The Beginner’s Guide to RFID Scanning and Tracking

The Beginner’s Guide to RFID Scanning and Tracking

Both in and outside the confines of warehouse work, RFID scanning has become an essential part of many fields. This widely-adopted system of tracking and management has shifted the way businesses think about their inventory, and with that, it has become an important tool to understand for anyone thinking about a career that involves inventory management or stock control.

If you’re looking at an article about RFID scanning, chances are you probably have some idea what it is and what you’re looking for. However, if you don’t, we’ve put together a quick guide to RFID scanning technology, how it works, and what goes into the technology.

What is RFID?

In short, RFID is an electronic system designed to help you with tracking stock, objects, animals, and general inventory management. RFID is an acronym for Radio Frequency Identification. In other words, it’s a form of wireless communication using radio waves to transfer data, emitting it outwards to be picked up and interpreted by a dedicated scanner. As a result, items tagged using RFID are given unique identifying codes that can allow users to identify and track inventory and assets. Okay, so that makes sense, but how does it work?

How it Works

The next step is employing RFID scanning. In a way it works sort of like a barcode, except instead of the scanner being pointed directly at the lines of code, the item sends lines of code out at the scanner. Unlike a barcode, because the tags are read wirelessly and automatically; they can be scanned even while the object is moving. Once in range of an RFID reader, the data is registered and sent wherever you need it to go. A reader is usually a handheld mobile device that doubles as a mobile computer or a fixed reader installed at doorways or in other strategic locations. Simple? Great. That should be everything you need to know about RFID to know if it’s right for you and your project; now let’s take a look at some of the technical details.

The Technical Details

RFID systems usually comprise an RFID reader and RFID tags, and antennas that transmit the signal. There are three main types of RFID systems: low frequency (LF); high frequency (HF) and ultra-high frequency (UHF), and in some places Microwave RFID. Which is best for you depends largely on your usage. Low-frequency range from 30 KHzto 500 KHz though typically floats around 125 KHz. The transmission range is generally between 15 cm and 2 metres. 

High-frequency systems range from between 3 MHz to 30 MHz, with the average being around 13.56 MHz. The standard range is anywhere between one and five metres. Ultra High-Frequency systems range from between 300 MHz to 960 MHz, averaging 433 MHz; and can generally be read between 7 metres and 10 metres away. As for Microwave RFID, they typically have a set frequency of around 2.45 Ghzand; and can be read from a minimum of 9 metres away

Although you might be tempted to get something like the UHF or Microwave; ask yourself, do you actually need something that can be read from 9 metres? If you can place the scanner somewhere like a door and can be certain that everything will pass through that door; perhaps you only need something in the standard LF or HF ranges.

This should give you a basic operating knowledge, at least enough to deploy or assess the technology; but if you need something more detailed consider looking at the information available at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO); Electronics Product Code Global Incorporated (EPCglobal), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), or this in-depth article on RFID.

So Why Would I Use It?

There are many advantages to RFID. The first is that compared to barcodes it is a substantial improvement. Ever tried scanning a barcode on a moving object like a dog’s collar? Or one that might get dirty or even damaged, like a dog’s collar? Well, RFID solves that. As the tags transmit their signal you don’t need to physically line up a scanner to read an RFID tag. So long as they are in a range they can read. This is essentially how microchipping animals works. On top of this, you can also read multiple tags at a time; so with a large enough signal and a developed enough scanner you can essentially identify an entire room’s worth of inventory in seconds – all without human intervention. This is how big companies and warehouses electronically keep track of what they have in stock.

Today, RFID is commonly used in manufacturing for traceability and tracking of parts and materials as they move through production lines. Hospitals are also using RFID to positively identify and track patients for better patient care and to avoid medication mix-ups. Museums and art galleries use it for storage and transportation; if you can think of something that needs tracking by a unique identifier then it probably can or does utilise RFID technology.

In the end, RFID scanning and technology are crucial elements in inventory management; and there is a lot more to learn about them; but this basic guide should give you the tools to understand whether the technology is right for you and your business.

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