News

Jul, 9 2018

RFID Tags Demystified

One of the questions I get asked most often is ‘What is RFID’.

RFID is an identification system for assets where the ID is transmitted using Radio waves. Hence the abbreviated name short for ‘Radio Frequency Identification’. There are three main types of RFID defined by the radio frequency they use. LF (Low Frequency,  HF (High Frequency) and UHF (Ultra High Frequency). Where low-frequency tags generally only transmit an ID and the High-Frequency tags can also store and transmit some data like a web address to send a customer to your company website to find out more information about your product or its origin, but this comes with some compromises.

Regardless of the Frequency type all RFID tags work using the same principle. For the tags to be read you must have a reader (interrogator). The reader emits a radio carrier wave, this is used to energise (power up) the tag and transmit the data. Using radio waves means the tags can be read without having a clear line of sight to the tag i.e the tags can be painted over or read from the side or top the box. There are however limitations to this due to laws of physics and reading all the box tags on a pallet through a dense watery mass i.e honey is not possible regardless of the technology used.

The cost of the tags can also vary widely regardless of the technology used in the tags as outlined in the table below. The majority of the cost of a tag is in the encapsulation material used to bond the microchip and the quality of qualification system of the manufacturer. Where a microchip bonded on foil designed for disposable labelling can cost as little as a few cents, through to an epoxy fibre encased microchip designed for longevity in harsh outdoor environments can cost a couple of dollars.

Below is a table of comparing different tag technologies.

Frequency

LF

(Low Frequency)

HF

(High Frequency)

UHF

(Ultra High Frequency)

Alternate Names

NAIT or NLIS

NFC

 

Applications

Animal Identification
Security Access

Consumer Labelling
Consumer pay

Warehousing

Tag size

Small

Moderate

Moderate-Large

Environmental
Interference

Low

High

Very High

Operation around
Water, Honey, Metal

Good

Compromised

Compromised

Read distance

up to 90 cm

up to 10 cm

up to 20 m

Read speed

Fast

Slow

Fast to Really Fast

Cost

30¢ to $2.00

10¢ to $2.00

10¢ to $2.00

 

So if the cost of the tags is largely defined by the encapsulation material and the quality of manufacturing what RFID tags are good for identifying beehives and honey supers.

At MyApiary we have chosen to use LF tags due to their low susceptibility to Environmental Interference and good readability around water, honey and metal surfaces. Meaning these tags can be read rain or shine, close to metal lids with environmental contaminants like dirt, paint and honey. Because let's be honest, beekeeping can be a dirty business.

We also chose LF tags based on the NAIT or NLIS system standards as there is a large network of distributors and resellers of compatible equipment making finding replacements for broken equipment or support for custom integration into another business system easy.

We also source our tags from reputable global manufactures where we can guarantee each tag has a  unique ID in our system and covered by the manufacturer's warranty.

If someone offers you a cheap tag, you have to ask yourself is it going to last the test of time. At MyApiary we don’t take any chances with your traceability system continued integrity.

 

 

The advantages of RFID tags over barcodes

 

  RFID  Barcodes
 Read Rate Fast Slow
 Line of Site No line of sight Line of site necessary
 Read reliability   Excellent  Issues with low contrast situations
 Durability Well protected Can be easily damaged, fade or removed 

The RFID  tags have many advantages over using basic barcodes. This is primarily due to the protection of the tag ID tag as they are encased in a durable enclosure, where barcodes exposed and typically, printed on flimsy non-durable plastic or more durable metal tags.

As barcodes must be visible to be readable, this exposes them to damage. Most typically been knocked off the beehives. Where the RFID nail tags are embedded into the wood, therefore they can not be accidentally knocked off and are extremely difficult for thieves to remove.

Barcodes are also prone to been eaten away by insects, fading in the sun and getting dirty, interfering with the readability, even a small hole can distort the reading of the barcode. Where RFID tags are not affected by the surrounding environment, because the tags are encased in a durable material. The tags may get dirty but as the RFID tags do not need a clear line of sight to be read due to using radio waves to communicate, dirt/paint on the tags does not affect them.

Barcodes are also prone to not reading in low contrast situations, the lighting needs to be right. If it's a bright day or operating at night, the barcode scanner is unable to read the barcode due to lack of contrast between the white and black lines. Where RFID tags are not affected by the lighting due to not requiring a clear line of sight for them to be read.

Barcodes may have a lower initial cost than our RFID nail tags but in the long run, the RFID tags are cheaper than barcodes. This is because the nail tags are more durable whereas barcodes will often need replacing, due to been knocked and ageing. The cost of replacing the tags will slowly add up and every time a barcode is lost the integrity of your traceability system will be compromised.