and need to minimize human intervention;
• We could benefit by knowing where products are at all times in the supply chain, in real time.
If any of these statements apply to your business, RFID should be given serious consideration in your system design.

2.1 How RFID Works

Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 11.34.35 AMFirst, the basics: RFID is a means of uniquely identifying an object through a wireless radio link.The identification is accomplished by an interrogator, also called a reader or “master,” and a tag, also called a transponder or “slave” that has a unique identification code. Data is exchanged between tags and readers using radio waves between the tag and interrogator, and no direct line of sight is required for the transaction.The interrogator asks the tag for the code, or processes the signal being broadcast by the tag, decodes the transmission and transfers the data to a computer.The computer, in turn, may simply record the reading, or look up the tag ID in a database to direct further action, and may also direct the interrogator to write additional information to the tag.
The latest generation of RFID allows the dozens of individual objects within a group to be uniquely identified at the same time.This is in contrast to bar codes, which must be read one by one, and can be very advantageous in high-speed reading, sorting and material handling applications. Because no line of sight is required between the reader and the tag, unattended reading stations can be set up to identify objects on a conveyor belt or within a transport container. Fast simultaneous pro- cessing and unattended reading are the main performance characteristics that set RFID apart from bar code.
This advanced functionality comes with a price, which in the past often made RFID systems cost-prohibitive. Today, how- ever, pricing has come down considerably, with many tags suitable for warehouse and distribution operations costing con- siderably less than a dollar per RFID tags are often reusable and can be packaged to be extremely durable, which helps amortize the initial system cost and provides strong total cost of ownership (TCO) advantages compared with identifica- tion methods that must continually be replaced.

2.2 Tags

The lower-cost tags generally are passive (meaning they have no internal power source), have limited data storage capacity (typically 32 to 128 bits), are read-only (not rewritable), and have limited read range. Like bar codes, they are usually used as “license plate” identifiers, i.e., they hold little actual data but serve to identify the object to a database containing larger amounts of information. For example, a tag attached to a product in a work-in-process application would uniquely identify the product each time it passed by a reader. The reading, and any work performed on the assembly, would be recorded in a database. In turn, a conveyor-based sortation system could identify the item and receive routing instructions from a data- base application, allowing products to reach their loading destination without human intervention.
Higher-cost tags are available for many more complicated longer read applications.They often have their own power source (these are known as active tags), making them heavier than passive tags, and large data storage capacities (upwards of 1M), making them essentially self-contained databases. These higher-capacity tags could, for example, monitor temperature through a process or give operational instructions to a robotic workstation when they arrive attached to their item, then have updated status information appended to the tag when the task is complete.This flexibility does have a cost, however; the internal power source can burn out, giving these tags a life span of 5-10 years.

2.3 Frequencies

LXE Whitepaper - RFID for Warehouse and Distribution OperationsRFID systems are available in a wide range of frequencies to suit various performance needs. Frequency is an important factor in transmission range and speed. However, bandwidth availability is regulated by telecommunications authorities in each country, and not all frequencies are available for use throughout the world. This is an important con- sideration when planning logistics and supply chain applications. Most tag frequencies share the ISM (Industrial, Safety and Medical) bands. Compatibility problems are gradually being solved through standardiza- tion efforts, particularly in standards sponsored by the ISO.
Most RFID technology used in warehousing and distribution operates at either 13.56MHz (high frequency), 860-930MHz (ultrahigh frequency, or UHF) or the 2.45GHz (microwave) band. Still in use are 125 KHz low-
frequency tags, which are used for access control and vehicle identification. Standards that have been ratified or are in deve- lopment for material handling, logistics and supply chain applications are concentrated in the UHF band and 13.56MHz. Wal-Mart, which will begin requiring its 100 largest suppliers to tag shipments with RFID, has specified the use of draft stan- dards in these frequency bands.
Here is a very brief overview of different RFID frequencies and their performance characteristics.

2.3.1 Frequencies – High Frequency

The high frequency, which some call intermediate, band encompasses the 10 to 15MHz range, with 13.56MHz being the most common. Read range with a fixed station reader is around 1 to 3 meters (3 to 10 feet), although the reading speed is higher than the low-frequency band. Sizing of the antennas and tags becomes more critical. More expensive than low fre- quency, this band has the potential to become more cost-competitive through volume purchase of tags.Typical applications here include access control and smart cards.The first “smart labels” which are RFID tags embedded within adhesive bar code labels, were produced at 13.56MHz, but are now also available in other frequencies.

2.3.2 Frequencies – Ultrahigh Frequency (UHF)

Ultrahigh-frequency RFID encompasses the 850 to 950MHz band and is frequently championed for distribution and logis- tics applications.The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard for RFID identification of returnable transport items, which complements the ANSI MH10.8 bar code shipping label standard, specifies the 902-928MHz band for item iden- tification.The ePC specification (discussed later) supported by Wal-Mart also utilizes the UHF band.
Read range, which as with all frequencies depends on tag size, power output and interference, is up to 10 feet.

2.3.3 Frequencies – Microwave

Some RFID products are also produced in the microwave bandwidth, typically at either 2.45GHz or 5.8GHz. These pro- ducts offer the highest data read rates, but are also more expensive and have higher power requirements. These are often appropriate in specialized applications.

2.4 Read/Write Capabilities

When considering what RFID technology is right for your warehousing or distribution application, it’s important to under- stand the difference between the various types of writing capabilities available. In general, the more versatile, or the more stand alone a system is, the more memory needed, which increases both the size and cost of the tag. Read-only tags have fixed information securely programmed into them when they are manufactured.Write once, read many (WORM) tags may have data written to them once only post-manufacture and are the most popular kind of tag currently used. Rewritable tags are the most memory- and cost-intensive, but provide flexibility to update data. Rewritable tags have a shorter writing range than reading range, which must be considered when planning the application.

3. Standards

The International Organization for Standardization, best known by its acronym ISO, has undertaken the most RFID stan- dardization projects and focuses on technical standards that are accepted globally. One of its most important subcommit- tees is JTC 1/SC 31 Automatic Identification and Data Capture Techniques, which is working on a series of RFID standards for item management.ANSI, which coordinates much of its work with the ISO is another important standards body and has established an RFID standard for shipping container identification.The Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) and other industry associations are also developing their own RFID standards, which are often based on ANSI and ISO efforts.
The Auto-ID Center at MIT led research to create a specification for RFID for item-level tagging in the consumer goods industry, which it calls the Electronic Product Code (ePC).The Auto-ID Center’s work has since been transferred to a new entity, AutoID Inc., which was created by the Uniform Code Council (UCC) and EAN International, which maintain the U.P.C./EAN bar code system and many other standards. See the ePC section for more details and visit the UCC Web site – www.uc-council.org – for the latest information.
Any technology needs standards to gain acceptance, and RFID is no exception.Working to get standards in place can delay that procedure, but too many conflicting standards can have the same consequence. Such as in the case of the current situation regarding UHF, too many standards can be the same as having no standard at all. Further complicating the matter, there are technical standards, which specify performance requirements for interoperability, and application standards, often set by industry associations, that describe how RFID can be used for a specific function.
AIM Global, the trade association for the automatic identification industry, maintains an updated guide to current RFID stan- dards activity on its Web site.Visit www.aimglobal.org for more information about specific standards and proposals. Check with relevant associations and professional societies for specific information about standards in your industry.

RFID LABELS

4. Applications

Applications are constantly being developed and refined as the technology advances and the supply chain industry conti- nues to work for the cradle-to-grave data flow that will streamline the product pipeline. Because of the visibility it can provide, and its newfound cost effectiveness, RFID is emerging as an intriguing option to complement data collection and product identification in the supply chain.
Many hardware and software suppliers are just beginning to explore how RFID technology can tie into warehouse mana- gement systems (WMS) to produce a warehouse/DC of incredible efficiency. Several WMS providers now support RFID data entry in their software. Here are some potential RFID applications in warehousing and distribution environments:
• Pallet and case tracking, particularly when the pallets are reused within a closed system.
• Forklift identification. RFID can identify forklift location to allow systems to monitor activity and assign the closest forklift to those pallets needing moved, and serve as a permanent asset ID.
• Access control: Chips embedded in ID cards can control locks and prevent unauthorized entry; chips on products, cases, pallets and equipment can control item movement and sound alarms in case of unauthorized removal.
• Smart shelves: Retailers are experimenting with readers embedded in stocked store shelves to keep track of tagged inventory and notify either the back room or the supplier when stock is low.The application could be modified for use in warehouses and distribution centers for materials management and inventory control.

4.1 An RFID Enabled Warehouse or Distribution Center

There are several possibilities for how RFID technology can be utilized in warehouse and distribution center, in concert with existing systems and other ADC technologies. Step by step, here’s one example of what could happen:
In receiving, items, cases and/or pallets are read by a portal reading unit placed at the dock door as they are unloaded from the truck. Data are transferred into the warehouse management system (WMS), updating its database.The system reconciles its orders and sends back information that will allow some items to be cross docked for immediate transport, while others can be staged and stored. If bar codes were being used here, all received items would have to be scanned, their labels clearly visible, by workers, making the process much more labor-intensive.
When stored on shelves with readers, the readers automatically record what items have been placed there; when they are removed, the action is also automatically recorded. All of this happens without human hands ever touching a scanner, keyboard or clipboard.
If cases are broken up and items repacked, each item is reassigned to a tagged case by scanning the item’s bar code or RFID tag and the case/pallet tag.That information transfer initiates an assignment of the pallet or case to a truck or dock. Cases/pallets are moved along conveyor belts, triggering readers along the way that track the movement and also adjust conveyors as needed to redirect the cases/pallets.
Should there be a specific item out there that is needed to fill an order, a worker can go through the aisles, with a handheld reader loaded with the needed unique ID, until the unit beeps, locating the needle in the haystack with keen efficiency.
When cases/pallets are loaded back onto trucks, door-mounted units again record the activity, updating the central data- base and also initiating a sequence that produces documentation such as advance shipping notices (ASNs), packing slips, invoices, etc.

4.2 Item-level tracking

Item-level tracking in supply chain applications has always been a coveted thing. Having each and every item uniquely identi- fied, instead of generally identified with, for example, a U.P.C. symbol- opens up a whole new level of tracking management. The Electronic Product Code, or ePC, being developed by the Auto-ID Center at MIT (see sidebar/addendum) is the latest RFID technology proposed for item-level tracking of consumer goods, and other RFID technologies have also been consi- dered for this application.
While the technology is still being developed and tested, there is much speculation on what applications would be best to use the technology with. The Auto-ID Center sees strong possibilities in warehousing for pallet, case-level and item-level tracking as described in the application section. Numerous studies and analysis by the Center and leading independent con- sulting firms support this assertion, stating that these types of applications can provide strong return on investment (ROI) in most circumstances.
Some estimate that item-level tracking will not happen for some time, up to 10 years. However, analysts say there are clear business advantages in pursuing pallet- and case-level applications now. “RFID projects yield the biggest immediate benefits when they support order fulfillment and logistics,” according to a report by Forrester Research Inc., Cambridge, Mass. “As such, most near-term RFID testing should concentrate on pallets, cases, distribution centers and warehouses – not items and store shelves.”

4.3 Application Planning Considerations

To design a successful system, you must not only understand what you want the system to do (application), but you also must be very clear about what technologies can be used to deliver the performance you seek.When defining your perfect solution, it is important to ask yourself often, “Am I adding this technology to do it better, or am I simply adding technolo- gy?” Reading hundreds of tags per second could easily overwhelm a network or software application. Existing identification systems should be retained where they are sufficient, with RFID used to complement them or eliminate blind spots or bottlenecks in processes.
Part of application evaluation necessarily involves defining what the technologies you are considering can and cannot do. Just like any other technology, RFID has its limitations, and it’s important to know what they are.
For example, RFID cannot read tags over great distances, though it can certainly work in concert with technologies that can. Also, because we are talking about radio waves, interference can be a problem, so metal, liquid, and many tags in close proximity to one another or varying orientations could affect performance.Though cost has come down and will continue to decline, an RFID tag will always be more expensive than a paper bar code label, and we doubt you will ever see five cents per tag in low to medium volumes.

RFID

5. Conclusion

To remain competitive in today’s global – we-want-it-now supply chain – it is imperative to remain open to new technolo- gies and the improvements they can offer your business. RFID is one useful tool to keep in mind for current and future sys- tem design.
For additional information on RFID, we suggest you investigate the following resources: • AIM Global, www.aimglobal.org
• The Uniform Code Council, www.uc-council.org
• Material Handling Industry of America, www.mhia.org
• The RFID Sourcebook, a guide to RFID technology, vendors and applications,
www.frontlinetoday.com/rfidonline

Barcodes or RFID Tags: Key Factors to Consider in Choosing the Data Collection Technology for Your Operation

By Cynthia Bellian

While there are similarities, some noteworthy differences between a bar code system and RFID may be the factors to determine which is better suited for your needs. The right solution for your application will depend on whether your situation better aligns with the capabilities and attributes associated with each data collection technology.work-rfid

Each technology has its advantages and disadvantages. Key considerations include the nature of the processes and supply chain environment, impact in human capital or improving yields, need for data accuracy or item level identification and tracking, service life, and budgets.

BAR CODES: Advantages and Disadvantages

Bar codes rely on optical technology for the data to be read and collected. Today bar codes are simple and universally used because bar codes are inexpensive and a variety of scanners are widely available and affordable. They are ubiquitous in supply chain, distribution and retail applications but due to its physical dimensions are limited in the type and amount of data that can be presented on a bar code. For retail applications barcodes denote only the product type and its manufacturer.

Bar codes require direct line of sight for the data to be read and captured which is generally limited to within several inches in retail applications to a few feet in distance for warehouse applications. Bar codes are read one at a time which can be labor intensive and must necessarily be positioned on the outside of item packages or containers to achieve direct line of sight reads. This introduces higher wear and tear, adversely impacting the integrity and quality of the bar code, and may lead to read failure or interference. Dirty, obstructed or ripped bar code labels cannot be effectively scanned.

Applying a bar code can cost a fraction of a cent or a few pennies. Its form is typically less durable at that cost and can be easily damaged, and may be at risk for counterfeiting since they are easily copied.

Bar codes may be better suited for closed loop supply chains and process manufacturing where liquids and metals are part of the equation since liquids and metals cause interference with certain radio frequencies.

RFID: Advantages and Disadvantages

RFID works on radio frequency technology and can provide unique item level identification. Unlike bar codes which has static data and can only be read, RFID tags are dynamic and can read, write and update, even activating other transactions and events. RFID tags are capable of tracking the lifespan of an item since they have the memory capacity for more data, can be re-programmed and may even be reused. Encryption or password protection offer better data security and are more difficult to counterfeit.

Both Passive and Active RFID options are available. The key difference between these two types is their power source for transmitting signal.

Active RFID tags include a battery that will automatically send the data, whereas passive RFID tags are without power and signals are only activated when RF energy is emitted by a reader in range. Distance can be as far as 40 feet for fixed readers, or 20 feet for hand held readers. Once installed fixed readers do not need human involvement to capture the data, but hand-held readers are similar to hand held bar code scanners which require human labor to operate.

The price of a single-trip and a multi-trip passive RFID tags typically range from $0.10 to $4.00 per piece. Active RFID tags are more expensive, costing as much as $5 to $50 per piece when fully loaded with a broad range of options and functionalities, such as motion or temperature sensors or tampering indicators. They have longer read ranges as far as hundreds of feet or more and last about 3 to 8 years depending on the rate of broadcasts.

RFID formats are more durable and have longer service life where inlays are encased and protected. Some durable passive tags may have a service life of up to 10 years and can be embedded in containers and packaging to perform in harsh environments. There have been advancements in overcoming interference for processing involving liquids and metal through additional protection and positioning, however limitations still exist.

Because RFID has superior read rates, it may be the preferred choice for a more complex supply chain that’s not closed loop, with high volume transactions. If your operation is looking to read multiple items in a single pass and requires identification or tracking of a product at the unique item level then RFID will outperform a bar code system especially when fully accounting for the labor costs, resulting in significant total cost disadvantages.

For a system that automatically captures data through the normal course of operations and processes, RFID is a solution that does not require human intervention, since strategically positioned readers and antennas accomplishes the data capture as events and activities occur. Although RFID tags cost more than bar code labels, moving to an RFID system will eliminate more intensive labor costs associated with individual scanning of items.

Summary: Bar codes and RFID technology each have their fit depending on the parameters of an operation. Some facilities have implemented a hybrid approach which uses bar codes for item level identification, but RFID tags for the bulk or aggregated units, eliminating the need for each individual item on a pallet to be opened and scanned. The strengths of each technology can be leveraged and coexist to enhance visibility throughout the supply chain. The key comparisons following will help you determine a solution.

A DOZEN POINTS OF COMPARISON

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RFID Professionals  - Starport Technologies

Business Benefits from Radio Frequency

Business Benefits from Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

Executive summary

Today the largest government and business enterprises in the world are developing plans to deploy electronic product code (EPC™)-RFID based solutions across their global supply chains and operations. These enterprises have initial deployments and programs that utilize RFID to build faster supply chains, which provide economic payoffs and greater visibility into merchandise movement.

With many enterprises adopting and mandating EPC-RFID, companies across the globe are posing the question: how do we identify and capture the business benefits of EPCRFID technology? To help companies define and deploy RFID successfully, this paper addresses two topics:

  • Benefits that can be achieved through RFID-based solutions
  • Reviews the solutions adopted by companies in different markets

Screen Shot 2016-12-20 at 8.44.36 AMStructuring Your RFID Business Goals

The first step in measuring the value of RFID is to define a business map of the functional, technical and operational changes the enterprise is considering. Key questions are:

  • How effective and efficient are the existing business processes?
  • What are the effectiveness and efficiency goals for our processes?
  • How can RFID help reach those goals?

This process grounds the RFID program in the reality of your specific enterprise. Creating a realistic business model that represents both the status quo and the economic impacts of RFID is essential.

Over the last several years, consulting firms, academics and individual companies have addressed the issue of defining the return on investment (ROI) for RFID. There is a growing portfolio of assessments and studies concerning how and where the ROI for RFID is generated. The following sections examine some of the value case elements involved.

Cost reduction

The cost reduction value case is a target area of many consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies, retailers and the United States Department of Defense (DoD). These enterprises expect to reduce inventory and inventory management  expenses by billions of dollars over the next several years.

Examples of cost-reduction objectives for an RFID program include:

  • Lower inventory stock levels
  • Reduce waste
  • Reduce manual checks
  • Reduce inventory handling costs
  • Reduce logistics costs
  • Reduce claims and deductions
  • Improve asset utilization

Increase revenue

Both large and small retailers and manufacturers are developing RFID deployments to drive sales. The utilization of RFID empowers these companies to design innovative solutions with tangible benefits, including:

  • Reduced out-of-stocks
  • Improved order fill rates
  • Reduced shrinkage
  • Improved inventory turns
  • Enhanced in-store customer support

Counterfeit product shielding

Quality manufacturers across the globe are losing sales, profits and their quality image from the expanding flow of counterfeit products. Equally important, counterfeits of many products (such as pharmaceuticals, currency, passports and aircraft parts) represent a safety and security hazard for customers across the globe. There are several deployments in place to identify counterfeits using RFID. These RFID tagged products, coupled with real-time databases, represent a viable information platform to prevent the distribution and sale of counterfeit products.

Shrinkage, theft and diversion prevention

High-value consumer and industrial products face the large risk of theft and diversion. RFID has shown considerable progress in:

  • Identifying theft and diversion at the shelf level
  • Identifying theft and diversion points in the supply chain

As the price points of RFID products decline, this technology will provide a widely used tool to prevent theft along the supply chain– from the factory floor to the storefront.

Competitive advantage

Any business case or profit improvement program is intertwined with a company’s business goals and competitive advantage. Understanding competitive advantage can be reduced to a simple question: are we better than our peers in key performance areas? Several leading companies believe that RFID is the key to increasing competitive advantage. Sources of advantages include:

  • To increase distribution center productivity
  • To increase yield per end user, customer or site
  • To create a flexible, adaptive supply chain
  • To create a cost advantage in logistics
  • To reduce the impact on prices of recycling legislation for electronics
  • To reduce the impact of homeland security measures (e.g., country of origin)
  • To target an additional point of margin by a specific date

Screen Shot 2016-12-20 at 8.44.36 AMIndustry Snapshots – Business Cases

Today there are thousands of RFID deployments and pilots around the world. RFID addresses a global array of business applications. A short list of examples includes:
• Retail supply chain
• Military supply chain
• Container tracking and management
• Pharmaceutical management and tracking
• Automated payment solutions
• Baggage tracking and management
• Vehicle, paper and aircraft assembly
• Asset tracking
• Document tracking
• Reusable pallet and container management

The development of the business cases behind these deployments generally followed several stages. Companies evaluated the benefits carefully with the costs. They defined and isolated the problems to solve and the opportunity to solve them with RFID. Working from business cases, they forecasted the annual benefits that the RFID solution would provide. A number of industries have initiated pilots targeted to specific applications. In this section, we review the highlights of several of these pilots.

Retail

Retail interest in RFID technology is driven by the desire of companies to achieve greater speed and visibility into their supply chains, with the goal of increasing both operational efficiency and store effectiveness. An efficient supply chain operation ensures that goods can be delivered to the place and time when consumers are ready to purchase. Potential gains from the visibility RFID generates include lower inventory levels, reduced labor costs and increased sales, among others as shown in Figure 1 below.

Technology: The RFID Process

Creating more profitable stores is easily facilitated by RFID technology. The combination of focused business objectives and measurements plus RFID technology provides a powerful formula for achieving increased shareholder value.

Several retailers and CPG companies have deployed successful pilots of EPC-RFID. Targeted time frames were announced by several companies to expand the implementations. The number and scope of these efforts are growing as companies seek the exact business and process models that will maximize their ROI for EPC implementation. The following list summarizes several of the benefits that retailers will capture with RFID-based solutions. These benefits can be grouped into issues of speed and visibility:

Benefits of Speed:

  • Eliminate lost sales due to out of stocks
  • Speed up store receiving, processing, replenishment plus point of sale (POS) and returns processing
  • Notification of units needed on sales floor upon store receipt
  • Satisfy customer requests immediately by locating products on sales floor and in the backroom
  • Fast, accurate inventory audits
  • Increased distribution center efficiency and accuracy

Benefits of Visibility:

  • Unit, carton and pallet-level visibility throughout supply chain
  • Immediate identification of exceptions at check points
  • Visibility to replenish the right product to the right place at the right time
  • Block defective merchandise and counterfeit merchandise

Currently, there is an emphasis on using RFID for applications that can track items from the manufacturing point all the way through to the store shelf. This process entails tagging pallets, cartons, reusable containers and individual items to track the movement of goods throughout the supply chain straight through to the sale of the item to the customer.

Manufacturing

Proprietary RFID-based solutions have been used for a decade in the manufacturing space. One of the established uses is in the automobile manufacturing process. Automobile companies attach read/write RFID tags to the car chassis. The RFID tags provide
direction to and record the completion of each assembly process. Other manufacturers are working hard to exploit the potential of RFID in their operations. Example benefits that manufacturers have identified include:

  • Fast assembly
  • Identify and eliminate counterfeit parts
  • Improved accurate/reactive production planning
  • Reduced stock/work in process (WIP), increase make-to-order
  • Reduced efforts on stock counts
  • Reduced product recall costs
  • Correct parts identification, reduced maintenance
  • Accurate and real-time inventory
  • Accurate packing list and invoice information
  • Cheaper disposal
  • Tighter linkage to distributors

Linking the manufacturing floor to the retail floor: real-time inventory

Several manufacturers today are experimenting with RFID-based tagging of higher-value merchandise. Examples include designer apparel, electronics and pharmaceuticals. The concept is to audit the RFID tagged inventory on the retail floor and use that information to drive manufacturing and shipping of completed product.

In summary, RFID gives the producers total visibility into the movement throughout the supply chain. Relationships with retailers provide powerful incentives for offsetting some of the costs, with the agreement to share information with these valued trading partners.

Transportation and logistics

The logistics sector is positioned to be one of the primary beneficiaries of the adoption of RFID into the supply chain. It is important to recognize that the RFID compliance mandates generated by Wal-Mart®, the Department of Defense and others address the
receipt of merchandise and assets into these large enterprises.

For the logistics industry, with its position between suppliers and customers, RFID tagging and the underpinning mandates represents a great opportunity to expand the portfolio of offered services. Logistics opportunities include:

  • Work with shipping customers to provide RFID compliance services that solve the compliance challenge
  • Expand service and revenue base to suppliers and customers by using the RFID tags to define new information-based services as a source of competitive differentiation
  • Talk to receiving customers who have issued a compliance mandate; explore the question: could the logistics carrier use the RFID-tagged merchandise to provide innovative services to the receiving company?
  • Look at using EPC in cross-docking operations to increase efficiency
  • Faster delivery turnaround
  • Faster custom clearance
  • Theft prevention

Distribution center operations

EPC-RFID based applications have drawn extensive interest in the operation of the distribution center. Innovators argue that RFID technology can make distribution centers more cost effective. Several studies have suggested the operational improvements available through RFID can be summarized as follows:

Shipping and Receiving:

  • Automated processing of loading and unloading
  • Reduced labor requirements
  • Faster processing
  • Automatic cross docking
  • Automatic generation of 100 percent accurate electronic manifests
  • Storage and Fulfillment:
  • Correct product storage locations
  • Faster product retrieval
  • Fewer order errors
  • Reduced losses and shrinkage of assets
  • Improved order fill rates and times
  • Less safety stock required
  • Task and Resource Management:
  • Automatic updating of tasks for each resource
  • Improved automation and accuracy of flow control
  • Improved real-time monitoring of operations
  • Automatic conveyance and sorting
  • Automated and accurate picking and packing RFID-based solutions need to be kept in focus. A primary objective of RFID-based systems is to provide real-time visibility into all of the supply chain. To achieve that end, the distribution center needs to be part of the real-time, RFID-enabled supply chain.
RFID Applications

With RFID applications used across the supply chain, everyone benefits — from the raw materials manufacturers to distributors to consumers.

Overview of Benefits

RFID is one of the first new technologies of the millennium. There are a myriad of opportunities to pursue using RFID technology.

Summary

A successful RFID business case needs to address several subjects.

Identification of the business objectives and benefits that the enterprise is pursuing

  • Enhanced merchandise or asset management
  • Reduced operating expenses
  • Higher revenues and/or margins

Develop a technology assessment and plan that addresses the available RFID technology solutions

The technology plan should address data collection/analysis and establish the baseline data sources for operations. When a company
evaluates RFID technology, there is a need to understand several key issues to avoid technology dead ends. Those include:

  • EPC-compliant RFID technology
  • Reader platforms that are software upgradable
  • Systems that can manage large volumes of data
  • Applications that can scale as the deployment expands
  • Perhaps most critical, working with a large globally capable partner who can deliver in-depth RFID support The leveraging of innovative applications in business concepts and RFID technology creates the opportunity to drive business success for companies across the globe. As the leading RFID provider in the world, Motorola can make your RFID vision a reality.

Motorola and EPC-RFID

Motorola designs EPC-RFID solutions that integrate seamlessly with other key technology and product offerings, including advanced data capture devices such as bar code scanners and imagers, mobile computers and wireless infrastructure.

Increasing interest in RFID has expanded beyond retail and government. Virtually every market Motorola serves, including manufacturing, transportation and logistics, wholesale distribution and healthcare can benefit from RFID solutions. Motorola’s commitment to RFID products and solutions has been and continues to be a top corporate priority. Motorola’s global sales and support capabilities coupled with our extensive portfolio of products and experience provides customers with a fully capable solution for their RFID needs.

Screen Shot 2016-12-20 at 8.52.28 AM

Star-Only

Warehouse Inventory – Case Study

alien

LexarCompany: Lexar
http://www.lexar.com/
Application: Asset and
inventory tracking
Area of Use: shipping dock
Status: Production
Tag and Reader Supplier:
Alien Technology
Frequency: 915 UHF MHz
Range: 8 to 10 feet
System Integrator:
KeyTone Technologies
Challenge
■ Use RFID to efficiently track
digital memory products as
they move from manufacturing
at Lexar to Wal-Mart
■ Replace bar code inventory
tracking system at
Lexar with an automated
RFID solution
Solution
■ Lexar worked with
KeyTone Technologies, to
develop an RFID-based
asset tracking application
■ Toolset includes:
■ Alien ALR-9800 series
readers
■ Alien Gen 2 Squiggle tags
■ Middleware to interface
Alien readers with Lexar’s
SAP system
Benefits
■ Compliance with Wal-Mart
RFID-based inventory system
■ Verifiable inventory asset
tracking in warehouse
■ Faster product distribution:
As short as 96-hour turnaround
from manufacturer
to retail store shelves
■ Increased traceability of
orders sent to Wal-Mart
“Misplaced
inventory that
seven workers
would have spent
four hours
tracing with a
UPC system, the
RFID system can
find in about
45 minutes by
interrogation.”
Lee Mar,
Senior Logistics Analyst,
Lexar

Lexar-gets-clear-snapshot-of-warehouse-inventory-with-alien-rfid

Tracking retail products from the manufacturer’s warehouse to the
distribution center to the retail store shelves can be an inefficient
process of counting, boxing, shipping, verifying and reverifying quantities
and shipments. To streamline distribution and gain efficiencies,
large retailers, including Wal-Mart, have implemented electronic
product code (EPC) initiatives with their major suppliers. The Wal-
Mart EPC initiative, launched in 2005, uses RFID solutions to track
items from manufacturer to distribution centers to its stores.

lexar2The benefit to Wal-Mart is multifaceted: Its retail stores can replenish tagged out-of-stock items up to three times faster than non-tagged items, according to independent research on Wal-Mart’s EPC initiative. Tagging also helps ensure promotional products are delivered and correctly tagged and displayed for sales on an advertised date. And better inventory management systems help store managers avoid stockpiling excess inventory at the store.

For the manufacturer, product tagging shortens the amount of time it takes for new items to make it through the distribution channel and onto store shelves. More specifically, RFID tagging aids in proof of delivery and purchase order reconciliation, as products—even ones packed deep inside boxed pallets—can be tracked and counted at every critical point in the manufacturer’s distribution process.

CHALLENGE
One of the key participants in Wal-Mart’s EPC initiative is Lexar, a subsidiary of Micron Technology, Inc. Based in Fremont, CA, Lexar is a leading marketer and manufacturer of NAND flash memory products including memory cards, USB flash drives, card readers and ATA controller technology for the digital photography, consumer electronics, industrial and communications markets.

Lexar also sells memory cards under the Kodak brand, and it manufactures the popular cobranded Disney my*style USB flash drives and SD cards that showcase favorite Disney television and movie characters.

As a participant in Wal-Mart’s EPC distribution program, Lexar implemented an RFID asset tracking solution at its Duncan, SC warehouse. For help with installation and testing, Lexar enlisted KeyTone Technologies, a Santa Clara, CA-based systems integrator that specializes in RFID solutions for clients in manufacturing, distribution, and transportation and logistics. Lexar warehouse operators needed an automated way to efficiently track shipments to the Wal-Mart distribution centers and also be compliant with the RFID systems at Wal-Mart.

The Lexar inventory tracking system has to handle several hundred orders a day headed to Wal-Mart’s distribution centers. Orders fluctuate in size, with the largest being the shipments destined for store shelves by Thanksgiving’s Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year for retailers. Those large shipments may contain as many as 1.5 million different Lexar products that have to move through the warehouse very quickly—in two to four days.

The key to better efficiency in tracking inventory at Lexar was RFID. “We needed to create an RFID verification portal in the warehouse where we could interrogate an entire pallet,” explains Lee Mar, senior logistics analyst at Lexar. The Lexar team wanted to keep an accurate running tally of products and orders as they were boxed, loaded onto pallets, and shrink-wrapped for transport to the distribution centers at Wal-Mart.

SOLUTION
KeyTone Technologies and Lexar worked together to build an RFID inventory tracking solution in its warehouse using Gen 2 RFID
products from Alien Technology®. Lexar installed 12 Alien ALR-9800 4-port readers operating at 915 MHz, 40 antennas, and 12 printers in its warehouse, creating an RFID verification portal for outgoing shipments that Lexar employees dub “the doghouse.”

To track its products, Lexar uses EPC-compliant Alien Technology Gen 2 Squiggle® tags. Lexar uses about one million Alien RFID tags a year, according to Mar.

The Squiggle tag is a high-performance solution that is effective for the fast-moving warehouse tracking needed
during inventory boxing and shipping, and it also works with shrink-wrapped pallets. The Squiggle tag supports global operation at 860 to 960 MHz and sets the EPC Class 1 Gen 2 price performance benchmark. The Alien Squiggle tags and reader combination offer
optimal read range and read consistency performance as the inventory moves through the Lexar warehouse.


KeyTone and Lexar also built a reader-to-ERP interface, a middleware application that works with Lexar’s SAP ordering system software.
Installation and testing of the Alien hardware and software in the Lexar warehouse was fast, taking the team about three weeks. “The system was very quick to test and implement,” says Mar.

RESULTS
Lexar’s RFID solution has exceeded expectations. With the RFID in place, Lexar can easily trace daily shipments and order quantities to Wal-Mart.

“With our old UPC system, we could not confirm quantities inside the cases,” says Mar. If inventory was missing or lost, the warehouse team would have to tear apart the pallets and boxes. “Misplaced inventory that seven workers would have spent four hours tracing with a UPC system, the RFID system can find in about 45 minutes by interrogation,” he adds.

With the Alien RFID system in place, Lexar benefits from faster deployment of its products from manufacturing to the retail store. Since Wal-Mart uses RFID in its stores, Mar calculated the time for inventory to leave Lexar’s warehouse and arrive on Wal-Mart’s store shelves; he discovered it was an extremely fast 96 hours.

NEXT STEPS
The next phase of the project at Lexar will include installation of more Alien RFID readers to create a “smart warehouse.” With more RFID check stations, operators will be able to check raw, unpackaged inventory as it comes in through the back door, monitor it on the shelves in the warehouse, and trace it as it moves into packaging and shipping.

With multiple RFID checkpoints throughout the warehouse, Lexar warehouse operators can send the right products to their designated areas for packaging, final production, and shipment.


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