RFID is a varied collection of technical approaches for many applications across a wide range of industries. As with its simpler, older brother, bar coding, this technology has the potential to significantly alter how processes occur and how companies operate. Any application of RFID needs to result in obvious business benefits. The last few years have seen the emergence of major consumer applications that bring RFID from an emerging technology into the mainstream. And as it gains understanding and credibility through highly visible consumer applications that prove its effectiveness to millions of people, its place in supply chain automation also grows.
MONTAGE OF APPLICATIONS
There are a variety of applications using this technology existing around us. You may find that you are already carrying and using a RFID tag, or even several.
HOW RFID WORKS
At its most basic level, RFID is a wireless link to uniquely identify objects or people. It is sometimes called dedicated short-range communication (DSRC). RFID systems include electronic devices called transponders or tags, and reader electronics to communicate with the tags. These systems communicate via radio signals that carry data either unidirectionally or bidirectionally. (See figure 1.)
WIRELESS DATA LINK
Once the link is established with a unique ID on an item, then automation of an assortment of processes ensues.
One example is the sortation of packages moving along a conveyor system. At read points in a distribution system, the boxes can be ID'd as to their location in their path to their destination. This information can be immediately known to a central monitoring operation. It is realtime information that can be shared with the sender, with forwarders, and with the customer waiting for the shipment. The shipment can be automatically directed to the appropriate dock door, truck, carrier, etc. The shipment can be redirected while in transit if plans change, all without human intervention. This puts real-time decision-making power into the hands of many functional operations up and down the supply chain.
Having this vital information readily available enables management to respond rapidly to changing patterns of demand, and allows a company to provide superior service to customers.
TAGS, READERS, ANTENNAS
RFID tags come in a wide variety of size, shapes, and forms. Reader electronics can be bare boards, electronics modules, or fully enclosed boxes. Tags come with and without batteries and can be read only or read/write. Typically, tags without batteries (passive) are smaller and lighter than those that are active, and less expensive. They are maintenance free and will last almost indefinitely.
There are more than 100 suppliers of these systems ranging from large semiconductor companies like TI, Motorola, and Philips down to one-man entrepreneurial businesses. Today, all systems are proprietary, but standards are beginning to emerge.
Prices of tags range from $.50 to $150.00 depending upon features and functionality.
RFID COMPARED TO BAR CODES
• Similarly, a support tool to automate processes and to improve op
- Reduces labor, eliminates human errors.
- Puts a wealth of data at your fingertips.
• Different, in that
- Tags can be embedded and hidden with no need for line-of-sight.
They can be read through wood, plastic, cardboard, or any ma
terial except metal.
- Tags can reprogrammed on-the-fly.
- Applicable in harsh environments, such as outdoors, around
chemicals, moisture, and high temperatures.
The very popularity of bar code in many areas of the supply chain has clarified its limitations. Conventional bar codes can only hold a small amount of information, typically around 20 characters, and cannot be reprogrammed. RFID tags can hold up to 8 K bytes of information.
To Be Continued
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