The Complete Guide to RFID Tags and Equipment

Introduction

When radio-frequency identification (RFID) became popular in the early 2000s, there were few tag, reader, and antenna options. Now, there are so many more products. This guide will help you make the best decisions for your application, so that your project is a success the first time.

We can help outline the overall business need, project scope, and budget, and identify the types and amounts of required equipment. This will be refined as we work through a pilot program at your operation.

RFID tags are available in many shapes, sizes, read ranges, and durability levels. Since there are so many RFID tags available, it is imperative to narrow the search to find a tag that fits the requirements of the given application.

Arbré can help you determine the best tag for your application. If you will be tagging more than one type of object, we’ll help you find a tag that will work for all objects, or think through the requirements for each object to be tagged.

Overall Application: Questions

  • What’s the business problem/goal you are trying to solve/achieve?
  • What’s your current system?
  • What’s your desired application?
  • What’s the timeframe for deploying this application?
  • What’s your budget?
  • In which country will you be using RFID?
  • Which items/assets would you like to tag and track?
  • How many read points or read zones do you need?
  • Where do you plan on placing the reader, computer equipment, antennas, etc.?
  • Do you require a full solution (including software and installation), or are you looking to purchase hardware/tags only and implement the solution yourself?

Introduction to RFID Tags

RFID Inlays/Labels

RFID Inlays/Labels can support printing of human-readable and barcode information. These unobtrusive tags:

  • Vary in size, read range, printability, adhesive choices, and more;
  • Are usually peel-and-stick or hang-on;
  • Are more commonly used than hard tags due to cost; and
  • Have basic features.
Loop Lock RFID Label
Loop Lock RFID Label

Pros

  • Depends on the tag (i.e., increased read range, embedability, temperature tolerance, autoclavable, etc.)
  • Variety of attachment methods

Cons

  • More expensive than RFID inlays/labels
  • Labeling and encoding a more manual process
  • Some types cannot support a label

RFID Inlays/Labels: Questions

  • How many items will you be tagging?
  • How long will the tags need to last?
  • Size limitations?
  • What type of surface will you be tagging (metal, plastic, wood, etc.)?
  • If using an RFID printer, which RFID printer will you be using?
  • Any environmental conditions to consider (i.e., excessive heat, cold, moisture/ liquids, impact, vibrations, UV rays, corrosive elements, etc.?)
  • Is high-temperature adhesive required?
  • Do you require any user memory (i.e., will the tag have to store something other than the unique product code)?
  • Do you require custom encoding or printing?
  • Are perforations between labels needed?

RFID Hard Tags

RFID Hard Tags are constructed from materials like plastic, ABS, ceramics, or polymer. These tags are not paper-thin like inlays and labels; they are usually designed for specific application requirements such as increased read range, embedding into objects, ruggedness, and increased heat and cold resistance.

Durable RFID hard tags
Durable RFID hard tags

Pros

  • Depends on the tag – (i.e., increased read range, embeddability, temperature tolerance, autoclavable, etc.)
  • Variety of attachment methods

Cons

  • More expensive than RFID inlays/labels
  • Labeling and encoding a more manual process
  • Some types cannot support a label

RFID Hard Tags: Questions

  • How many items will you be tagging?
  • What type of surface will you be tagging (metal, plastic, wood, etc.)?
  • How long will the tags need to last?
  • What read range do you require?
  • Size limitations?
  • Any excessive environmental conditions (heat, cold, moisture/ liquids, impact, vibration, UV rays, corrosive elements, etc.)?
  • Method of attachment (adhesive, epoxy, rivets/screws, cable ties, etc.)?
  • Any user memory (i.e., will the tag have to store something other than the unique product code)?
  • Any custom coding or printing?
  • Target price per tag?

 

Introduction to RFID Readers

Fixed RFID Reader
Fixed RFID Reader

Fixed Readers

Fixed readers are immobile, high-performance devices for reading and writing tags in all types of applications. Two types of fixed readers exist:

  • Non-integrated readers that connect to antennas via coaxial cable
  • Integrated readers, with a reader and antenna combined in one device

Fixed readers are easy to set up and use out of the box, and depending on the reader, one to 64 antennas may be connected (with the use of auxiliary multiplexer devices).

RFID Fixed Readers: Questions

  • In what country will you be using the RFID reader?
  • Where will the reader be mounted?
  • How quickly will the tags be moving through the read zone?
  • How many tags need to be read at one time?
  • How many antennas do you plan on using with this reader?
  • How will the reader be powered?
  • Any environmental conditions to consider (i.e., excessive heat, cold, moisture, impact, etc.)?
  • Will the reader be connected directly to a host computer or placed on a network?
  • Will you need any GPIO functionality (i.e., light-stacks, motion detectors, etc.) ?
Handheld RFID Reader
Handheld RFID Reader

Handheld Readers

Handheld readers are great for locating tagged items or taking inventory, with an integrated antenna and either an onboard computing device or a connection to a device like a smartphone or tablet. Like fixed readers, handheld readers are relatively easy to set up and use out of the box.

RFID Handheld Readers: Questions

  • In what country will you be using the RFID reader?
  • Any excessive environmental conditions to consider? (i.e., heat, cold, moisture, impact, etc.)
  • Which operating system do you prefer? (i.e., Windows, Android, iOS, etc.)
  • Will you be using your mobile device, or will the mobile RFID reader need its own computing system?
  • How will you power your fixed readers?

Introduction to RFID Antennas and Cables

Antenna
Antenna

Antenna

Antennas and antenna cables are essential in systems with a non-integrated fixed reader or reader module. (Handheld readers and integrated fixed readers are manufactured with an onboard antenna, so purchasing an antenna is not necessary.) Antennas are distinguished by size, gain, and polarity, so it’s important to understand what the application requires before selecting one.

Coaxial cables come in different lengths, insulation ratings, and connector types (which correlate directly with the connectors on the chosen reader and antennas). In order to choose the appropriate cable for the application, it’s vital to choose the reader and antenna first.

Answer the following questions to narrow down which antennas and cables will work best for your application.

Antennas and Cables: Questions

  • 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?
  • What are the dimensions of the ideal read zone?
  • Will the antenna be mounted indoors, outdoors, or on a vehicle?
  • Any environmental conditions to consider? (i.e., excessive heat, cold, moisture, impact, etc.?)
  • Do you need rugged enclosures to protect your technology?
    Size limitations?
  • Do you need mounting brackets?
  • How will you power the readers and antennas?
  • Which reader are you using?
  • Which antenna(s) are you using?
  • How far will the antenna(s) be from the reader?
  • Will any cable need to bend more than 45 degrees to connect to an antenna?

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