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How Can I Read Tags Through Burlap?

Posted By RFID Journal, 12.03.2014

What type of RFID tags and readers would you recommend for a setup in which tags are attached to goods packaged in hessian material? The tags must not be removable, and must be cost-effective while being able to be read from a distance of about 3 meters (9.8 feet).

—Name withheld


First, to achieve a read range of 3 meters, you would need to deploy passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags and readers. Which models you should use is a more complicated question. Let's start with the tags. Hessian, or burlap, is RF-friendly and should not cause any interference with tag performance. However, what's inside the packaging could cause problems. If you are tracking items with high water content, such as fruit, the water would absorb UHF energy and affect tag readability. If there are metal objects inside the hessian, the metal could detune the tags if it were to get too close to the tag antenna. You would need special tags in either of these scenarios, and testing would need to be performed to determine the best option.

If the material inside is RF-friendly, then just about any passive UHF tag would suffice. In that case, your tag choice would be based on the form factor and method of attachment, rather than on whether the tag worked in the presence of metal or water. There are a wide variety of tags that can be attached via zip ties, sewn into material and attached in other ways. You should gather samples to test under real-world conditions in your operation, and then choose the best option to fit your needs.

Most RFID readers currently on the market would be able to read tags from 3 meters away, provided that the tags were not extremely small. So your choices would depend on the nature of the read point. If you wanted to read the tags on sacks arriving at a warehouse, you would require a fixed portal reader. If you wanted to read them as they were being moved onto a forklift truck, you would need a mobile reader that could be attached to the truck. And if you wanted to interrogate them on shelving units, you would probably require a handheld reader.

There are many different reader companies to choose from, such as Zebra Technologies (which now owns Motorola's reader business), Impinj, Feig Electronics, Honeywell (which purchased Intermec), and CAEN RFID.

—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal

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