Group 13

RFID technology, an acronym for Radio-Frequency Identification Device, refers to a set of solutions based on hardware and software components that enable the instant, automatic and massive collection and exchange of information

With RFID technology, a company can digitally identify a product, accurately track it at every stage of its supply chain, and read or write data on it instantly and in any quantity. The system’s hardware collects the data and location of products throughout their lifecycle, allowing the software to give administrators a complete real-time view of the production or distribution progress of thousands of products or components simultaneously, greatly facilitating their work. This ability to process thousands of products in a few seconds comes in handy in countless cases, just think of the loading and unloading of a warehouse with the possibility of automatically taking an inventory of all goods in the blink of an eye. This is an automatic information identification and storage system capable of responding to remote interrogation.

In fact, this type of technology allows the creation of an automatic (hand free) detection network of information on people, objects and animals both static and in motion, facilitating the data chain upstream.

In this way, RFID devices act as an effective bridge between the physical and digital worlds, making data collection and analysis processes much more efficient.

With the increasing complexity of the data supply chain, linked to the massive presence of IT systems for data management, and the need to speed up and automate this process, RFID technology is at the heart of the new industrial revolution, Industry 4.0.

What is RFID technology?

But let’s take a look at the history of this technology:. Introduced as early as the years of the Second World War, the civil application of RFID technology did not see significant evolution until later, with the first useful patents dating back to the early 1980s.

As mentioned above, RFID refers to a radio-frequency identification system. This system is basically based on two essential components: the RFID tag and the RFID reader, also called interrogator or RFID reader.

Thanks to these two components, data transmission between objects, animals or persons equipped with an RFID tag and RFID readers occurs instantaneously, relying on the transmission speed of electro-magnetic waves.

The capacity for instantaneous data transmission greatly facilitates not only the logistics of data management, but also security.

It was precisely this insight that led RFID technology to be patented in the civil sector for the first time in the 1960s. It was only with the creation of the necessary infrastructure to enable its more widespread application, however, that it was able to see more widespread use.

The spread and expansion of digital infrastructures that have enabled global access to the Internet have eventually made RFID technology necessary in more areas of both the production and distribution chain.

Today, it is widely used by companies all over the world: almost 40 years after the 1983 patent, RFID devices have reached such a degree of simplicity, efficiency and dissemination that they are accessible in large numbers to any company in any sector

How does an RFID reader work?

The modern RFID system consists of two main elements: the RFID tag or transponder and the RFID controller or reader, equipped with an antenna.

The tag comprises a chip containing the data, equipped with a radio transceiver. This, excited by a fixed or portable external medium, emits radio waves communicating the information on the chip. This transmission, in turn, can be adjusted to occur at variable frequencies, so that it can be more or less easily read under different conditions.

The frequency of data transmission determines how effectively the RFID reader can be read at different distances. The power of the RFID reader, connected to the capacity of its antenna that picks up the radio signals emitted by the tag, determine the reading range of each device.

The operation of the reader is otherwise simple. It consists of an auto id protocol, which allows the automatic reading of information, automatically and immediately identifying the characteristics and data of the product to which the tag is connected.

Moreover, the RFID controller, after reading the tag via the auto id system, proceeds to communicate the same to high-level systems (Middleware or ERP). This type of communication is guaranteed by the antenna connected to the controller and constitutes one of the main advantages of RFID technology combined with computerised data analysis systems.

In fact, in this way, the data detected by the reading can be immediately communicated and stored in a cloud, so that they can be accessed by other programmes and greatly extend the data control system.

The self-identification system (auto id) of RFID devices has become the cornerstone of every modern inventory and logistics function by companies in various sectors. Warehouse products can be instantly catalogued, monitored and inventoried thanks to the reading provided by RFID devices

Differences between active and passive RFID

One of the main differences to take into account when selecting an RFID system is the type of tag or label to be used.

Depending on the fields of application, it may prove more useful to select active or passive RFID tags. How do they differ?

In the case of an active RFID system, the tag has a power supply system and may also include several antennas, so that its signal is spread at different frequencies. Active RFID systems that also contain several sensors within the tag for more detailed and in-depth data collection are not at all uncommon.

This type of system is usually employed when longer transmission distances are needed.

The passive RFID system, on the other hand, is equipped with a more basic tag, which has no power supply and consists only of a microchip supported by a material that acts as a substrate.

As the reader passes over, the emitted waves activate the microchip, which in turn responds by emitting a signal containing all the information stored on the chip.

In this case, the power supply system is superfluous since it is the same waves emitted by the reader that activate the microchip and its response is, in fact, passive.

Modern systems also allow the data in the tag to be rewritten by special readers, making the passive RFID system much more flexible

RFID tags and labels: the anti-shoplifting function

One of the most widespread and common applications of RFID systems, both active and passive, is anti-shoplifting.

Both shops and certain types of products are in fact equipped with RFID systems to control the unauthorised transit of objects. Through the insertion of RFID tags and labels containing chips, in fact, it is possible to monitor the possible illegitimate movement of goods should they leave authorised areas.

This is possible by monitoring their movements thanks to gates placed near entrances and exits. These gates include reading antennas, suitable for detecting both active and passive tags.

First created by EAS (Electronic Article Surveillance), RFID anti-theft devices are now globally deployed and used

Differences between Barcodes and RFID

Are RFID and barcode technology (known as BARCODE) two competing systems for reading and storing product data? Not necessarily.

As always, the choice of technology is made on the basis of many factors. While RFID tags and labels have obvious advantages in terms of speed, data that can be stored and the amount of products that can be scanned at the same time, classic BARCODEs are often preferred in the distribution of perishable or low-priced items (especially foodstuffs) since BARCODEs have almost no cost and do not impact on the price of the goods.

The two technologies therefore, in a professionally designed system with advanced software, can coexist and be perfectly integrated; in fact, the most modern components capable of reading or printing RFID labels can also handle the more traditional BARCODE.

What are the main differences and why choose one over the other?

Well, BARCODEs represent a less advanced system than RFIDs. BARCODEs, in fact, only allow the storage of a small amount of data and can only be read if properly exposed to the reader.

BARCODE readers also only have the capacity to read one code at a time, making the inventory process considerably slower.

In addition to this, it must be kept in mind that if the barcode were to be altered in any way (damage to the media or alteration of the integrity of the bars), reading would be effectively impossible.

On the contrary, the RFID system allows the reading of thousands of codes simultaneously: the reader, in fact, does not have to get the information from reading the bars but from receiving radio signals at preset frequencies. This makes inventory operations much more immediate.

In some cases, as mentioned above, it is even possible to rewrite the information on the chip.

This is, of course, reflected in costs. RFID systems, in fact, rely on electronic devices and are more expensive than BARCODE.

There are numerous cases where the two systems have co-existed with great success for companies, exploiting the best of both technologies.

RFID software: process monitoring goes smart

Relying on radio transmission systems and the possibility of storing the data thus collected directly on the cloud, RFID systems are software-compatible. This means that data management and analysis can be carried out almost instantaneously and the logistical, inventory and production information required for active, fast and efficient management can be obtained in real time.

RFID software also makes it possible to closely monitor each production progress in case it should be geo-localised differently, so as to manage the entire supply chain accordingly.

This software has now reached a stage where it is available in both mobile and PC versions, making it possible to follow the company’s logistics chain at any time and facilitating the location of the various departments.

Dependent solely on access to the Internet, RFID software enables the management of the various stages of production management even with smar-working, thus accommodating the different needs and availability of personnel and making employee location costs unnecessary.

This particular feature of RFID software has made it one of the focal points of Industry 4.0 and an indispensable tool for all modern companies, enabling them to cope with the different situations employees may be subject to and, above all, to distribute work on a larger scale.

Benefits of RFID in Supply Chain and Logistics

The main advantages of RFID technology depend entirely on the flexibility of reading microchips.

The possibility of setting different wave transmission frequencies, in fact, allows reading even at considerable distances of multiple tags. As a result, it is no longer necessary to deal with inventory sessions made particularly long by the need to scan codes one by one.

RFID tags can transmit signals simultaneously, and RFID readers are capable of capturing up to thousands at a time, instantly transmitting their data to connected software.

This allows entire containers to be inventoried in a matter of moments and significantly reduces supply chain time.

Furthermore, this frees up the work of in-person inventory, allowing for greater security in all those contaminated or dirty environments. If well protected, the chips that make up the RFID tag can also withstand chemical or environmental agents, allowing safe reading even after prolonged exposure and resulting in greater reliability than BAR CODE, which, as mentioned above, depends on the resistance of the substrate.

Last but not least, the ability of software to immediately receive data on thousands of objects allows for almost instantaneous warehouse and supply chain logistics management, making services overall more competitive and effective

RFID and ROI: What relationship?

The relationship between RFID systems and ROI (Return on Investment) depends on a complex mix of factors.

As a matter of fact, companies rely on RFID technology for a variety of reasons that generally depend on the different sector they are in. Statistically, however, the main reasons include:

– Inventory loss prevention (56 per cent); – Replenishment from stock (53 per cent); – Retail sales monitoring of retailers (52 per cent); – Verification of the supply chain (44 per cent); – Monitoring the transport of goods from source to retailer (35 per cent); – Sales performance and relationships with retailers (32 per cent);

These motivations have led most companies to adopt RFID systems for their goods.

The ROI on this type of investment derives specifically from the ability to fit it effectively into the current business management model according to the specific needs and underlying motivations.

The main business departments that saw a higher ROI on the investment in RFID systems were:

– Inventory loss prevention (especially for valuable goods); – Supply Line effectiveness (lowering the famous Error Prone Process due to intense and prolonged work situations); – Sales increase and OSS (Out Source Sale) abatement;

The adoption of software suitable for the targeted analysis of data from RFID systems helps to verticalise the data received towards greater efficiency in these sectors of the production and logistics supply chain, so as to guarantee a significant ROI on radio-transmitted product self-identification systems.

What are the costs of RFID technology?

RFID technology in Italy is part of an extremely particular context. The Boot of Europe, in fact, is characterised by a large number of small and medium-sized companies, sufficiently high labour costs and a general lack of liquidity.

Within these frameworks, RFID technology is an indispensable element in fostering continuous development regardless of social labour conditions and laws.

In fact, as mentioned above, this type of technology is elsewhere applied especially for the abatement of the Error Prone Process, i.e. errors related to intense or prolonged working conditions.

In this way, it is possible to significantly reduce costs related to inventory and warehouse management tasks, making the supply chain more efficient and having more funds to devote to other things.

The cost of RFID technology, in fact, consists mainly of two elements, a fixed and a periodic one.

The fixed component is also the one with the highest cost. It consists of all the machinery required to install RFID tags on products, read them and write the product information onto the chips.

This type of expense varies, of course, depending on the situation and the company’s needs, so an estimate is a must.

Periodic costs, on the other hand, concern the labels to be purchased from time to time according to one’s production rhythm.

In any case, the payback time of the investment also varies according to the sector, which is why it is necessary to rely on specialised consultancy to obtain ad hoc forecasts.

Examples of practical applications of RFID

Below are some practical examples of the application of RFID technology to various production and service sectors, so as to make the benefits and real function of this goods control system clearer:

RFID and IOT : The application of RFID technology in the Internet of Things (IoT) sector is mainly focused on 4 products, although experiments are still ongoing and there is no doubt that the uses of this system could be extended in the future.In particular, RFID systems are at the heart of:
– Electronic passports (in Italy, identification documents issued by the Questura have an integrated RFID chip of the ISO 14443 type);
– Payments (the NFC protocol relies on special RFID chips);
– Ticketing (RFID microchips are embedded in most event tickets or plastic passes for services and transport);
– Road tolling (the Telepass system is the most glaring example of the application of RFID tags to this sector);
RFID applications to logistics: As far as logistics is concerned, the main applications of RFID relate to:- Unique identification of items
– Logistics gates, for the immediate control of stocks of goods passing through the gate;
– Automated warehouse management
– Automated inventory
RFID applications to logistics: In the field of retail, the application of RFID technology consists of numerous examples that vary profoundly according to the specific needs of the retailer and the sector it serves:- Supply chain tracking
– Automatic article identification
– Shipment/reshipment management
– Data collection for one-to-one marketing activities
– Automatic inventory
– Automatic checkout
– Anti-theftIn addition to this, RFID anti-shoplifting tags prevent theft and illicit inventory loss, providing greater security for the retailer and optimising relationships with suppliers.
RFID applications in industry: Within the industrial sector, RFID technology is extremely useful for:- Asset, device, tool and equipment management
– Warehouse management
– Maintenance management;
– Production progress analysisInternal movement management;

Conclusions on RFID technology

In conclusion, RFID technology enables a greater and more efficient management of the entire company division, significantly lowering logistics and control costs and allowing the entire production and supply chain process to be managed remotely.

In this way, it succeeds in guaranteeing those indispensable requirements of flexibility, efficiency and resource savings that are essential for modern companies that are preparing to face the digital transformation in view of the advent of Industry 4.0.