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RFID is Alive and Well

Renovotec’s MD Richard Gilliard shares some festive reflections on RFID and barcoding in industry

RFID is alive and well and indeed prospering in a number of industries. The retail sector uses RFID to dramatically reduce the time to complete inventories, allowing them to be done more frequently for a more accurate stock position, reducing the risk of out of stock. This in turn is powering consumer interaction through multi-channel market approaches.

RFID is used for asset management across a variety of industries – automotive, manufacturing, retail, logistics and others. Many of those industries rely on assets to run their businesses more effectively, for example returnable transport items (RTIs) such as totes, roll cages for moving product/assets through internal/external supply chains. RFID is a key tool for helping to manage those assets and their locations.

But RFID is not suitable for all companies in all sectors. The key benefits of RFID are the ability to read hundreds of tags in seconds, at high speed, over distances that can vary from a few centimetres to 15+ metres and potentially without line of sight access to the tag. While this is beneficial to many applications, for others where, for example, the volumes are much lower or throughput is slower, then the efficiency gains may not justify the transition. Additionally, the nature of RF energy with metal and liquids can make some companies’ products difficult to read.

RFID does not replace barcoding. Barcode and RFID are not competing but complementary technologies.

The fact that most smartphones are now able to read a barcode highlights how ubiquitous the technology is and why the barcode will not die.

How do barcoding and RFID fit into the world of robotics, IoT and big data?

Within manufacturing for example, the ability for a robotic workstation to know the exact item it is working on by scanning a barcode or RFID tag, allows it to know what type of operations it needs to perform. This allows the production line to operate more dynamically, leaning towards an Industry 4.0 type environment.

The core RFID is continually evolving with companies now producing passive sensor-based RFID tags that allow temperature and other conditions to be identified.

Other powered or active RFID technologies are becoming more prevalent, such as Ultra-Wide Band which allows items to be located with a high degree of accuracy (approx. 30cm) within a known and configured environment. This is popular for people-tracking for safety and security applications, or for Work In Progress in manufacturing sites.

Another example is the IoT based technologies like LPWAN, which can offer more than four years of battery life with outdoor locational accuracy of 1-3 metres but over a range of several kilometres from the configured infrastructure. This is already proving popular for tracking large assets like trailers in yard management applications or construction equipment around large construction sites.

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