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Choosing an RFID Integrator

As the RFID industry matures beyond the hype and into an integral part of business processes, CIOs and IT professionals are increasingly looking to third-party integrators to design and implement RFID applications for their companies.
Oct 06, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

October 6, 2008—As the RFID industry matures beyond the hype and into an integral part of business processes, CIOs and IT professionals are increasingly looking to third-party integrators to design and implement RFID applications for their companies.

Depending upon their area of focus, each integrator may have similar core capabilities ranging from software design to physical infrastructure experience. One area of capabilities often overlooked is radio frequency expertise, the "RF" in "RFID". The field of RFID encompasses electromagnetic propagation, antenna design, RF reflectivity, interference, and several other phenomena that affect how the technology operates at its most basic level. Not all integrators have the necessary RF engineering background to successfully solve the most difficult implementation problems. A proven record of successful integrations is an important factor in evaluating any integrator.

Even in straightforward applications, making RFID work is not a simple task. Reading a single tag on a slow moving cardboard box is more easily achieved with currently available RFID technology, and in these types of systems most integrators have the expertise to deploy the basic RFID components successfully. There is enough margin of error in the system that the small gains to be had by optimizing the low level RF parameters are not always necessary for the application to work. The necessary understanding required to integrate the captured information in to the system, allowing the information to be leveraged to make business decisions, is a more difficult task and requires a higher level of expertise.

For applications where very high performance is required, these fundamental RFID parameters start to come into play. Tracking items moving at very high speed, tags placed on non-RF friendly materials, very large numbers of tags in the field at once, or many tags in close proximity, all pose challenges for the current state of RFID technology. Some real-world examples of these applications include reading passive tags on cars at highway speeds for tolling, item level tracking of pharmaceuticals, and reading tags in an RF unfriendly environment. In these types of applications, knowledge of RF behavior and operation at the physics level becomes essential to maximize system performance. Without the fundamental knowledge of how RFID works, the system may come close to the accuracy and efficiency required, but no amount of macro-level software or equipment infrastructure work will push the performance to the highest levels, and the integrator can end up in a trial-and-error loop trying to hit the target, wasting time and money for themselves and their customer. A logical and engineered approach to these difficult problems will result in a successful and efficient solution.

When evaluating and planning an RFID integration project, it is important to consider the full range of experience and the background of the integrator. For easy applications, many integrators will be able to deliver a successful solution. When the application is difficult, or the required performance levels push the limits of the technology, it is key that the integrator chosen has the RF engineering knowledge required to ensure success and maximize the return for the business. The cost of using a more experienced integrator may have a higher initial investment, but overall will present a lower total cost of ownership, and costs will be more quickly recovered once the full benefit of a successful RFID implementation is factored into the business.

As a leader in RF reader, software and tag design, Sirit is intimately familiar with the RF engineering requirements for a successful RFID implementation, and works closely with our integration partners to ensure they are ultimately equipped to provide the best hardware, tags and integration services available.
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