RFID Technology


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RFID Technology

  1. 1. RFID Technology How does RFID technology work? Radio frequency identification technology is an automatic way to collect product, place, time or transaction data quickly and easily without human intervention or error. An RFID system comprises a reader (or interrogator), its associated antenna and the transponders (Tags/ RFID Cards) that carry the data. The reader transmits a radio signal, through its antenna, that the tag receives via its own antenna. The tag will briefly converse with the reader for verification and the exchange of data. Once the reader receives that data, it can be sent to a controlling computer for processing and management. An RFID tag consists of a microchip attached to an antenna. RFID tags are developed using a frequency according to the needs of the system including read range and the environment in which the tag will be read. “Active Tags” are RFID tags that have their own independent power source via a battery that is either internal with the tag itself or external that it shares with other resources such as a car battery to supply its required voltage. This type of tag allows for greater Read/Write distance capabilities but is generally larger in physical size and is a little more expensive than Passive Tags. Typically an active tag can transmit an effective RF signal up to 300 feet indoors and up to 1000 feet outdoors. Life expectancy varies depending on power supply and usage. “Passive Tags” are RFID tags that have no independent power source and get all its power from the transceiver directly when activated. This type of tag is also much smaller, and less expensive, which gives it a wider range of applications in which its size and shape can be utilized. Effective range is less than 10 feet. With no battery source to deal with, passive tags ideally have an unlimited life span. An RFID reader usually connected to a personal computer serves the same purpose as a barcode scanner. It can also be battery-powered to allow mobile transactions with RFID tags. The RFID reader handles the communication between the Information System and the RFID tag. An RFID antenna connected to the RFID reader can be of various size and structure, depending on the communication distance required for a given system’s performance. The antenna activates the RFID tag and transfers data by emitting wireless pulses. An RFID station made up of an RFID reader and an antenna. It can read information stored into the RFID tag and also update this RFID tag with new information. It generally holds application software specifically designed for the required task. RFID stations may be mounted in arrays around transfer points in
  2. 2. industrial processes to automatically track assets as they are moving through the process. RFID Frequency ranges Three frequency ranges are generally distinguished for RFID systems, low, intermediate (medium) and high. The following table summarizes these three frequency ranges, along with the typical system characteristics and examples of major areas of application. Frequency Band Characteristics Typical Applications Low Short to medium read range Access control 100-500 kHz Inexpensive Animal identification Low reading speed Inventory control Car immobilisers Intermediate Short to medium read range Access control 10-15 MHz potentially inexpensive Smart cards medium reading speed High Long read range Railroad car monitoring 850-950 MHz High reading speed Toll collection systems 2.4-5.8 GHz Line of sight required Expensive A degree of uniformity is being sought for carrier frequency usage, through three regulatory areas, Europe and Africa (Region 1), North and South America (Region 2) and Far East and Australasia (Region 3). Each country manages their frequency allocations within the guidelines set out by the three regions. Unfortunately, there has been little or no consistency over time with the allocation of frequency, and so there are very few frequencies that are available on a global basis for the technology. This will change with time, as countries are required to try to achieve some uniformity by the year 2010. Three carrier frequencies receiving early attention as representative of the low, intermediate, and high ranges are 125kHz, 13.56 MHz and 2.45 GHz. However, there are eight frequency bands in use around the world, for RFID applications. Not all of the countries in the world have access to all of the frequency bands listed above, as some countries have assigned these bands to other users. Within each country and within each frequency range there are specific regulations that govern the use of the frequency. These regulations may apply to power levels and interference as well as frequency tolerances. In the less than 135kHz, a wide range of products is available to suit a range of applications, including animal tagging, access control and track and trace ability. Transponder systems, which operate in this band, do not need to be licensed in many countries.
  3. 3. RFID is a “Hot Issue” because of Wal-Mart’s Mandate Wal-Mart will require all pallets and cases to have RFID tags based on the Class 1, version 2 specification of the Electronic Product Code (EPC); it is being developed under the auspices of EPCglobal, a joint venture between the Uniform Code Council and EAN International, charged with commercializing EPC technology. The tag will carry a 96-bit serial number and be field-programmable. Class 1 or Class 0 tags are acceptable, but Wal-Mart would like to see suppliers move to Class 1 version 2 as soon as the specification is ready. What is the Electro nic Product Code(EPC) ? The Auto-ID Center has proposed a new Electronic Product Code as the next standard for identifying products. Our goal is not to replace existing bar code standards, but rather to create a migration path for companies to move from established standards for bar codes to the new EPC. To encourage this evolution, we have adopted the basic structures of the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN), an umbrella group under which all existing bar codes fall. There's no guarantee that the world will adopt the EPC, but our proposal already has the support of the Uniform Code Council and EAN International, the two main bodies that oversee international bar code standards. We're also working with other national and international trade groups and standard bodies. EPC code structure The EPC is a number made up of a header and three sets of data, as shown in the above figure. The header identifies the EPC's version number - this allows for different lengths or types of EPC later on. The second part of the number identifies the EPC Manager - most likely the manufacturer of the product the EPC is attached to - for example 'The Coca-Cola Company'. The third, called object class, refers to the exact type of product, most often the Stock Keeping Unit - for example 'Diet Coke 330 ml can, US version'. The fourth is the serial number, unique to the item - this tells us exactly which 330 ml can of Diet Coke we are referring to. This makes it possible, for example, to quickly find products that might be nearing their expiration date. Example of EPC 01.115A1D7.28A1E6.421CBA30A 01 Version of EPC (8 bit header) 115A1D7 Manufacturer Identifier 28 bits (> 268 million possible manufacturers 28A1E6 Product Identifier 24 bits (> 16 million possible products per manufacturer) 421CBA30A Item Serial Number 36 bits (> 68 billion possible unique items per product)
  4. 4. EPC Compliant tag classes The difference between Class 0 and 1 is in the data structure and operation. Class 0 tags are read only. Class 1 tags are one-time writeable. The EPC standards call for 5 classes of tags overtime. The following table outlines the roadmap for the EPC tag class type: Class Type Operation 0 Read Only 1 Write Once, Read Many 2 Read / Write 3 Read / Write Battery Enhanced for Long Range 4 Read / Write Active Transmitter Widely used RFID ISO Standards in use today ISO 14443 for “proximity” cards and ISO 15693 for “vicinity” cards, both recommend 13.56 MHz as its carrier frequency. These standards feature a thinner card, higher memory space availability and allow numerous cards in the field to be read almost simultaneously using anti-collision, bit masking and time slot protocols. ISO 14443 proximity cards offer a maximum range of only a few inches. It is primarily utilized for financial transactions such as automatic fare collection, bank- card activity and high security applications. These applications prefer a very limited range for security. ISO 15693 vicinity cards offer a maximum usable range of out to 28 inches from a single antenna or as much as 4 feet using multiple antenna elements and a high performance reader system. ISO Standards for RFID Air interface competing with EPC. 18000 – 1 Part 1 – Generic Parameters for Air Interface Communication for Globally Accepted Frequencies 18000 – 2 Part 2 – Parameters for Air Interface Communications below 135 KHz 18000 – 3 Part 3 – Parameters for Air Interface Communications at 13.56 MHz 18000 – 4 Part 4 – Parameters for Air Interface Communications at 2.45 GHz 18000 – 5 Part 5 – Parameters for Air Interface Communications at 5.8 GHz 18000 – 6* Part 6 - Parameters for Air Interface Communications at 860 – 930 MHz 18000 – 7** Part 7 - Parameters for Air Interface Communications at 433.92 MHz RFID Challenges Effective read/write ranges of readers Reading large objects whose tag may be positioned on opposite side.
  5. 5. Proximity – distinguish specific object from other objects on either side. Reading mixed-case pallets fast enough and accurate. Materials of the object or around the object (metal, liquid) can affect readability. Currently 20-30% error rate in reading tags. Standards ? - EPC , ISO, proprietary There are actually hundreds of standards related to RFID being developed or modified by scores of national and international standards bodies. Examples include the format and content of the codes placed on the tags, the protocols and frequencies that will be used by the tags and readers to transmit the data, the security and tamper-resistance of tags on packaging and freight containers, and applications use standards. Until these standards are finalized, there will be a risk of non-compliance associated with any solution implemented. Wal-Mart – supports EPC DOD – Wants to support EPC but using ISO standard for air interface Costs Although the costs for tags and readers continue to come down, implementing an RFID solution is still a very expensive venture. AMR Research estimates that a typical consumer goods company shipping 50 million cases per year will spend $13 million to $23 million to deploy RFID to meet Wal-Mart’s requirements. Besides the cost of the tags for every pallet, case or item to be tracked, there are the costs of the readers at every identification point, the software development and implementation costs for use of the information, and the supporting infrastructure costs. The biggest risk at this time, however, is that a company will incur these substantial costs only to find out that the solution deployed does not meet future standards or that the technology or vendor used for the deployment has not survived the inevitable shakeout of early contenders in this emerging field. To protect against this possibility, companies should select technologies and vendors that are adaptable to emerging standards and protocols. Privacy There has already been significant backlash from consumers over announcements by Wal-Mart, Gillette and Bennetton that they would use item -level RFID tagging. All three companies have had to pull back from these initiatives as a result. Privacy has always been a strong American value and concerns over the perceived invasion of privacy these announcements incited, whether justified or not, is a factor that must be considered in any RFID rollout. Possible 4-phase RFID rollout approach Pilot Phase Prove the concept of RFID as a viable technology within the enterprise. Test the selected technologies and communications to insure they work and will be compatible with the current infrastructure. Determine the impact on current distribution operations. Scope the costs and expected ROI of the initiative. Develop a project plan for rollout of future phases.
  6. 6. Compliance Phase All Wal-Mart suppliers should make compliance with their directive a first priority after the completion of a successful pilot phase. Given the amount of revenue many suppliers receive from Wal-Mart business, companies will want to make sure they have the time and resources needed to achieve compliance by the specified deadline. Transition Phase Because compliance is a condition of doing business rather than a cost saving measure, companies will want to begin extending their RFID applications to take advantage of potential efficiency and productivity gains once they are certain the compliance piece is working properly. As with the compliance phase, however, any additional RFID applications will have to work side-by-side with existing applications and infrastructure for an extended period. The basic assumption of the transition phase is that companies have huge investments in systems, equipment and communications that they cannot rip out to start over with RFID. It would be cost prohibitive. Nor would it make sense to introduce entirely new RFID-based processes across the warehouse all at one time. There is also the reality that RFID technology is not mature enough to accomplish all of the processing envisioned for the future potential benefits. The only logical solution, therefore, is to deploy RFID technology one step at a time, focusing first on those applications for which the technology is ready and which provide the greatest return on investment. It would also be least disruptive to other operations to concentrate on self-contained functions such as receiving or trailer loading. Changing processes in these areas will have minimal impact on other functions, whereas introducing RFID into picking or other wide-area functions could have significant negative impact on operations. As RFID rollout to one function is successfully completed, the next RFID application can be implemented. The plan for which applications are to be implemented and their sequencing will depend on the needs of each organization and the ROI each will produce. The guiding factors for selecting and sequencing applications should be the expected ROI, technology availability, customer requirements, and the least disruption to other operations. One thing is clear for this staged RFID deployment, existing systems will need to be modified to permit seamless side-by side operations with existing processes. Warehouse management and labor management systems will be most affected by this. They will have to support concurrent data capture from RFID and RF or manual sources and be able to process this data interchangeably for downstream processing. The positive side of this duality of operations is that RFID operations can be easily phased in with traditional RF and manual operations without significant disruption. This allows the investment and risks of new initiatives to be balanced with expected ROI and advances in the technology. Scan Free Phase The ultimate goal for RFID technology is to transform supply chain operations. Often this is defined as replacing current RF processes with more efficient scan free processes and eliminating many manual tasks. However, the real value will come from fundamentally changing the way warehouses and distribution centers receive, store, move and ship product. What RFID has the potential to do is remove the human element from locating, tracking, recording and transmitting information about
  7. 7. objects in the warehouse. Those objects could be pallets, cases or individual items, but could also be forklifts, pallet jacks, rack locations or other equipment. Technology issues Currently tags are not created based upon a single standard. Air interface protocol used between the reader and the tag is not a single standard.. Protocol between the reader and the host server is not a single standard and in fact is proprietary. The middleware is not based upon a single standard. The Wal-Mart desired direction Class1Version2 tag will probably require hardware change to what is available today(specifically readers). Summary Although the potential benefits of RFID could be significant, there are substantial technical, financial and psychological challenges that must be addressed before the promise of RFID can be fully realized. This will take time as well as being proactive especially towards consumer acceptability. As a result, companies should neither believe all of the current hype in the marketplace, nor rush to implement applications before the technology and financial justification have been proven. However, neither can companies afford to wait until all risks have been eliminated before joining this supply chain revolution. Those who begin now with prudent investments will gain competitive advantage over those who hold back. The CPG companies are initially going to bear a significant cost to continue to do business. The large retailers are going to be in a better position to get a ROI because they do not have to invest in the technology to generate the tags nor the actual cost of the tags. Rod Harrison works at Cornerstone Solutions. He can be reached at 260-496-8259. Recent articles: Defense Department Scales Down RFID Plan http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/cmp/20031209/tc_cmp/166001 85 Defense Dept. working to resolve RFID standards issue http://www.computerworld.com/softwaretopics/erp/story/0,10801,87808,00.html Wal-Mart to begin phased RFID tag rollout next year http://www.computing.co.uk/News/1148506.html Wal-Mart's RFID Deadline: A Chunky Mess http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,4149,1414163,00.asp AmEx Expands RFID Payment Trial
  8. 8. http://www.rfidjournal.com/article/articleview/505/1/1/.html Military's RFID Alternative: IPv6 http://www.rfidjournal.com/article/view/609.html RFID is big but nobody understands the costs http://www.usingrfid.com/news/read.asp?lc=k19752px58zu.html