14 Questions You Shouldn't Be Afraid to Ask About RFID

Posted by on Jan 30, 2017 10:11:15 PM

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In today’s modern world, technology is allowing us to do things that were impossible before and making our lives infinitely easier. One of the biggest changes that have come about recently is the introduction and implementation of RFID chips and scanners. Instead of having to swipe a card or carry the information on a separate device, these chips allow for fast and easy readability, thus making a lot of things much easier. 

However, as with all new technology, there are plenty of questions and concerns surrounding RFID, namely compatibility and security. Since this tech is still relatively new and still being tested, it’s important that everyone understands how it works and how it can be implemented smartly and correctly. 

So, if you’re a business or professional looking to utilize this technology, here are the top fourteen questions you should ask about RFID.

  1. Which Frequencies and Standards are There?

Depending on the industry you are in, there are different standards for both the RFID readers and tags. For example, the Department of Defense uses tags that operate within the UHF (Ultra High Frequency) spectrum, or between 868 to 956 Mhz. Some big box stores also use that same frequency level, as it is generally the strongest and most reliable. These tags also include a Class 1 or a Class 0 EPC Protocol, as well as 96-bit EPCs (Electronic Product Codes). 

Other industries, such as the cattle business, uses low-frequency tags that conform to ISO (International Organization for Standardization) standards. That means that they operate at about 125 to 134 kHz.

Overall, the best standard is the one that works for your company. If you need long range tags to keep track of materials and items in your warehouse, then a UHF system will be best. However, if you don’t need something that powerful, a low-frequency system that adheres to ISO standards will be fine. 

Unfortunately, there are no universal standards or regulations about RFID systems, so you will have to find one that meets your needs. 

  1. What Problem is RFID Going to Solve?

While it may be tempting to start using a high-tech system because it’s the next big thing, the fact is that you should only move forward if you have a clear reason to implement such a program. With that being said, there are plenty of reasons to start using RFID, such as the ones listed below. 

  • Reduce Labor Costs: instead of having people mark down information manually or scan a barcode, you can do everything much more efficiently with RFID.
  • Reduce Errors: no matter how good your staff is they will make mistakes from time to time. If those mistakes can wind up costing you big time, then RFID can help ensure that everything is labeled and scanned correctly.
  • Traceability is Imperative: if it’s necessary for you to track a product or item, then RFID can make that process much simpler and more reliable.
  • More Data Needed: if a barcode doesn’t provide as much information as you want or need, then utilizing this system will make things much easier for you. 

Overall, before you invest in RFID, be sure that you will be getting a good ROI. Otherwise, it might not be entirely necessary. 

  1. How Long Will it Take to Implement?

This is another situation that will vary depending on your needs. If you are looking to add tags to some display models in your store, then it shouldn’t take more than a day or so to implement. However, for larger companies that want to create an entire inventory and tracking system for thousands of items, then it will take weeks or months to get everything labeled and uploaded.

The biggest challenge in creating a new system with RFID is the back of house application. For those that want a comprehensive system, it will take longer for the programming and implementation to happen. However, if you are looking for a simple system that is similar to having barcodes, that can take much less time overall.

  1. How Can I be Sure that My Information Will be Protected?

If you are using RFID to handle sensitive information, then you have to make sure that it can’t be decoded and read by anyone, otherwise what’s the point of using the system? While basic tags do not offer any layers of security (meaning that any reader can see what’s on them), there are plenty of high-end tags and scanners that use encryption to make sure that the data is safe.

Obviously, if you opt for a high-end system it will cost you more, but the security levelwill be much higher and will help ensure that the data is protected from a hack. Unfortunately, because RFID standards are still all over the place, there are no regulations or protocols for any security in a RFID system. That means that you will have to trust the company that is selling it to you.

  1. Who Will Be Using this Technology?

Part of the decision process for getting RFID should be determining who will be using the system. For example, if you want supervisors only reading the tags, then you have to make sure that they are capable of operating the reader and solve any troubleshooting problems.

Another thing to think about is who should have access when sensitive information is at stake. You don’t want hourly employees scanning tags that have critical data on them, so be sure that you understand who should be allowed to use the readers and why. Once you have determined all of that, it should be easy to figure out what kind of tags and readers you need in place. 

  1. How Many Users Will I Have?

When asking this question, you are not only referring to the people who will be using the system but the products and items that will be tagged as well. For example, you could use RFID as a tracking system for your employees and your inventory. In that case, there could potentially be hundreds of users as each one will be tagged in a similar way.

Thus, before you think about implementing a RFID system, be sure that you are aware of the exact number of users so that you can get an accurate cost and installation estimate. If necessary, count every single item in your inventory so that you can be sure. 

  1. How Can I Minimize my Maintenance Costs?

For small and mid-size operations, having a RFID system will invariably save you time and money overall. If you need only a handful of readers, then you shouldn’t be worried about high maintenance costs as the tags won’t need upkeep and the readers should be able to sync up correctly each time.

Where things can get out of hand, though, is when you have a huge system in place that spans across great distances. If that happens, you need to be sure that your readers will be operational all the time, and you have to stay on top of any problems that could arise. Thus, ask your vendor if they have any ways to mitigate maintenance costs by letting you sync readers remotely, identify readers that aren’t working immediately, or providing some kind of warranty on the products in case they break down. 

  1. Can I Integrate the Readers with Backend Systems?

If you already have an inventory and tracking system in place, it makes sense that you would want to keep using it and apply RFID to that system, rather than come up with a whole new program. In this case, make sure that your vendor knows about your back end and can sync the readers up to it so that you can save a lot of time and money in implementation. While this is certainly possible, not all vendors can do it, so be sure to find one that can or that has an affiliate who can do that kind of service.

  1. How Reliable is RFID?

Although you are dealing with high technology, which can be somewhat sensitive and unreliable at times, RFID is much more stable and dependable than other systems, such as barcodes. As long as you position the tags in an easy to read place and where they won’t get damaged from outside elements (weather, bumps, human interference), then they should last for years. Best of all, because the information is embedded into a chip, you never have to worry about using a battery or other power source to keep the tags readable.

While this system can have its problems like any other, RFID is much more reliable than most alternatives and as the technology improves it will only get better. In fact, early forms of RFID date back to World War 2. 

  1. Do I Need a Wireless Backbone for Implementation?

If you have a small operation and don’t need to track the position and placement of your inventory, then you probably won’t need a wireless system. However, if that doesn’t apply to you and tracking and placement are important, then it is imperative to have a wireless backbone; otherwise, you are going to have a lot of problems using the system. The point of RFID is to make things easier, but without wireless capability, you will still have to find and scan each item manually. 

  1. Are There Different Kinds of RFID Tags?

Yes, there are two main types of tag; either passive or active. Active tags require a power source as they will broadcast data to be read. As a result, the signal is stronger and more reliable, and more data can be transmitted. 

Passive tags, on the other hand, only work when read by a reader. The advantage of using this kind of tag is that you don’t have to worry about changing a battery, meaning that they should be readable for years without any additional help required.

  1. How Much Training is Required?

Because the technology is so easy to use, you can have your staff (regardless of position) learn how to operate a RFID reader in under half an hour. The only extensive training will be for back of house operations in case there are any problems. However, that will be dependent on the system you use. RFID itself is ridiculously simple to learn. 

  1. What Range Will I Need?

That will depend on your setup and the amount of products that are being tagged. For warehouses, you will need longer ranges so that you can scan items that are buried in the stack. Additionally, having a wireless backbone means that you could track each product as it sits in the warehouse, provided that you have a long enough range to be picked up by a central reader.

Overall, smaller operations can get away with passive readers and a limited range, as RFID tags will be used to replace barcodes. For bigger companies, however, long range tags are almost always necessary. 

  1. Can I Use RFID On All My Products?

Yes, you should be able to tag your entire inventory if necessary. While it can be hard for readers to detect tags on metal surfaces, such as cans, new technology has made it much easier to do that, meaning that you should be able to find options that work on almost any surface.

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