RFID tags have developed quickly throughout the 2000s. Currently, optimal solutions in terms of reading distance, data transmitted and scalability can be tailored to the needs of both industry and retail.
The global market for Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology is estimated to reach USD 40.5 billion by 2025, driven by new opportunities in the retail and healthcare sectors.
Intelligent operations enabled by RFID, such as deliveries at the exact right time and automatic stock monitoring, are already commonplace. In the last two decades, RFID applications have spread to several industries such as retail, transport, medical, livestock, air cargo, access control, agriculture, and defence.
As the world moves toward Real Time Location Systems (RTLS), sensor networks, and the Internet of Things (IoT), radio frequency identification devices are anticipated to play an increasingly important role in capitalising on these technologies.
‘Industry 4.0 is already becoming reality on a large scale. Industry is making a beeline for IoT solutions with intelligent production processes and the connected packages megatrend. Another area going through major changes is retail, where New Retail is revolutionising the entire competitive field of retail’, says Lauri Huhtasalo, who is in charge of RFID Hardware development in the Stora Enso intelligent packaging unit.
RFID systems are composed of three major components: tags, readers, and middleware. The tags form the largest part of the RFID market. While the deployment of passive tags is the largest area, active tags are also gaining momentum as numerous new applications have sprung up in recent years and tag size has continually been reducing.
RFID tags can be grouped into three categories based on the range of frequencies they use to communicate data: low frequency (LF), high frequency (HF) and ultra-high frequency (UHF). Generally speaking, the lower the frequency of the RFID system, the shorter the read range and slower the data read rate. In addition, to read range, they differ in the number of tags read at a time.
There are two other classifications of tags, depending on how the tag communicates with the reader: passive or active.
RFID tags are divided into passive and active based on whether they have their own power source or not. If the tag requires sensors in addition to product IDs, it must be active, which requires a battery.
A third, a hybrid type of RFID tag has also emerged. Battery-Assisted Passive systems, or semi-passive RFID systems, incorporate a power source into a passive tag configuration. Unlike active RFID transponders, BAP tags do not have their own transmitters.
Utilising RFID technology is facilitated by the fact that its standards are global, which means that tags can be read anywhere. Another great advantage of RFID is the automation of reading. Data can be read even if the tag is not visible. A large package may contain hundreds of tags, and the reader will read all of the data in a matter of seconds.
A critical prerequisite for the usability of any RFID system is reading reliability and faultless data transfer. The reading may also incorporate transactions between companies and consumers, which places further demands on data security, for example. When product lead-through is fast and the products sold are affordable, the system must also be affordable in terms of cost per unit.
The inherent value of RFID lies in enabling ‘things’ to report data in real time for faster, quicker, more interactive decisions both at the industrial level and at the consumer level.
New intelligent solutions are being created at an increasing rate, and only the sky is the limit. Tags could, for example, guide construction companies in assembling a house using prefabricated timber or elements. Tags can also be channeled to support various smart home solutions. Sensors could read moisture levels below the floor, for example, without the need to disassemble structures. Whereas reading electricity meters remotely in real time is already happening.
‘Online retail keeps offering new applications. Clothes retail, for example, involves a high rate of returns that could be gotten back on the racks quickly using tags. In terms of seasonal products, speed is key’, Huhtasalo says.
Huhtasalo says reliability, performance and competitive price are the factors that affect the choice of solution. ‘Costs have been going down for a while, which means that customers need to compromise less in terms of solution efficiency. We are also constantly looking for more eco-friendly solutions.’