Choosing the right RFID technology for smarter cards and tags

Choosing the right RFID technology for smarter cards and tags
The applications for radio-frequency identification (RFID) are diverse and many. Not only that, they are used in many everyday applications from work badges to parking permits to driver licenses.

“In today’s world the RFID technology has become a sort of bridge between the physical world of objects and the digital world,” said Ralf Schulze, Head of Industry Solution Group Manufacturing for EMEA at Zebra Technologies.

“Whilst RFID in the past has been focusing a lot around identification of these objects, the present world is experiencing a lot more functionality coming from RFID technology.”

In 2015, the total RFID market was worth US$10.1 billion, up from $9.5 billion in 2014, according to research from IDTechEx. This includes tags, readers and software/services for RFID cards, labels , fobs and all other form factors, for both passive and active RFID. The market is forecast to reach $13.2 billion in 2020.

A large consumer of RFID has been the retail industry. In the retail sector alone, sales of RFID readers, tags and software are expected to grow from $738 million in 2014 to $5.4 billion in 2020, at a CAGR of 38.9 percent, according to a 2015 report by Frost and Sullivan.

Choosing the right RFID card/tag
Whether it be a card or tag, RFID is used in many different verticals in a variety of ways. Depending on how it is being used, there are various factors that need to be considered in order to choose the correct form of RFID for the application’s needs. “Selecting an RFID tag for an application is a complex procedure and requires a thorough understanding of how tags and interrogators work as well as an understanding of the business processes within the organization performed on the objects to be tagged,” said Eva Zeisel, Director of Marketing and Online Sales at RFID4U. “It is also important to know the tag and interrogator specifications and their impact on tag performance. Some of the most important factors considered during tag selection are tag type, operating frequency, materials to be tagged, tag mounting method, read range, read rate, tag size, environmental conditions, cost and mandated requirements.”

Materials and design matter
Choosing the right material for an RFID card or tag is a critical part of ensuring proper operation. Material durability is one factor to consider. Specifically for proximity cards, Scott Lindley, President of Farpointe Data, noted most proximity manufacturers provide one of three types of cards: standard light, image technology and multi-tech cards. “The standard light proximity card is a clamshell design, meaning that there are two connected sides sealed together to hold the electronics. An image technology card is a slightly thicker card appropriate for dye sublimation printing. Lastly, the multi-tech card is a proximity card the same size as a credit card that can or not have a magnetic stripe on it. It is commonly referred to as an ISO standard size,” he explained.

The environment in which the tag or card will be used will also play a part in selecting the type of materials to be used. “The environmental conditions that the tag may encounter during its lifetime are major considerations in tag selection,” Zeisel said. “A tag embedded within the product may encounter high temperatures and pressures during product manufacturing, and it must be able to survive those conditions. RFID cards issued to personnel may be sat on, washed, left in a blazing hot car or be exposed to any other possible element.” As such, Zeisel pointed out the importance of evaluating environmental conditions within the facility where the tag is used as well as in any environment the tag will travel through during its entire lifetime. “You may need to use ruggedized encapsulated tags that are protected from environmental exposures,” she said.

Choosing the frequency
The selection of frequency depends on many factors, including read range requirements, material to be tagged and data rate. “Applications such as access control and payment systems usually require a very small read range. In these types of applications, reading tags beyond a few inches create a security risk, and therefore the read range must not extend beyond a few inches,” Zeisel said. In cases such as this, tags with shorter read ranges — low frequency (125 kHz) and high frequency (13.56 MHz) tags — with shorter read ranges are best suited.

There are several other frequency bands that RFID runs on, each of which are ideal for certain applications. Table 1 provides a brief overview of the different RFID frequency bands and their applications.
 
Regardless of what it’s being used for, the use of RFID to track, tag or identify starts with finding what type of RFID works best for the application.


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