Radio frequency identification (RFID) has rapidly gained momentum as a real-time tracking and locating technology for thousands of businesses worldwide. In this article, we take a look at RFID: what it is, what advantages it offers over barcoding, where it can be used, and how to determine if it’s a technology your company should consider.

What is RFID?
RFID stands for radio frequency identification. RFID uses radio waves, much like Wi-Fi does, to communicate between an RFID reader and an electronic tag, which is applied to an object. Each tag contains a wireless transmitter and is encoded with a unique identifier, which is tied to a database and used to identify the object and pinpoint its location to within a few feet.

When they come within range of the reader, tags are read wirelessly and automatically, even while they’re moving. The range of each reader is usually 5 to 10 feet, depending on your environment and your RFID tag types. But ranges can be adjusted and customized for your unique application needs.

RFID readers are usually handheld or mobile readers, or fixed readers installed at doorways or other strategic locations. Zebra is the top RFID hardware provider worldwide and provides solutions including readers, tag printers, and RFID antennas.

What are the advantages of RFID versus barcoding?
Unlike a barcode, you don’t need to line up a scanner to read an RFID tag. Tags are read wirelessly and remotely, even if they’re not physically visible or accessible. They’re readable as long as they’re within your reader’s radio range. You can read multiple tags at a time, so you can identify, track, and locate an entire room’s worth of inventory without manual, item-by-item scanning.

You can also use RFID for real-time tracking of assets as they move through processes or through different areas of a building, especially if you’re using fixed RFID readers at entryways or in aisles.

Where can RFID be used?
RFID can be used in any application where you need to identify, locate, and track products, assets, or shipments. It’s often used in warehouses, distribution centers, and retail to automate inventory and eliminate manual barcode scanning and cycle counts.

RFID is also commonly used in manufacturing for traceability and tracking of parts and materials as they are received, and as they move through production process and become finished goods. Hospitals are also using RFID to positively identify and track patients for better patient care and to avoid medication mix-ups.

How do I know if my company is ready for RFID?
RFID requires a significant investment, so consider your current processes, manpower, and budget, then determine how much you’ll potentially gain by automating your inventory, tracking, and traceability. Think about where you might potentially use RFID.

Compare the value of your potential gains to an estimated cost of an RFID deployment. To get a sense of costs and the hardware and infrastructure you’ll need, consult with an RFID technology provider such as our team at Informs.

Additionally, give some thought to whether you can devote the time to testing and training once you implement a system, and who will manage it.

What is the process for implementing RFID?
RFID should begin with a consultation with an RFID technology partner. This will usually involve site walkthroughs, process analysis, hardware recommendations, and a budget review. Once it’s time to launch a system, there will be testing, implementation, and deployment.

To learn more, get answers to your questions, and request a free consultation, contact our RFID experts at Informs to get started.