Radio-frequency identification (RFID) was once thought to be a costly and complex technology.

In 2020, the global market for RFID tags is projected to be sized at around 24.5 billion U.S. dollars.

With the costs associated with RFID declining and the accompanying advancements in the technology, there are now thousands of RFID pilot projects and implementations across a broad cross-section of industries.

Often, businesses considering implementing RFID Systems, have similar questions and concerns. So we put together this guide to address concerns and answer frequently asked questions.

In this guide, you will learn…

  • What RFID is and how it works;
  • The 3 reasons why RFID usage has increased in the business world;
  • The different types of RFID tags;
  • The advantages of using RFID technology over barcode technology;
  • The different industries and companies that use the technology;
  • The business benefits of using RFID-enabled systems and solutions
  • 3 real-life case studies of RFID systems in use;
  • What you need to think about before investing in an RFID solution;
  • How different companies are measuring return on investment (ROI);

What is RFID?

rfid tAG

Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) is a technology used for automated data collection. The technology can be used to identify or track the location of inventory or assets without human intervention.

RFID systems use small tracking tags, which are attached to each item that needs to be tracked. Each tag contains a uniquely coded microchip and antenna, used to broadcast a signal to a suitable receiving device, which converts the wireless signal to a digital output. 

How does RFID work?

RFID systems use small tracking tags, which are attached to each item that needs to be tracked. Each tag contains a uniquely coded microchip and antenna, used to broadcast a signal to a suitable receiving device, which converts the wireless signal to a digital output.

Active RFID vs Passive RFID: What’s the difference?

RFID tags fall into two common categories, depending on how the tag communicates with the reader: passive or active.

While both RFID tags use radio frequencies to communicate information, each is very different and suited to different applications.

Active RFID Tags

  • These require a power source and communicate regularly
  • Read ranges can be as high as several hundred metres
  • Mainly used in the oil and gas industry, shipping and logistics, construction, mining, and high-value manufacturing
  • More expensive
  • Can be used with partner technologies like GPS and sensors

Passive RFID Tags

  • No internal power source and require power from a reader to excite them
  • Read range is limited to a few metres
  • Higher range of tag options
  • Much cheaper than active RFID tags
  • More economical for many industries, such as retail and supply chain management

How to know which RFID tag your business needs

The choice of tag for an application is determined by environment, required accuracy and acceptable cost per tag.

For example, tagging a piece of equipment that stays within a factory or warehouse with an expensive active tag is acceptable as the tag is in constant use. Putting the same tag onto a pallet that is shipped to a customer and not returned would add a prohibitive cost to the shipping process.

Why is RFID becoming so popular as an alternative to barcodes and other Automated Identification and Data Capture technology (AIDC)?

  1. The cost of equipment and tags is decreasing
  2.  RFID technology is now 99.9% reliable
  3.  A stable international standard has been established thanks to EPC global and GS1

What are the advantages of using RFID over barcodes?

Both RFID and barcodes are used for automated data collection. The technology use case for RFID is dependent on its application, but there are some clear advantages of using the technology:

Advantages of RFID

  • Can be read from a greater distance
  • Higher level of security
  • No need for direct line of sight when scanning
  • Hundreds of items can be captured per second
  • No need for manual data entry.
  • Exceptionally accurate read rates by comparison with barcodes
  • A typical RFID tag can hold up to 2KB of data.
  • Work at a greater distance
  • Unaffected by light conditions
  • Multiple consecutive reads (3000+ tags in one pass)
  • No need for human interaction
  • Read and write capabilities
  • Gen2 memory tags can store critical part information such as maintenance records
  • Label angles don’t cause the readers a problem

What RFID can be used to manage?

RFIDTRACKING

RFID can be attached to any object, which allows businesses to track and manage the following:

  • People
  • Assets
  • Inventory

 

People Tracking (Personnel Tracking)

Businesses are using RFID personnel tracking systems to track and manage employees, contractors, and visitors.
Tracking the locations of your workers or other pedestrians in a warehouse or manufacturing environment can provide valuable information to help increase efficiency, improve safety and reduce costs.
For example, a business with personnel who operate in challenging and potentially dangerous work environments can be provided with RFID tags that enable the logging of their movements from one zone to another. This allows the business to track their exact location and provide immediate response and protection.

Automated Asset Tracking

Keeping track of or identifying assets can be a challenge in many manufacturing, logistics and other commercial environments. The loss and underutilisation of mobile assets is a concern for businesses in all industries. Asset tracking allows businesses to identify any of their assets without line of sight by affixing or embedding an RFID tag.

If you’re interested in reading more, we’ve written about how automated asset tracking can save your business time and money.

Inventory Management

RFID can be used for stock, pallet, and inventory management. Automating the simple process of barcode scanning eliminates all problems associated with manual scanning and delivers an immediate gain in productivity and data accuracy.

To understand the potential savings this could bring a business, here is an example we’ve used elsewhere on our website:

A medium-sized distribution centre handles an average of 1500 pallets a day, from receipt through to onward despatch. Each pallet is typically moved 4 times, firstly from the delivery vehicle or production line onto the floor, secondly from the floor into racking, then from the racking back to a marshalling point and finally onto another trailer for despatch. Replacing the manual scanning processes with automatic data capture reduces the time it takes to move each pallet by 15 seconds. This means a time saving of 1500 x 4 x 15 seconds, which equates to a total of three 8-hour shifts.

What industries are using RFID?

There are over a billion RFID tags in the world and thousands of businesses across all industries have implemented the technology.

Here are just some of the industries that have implemented RFID:

Aviation

Airports are using RFID to gather data on luggage cart usage to improve customer experience and operational efficiency of airport staff

Supermarkets

Supermarkets have achieved higher accuracy in inventory management, better monitoring of product freshness and improved efficiency at checkout since implementing RFID.

Retail

Stores are using RFID to improve their operations by monitoring stock levels, reducing theft and wastage, and provide detailed management data for merchandising

Read more about using RFID to optimise your retail business.

Logistics/Warehousing/Manufacturing

Logistics, manufacturing, and warehousing businesses are using RFID to track assets, people, materials handling equipment or inventory for improved efficiency and traceability.

Read more about using RFID to optimise your manufacturing or logistics and distribution business.

Emergency Services

Emergency services like London Fire Brigade are tracking uniforms using our RFID solution.

Healthcare

There are a range of active and passive RFID systems in the healthcare sector, which provide many of the following solutions:

You can visit our website RFID discovery for information on active and passive RFID systems in the healthcare sector.

Which companies are using RFID?

Ten leading retailers and brands were interviewed as part of an independent report on implementing RFID. You can download the white paper on the real impact of RFID on retail.

Here are some other companies using the technology:

  • Amazon
  • John Lewis
  • UPS
  • Walmart
  • Tesco
  • Heathrow Airport
  • NHS
  • General Steel

What are the business benefits of RFID-enabled systems and solutions?

Whether you’re a manufacturer or retailer, there are numerous proven business benefits.

  • RFID helps to ensure that the right assets are available, in the right place, at the right time.
  • Improves efficiency, accuracy and reliability of supply chain
  • Saves time spent managing assets and inventory
  • Reduces costs and improves employee productivity
  • Enables better audit and asset control
  • Reduction in lost or stolen assets
  • Greater supply chain visibility
  • Reduce operating expenses and improve margins

Ultimately, RFID solutions increase profitability by improving inventory accuracy and the supply chain visibility. It’s critical to businesses in today’s world to know what’s available, where it’s located, and how to best deliver it.

“If you can’t “see” something, you can’t measure it—and if you can’t measure it, you can’t control it—and if you can’t control it then it’s probably costing your business too much.”

-Commonly Asked RFID Questions: Dispelling the Myths

What are some use cases for RFID?

trackandtrace

Our RFID technology is used in many different industrial, retail and public sector businesses.

Below we’ve listed three different RFID examples and applications:

  • Asset and inventory management (Heathrow Airport)

We recently completed a three-month pilot project to track the movements of luggage trolleys at Heathrow Airport to improve trolley management and demand forecasting.

Ben Wagenaar, Innovation Technologist at Heathrow, who headed up the pilot project, was delighted with the overall outcome. He commented:

“Providing trolleys in the right place at the right time can significantly enhance passenger experience. The data collected by the system will enable our forecasting teams to improve modelling tools, so the replenishment process can be planned more effectively. In addition, live data of stock levels will warn the trolley management teams if trolley numbers in key areas are getting low.”

Read more about using RFID for asset and inventory management.

  • Uniform tracking (Bristol Uniforms)

Bristol Uniforms, one of the world’s leading emergency services protective clothing providers, fit each newly manufactured uniform item with a passive RFID tag to enable the automatic tracking of items through their managed services care programme.

They’ve been successfully tracking uniforms supplied to Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service using RFID technology from Vero Solutions since November 2015. Now they’ll be supplying nearly 60,000 items for London Fire Brigade.

Previously every garment had to be scanned manually on collection via barcode, which was time-consuming as each item had to be handled individually to locate the barcode. This process was also prone to human error. Thanks to RFID, a full collection bag of uniforms can now be scanned in seconds and a complete audit trail of assets automatically recorded.

Edward Shepherd, Service Operations Director at Bristol Uniforms, commented:

“The use of RFID readers has reduced the time our drivers spend when collecting garments. A whole collection bag full of items can now be scanned simultaneously and without having to take a single garment out of the bag.”

Read more about RFID uniform tracking

  • Equipment tracking (Major NHS trust)

A major NHS Trust uses RFID to track the location of 7,500 mobile medical devices around their hospital site. Since introducing this technology, the Trust has experienced a host of different benefits. These include increased utilisation levels of equipment by over 60%, substantial capital savings (£175K for just one type of device) as well as reduced inventory checking times (from auditing a hospital ward in 90 minutes to 4 minutes).

Read more about RFID equipment tracking.

How much does RFID cost?

This is impossible to answer because it depends on the type of system, but there are many different costs associated with implementing an RFID system for your business:

  • Equipment costs
  • Installation costs
  • Tag costs
  • Software costs
  • Ongoing License Costs
  • Maintenance costs
  • Integrator costs

The good news is that as the RFID deployments have increased the cost of entry has reduced.

What is the return on investment (ROI) for RFID?

Measuring the Impact of RFID in Retailing, an independent report produced by GS1, found that all ten of the major retailers achieved a positive ROI. The research found that retailers can boost their sales by as much as 5.5% by using radio-frequency identification tags technology.

Read more about the impact of RFID and access the full report.

Choosing the right RFID solution for your business

We hope this guide has helped you gain a good, working knowledge of RFID technology. There is still more to learn and you can access our resources page to continue your RFID journey.

For any questions not answered in this guide or on our blog, you can get in contact via our contact form. Alternatively, you can call us at +44 1908 276700 or send us a message on vero@harlandsimon.com