Can I RFID-Tag This?

By Mark Roberti

Radio frequency identification technology has advanced to the point at which you can now tag just about anything.


I speak about radio frequency identification at industry events worldwide, but no matter where I am, attendees ask me whether it’s possible to tag some type of item or product, usually one composed of metal. My response is that during the past five or six years, the RFID industry has developed a passive tag for just about anything you could wish to track—from an ant (see SK-Electronics Unveils Ant-Size RFID Tag) to a metal pipe buried underground (see Can RFID Be Used to Locate Buried Pipes?).

In this week’s featured article, “How to Attach UHF RFID Tags,” contributing writer Bob Violino explains the different types of attachment methods now available for passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags. The article covers tags that can be welded or bolted permanently to a metal object, sewn into a garment permanently and affixed via permanent adhesives, as well as others that can be hung off of, strapped onto or zip-tied to objects.

The good news, of course, is that regardless of what your asset is made out of or what its shape may be, there is probably a passive UHF tag already on the market that will work on that object. The bad news is that there is so much variety in tags and attachment methods these days that some knowledge and experience are required to choose the best tag for any challenging asset.

Violino notes the key issues to consider when choosing a tag, including the size of the asset to be tagged and the footprint available to receive that tag; the surface of the asset to be tagged, such as metal, plastic, cloth or living tissue; the duration of time that the asset needs to be tagged—either permanently or temporarily; and the conditions to which the tag will be exposed.

UHF tags, for example, must work on metal objects in the energy sector and survive high heat. In construction, tags often must survive repeated blows from other materials as they are being shipped. And laundry tags must be sewn into garments but survive repeated washings at high temperatures.

One reason the RFID industry will grow more quickly during the next five years than it has during the past five years is that tag providers have found innovative ways to address the needs of many types of companies and the wide variety of applications they want to deploy. So instead of having to work with an RFID firm to custom-develop a tag that can be welded to, say, an I-beam, a business can now just order tags that already exist and have been used in real-world deployments.

In fact, as I walk around the exhibit hall at our annual RFID Journal LIVE! conference and exhibition, I am frequently amazed at the array of tags available. I’m sure we’ll see some new form factors at LIVE! 2015, being held in San Diego, Calif., on Apr. 15-17. If you are having trouble keeping RFID tags on some of your assets—or if you think some items can’t be tagged—check out Violino’s article for some good advice on how to choose the proper tag for a particular asset. I also encourage you to visit the event—I’m sure you’ll find a tag there that meets your needs.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor’s Note archive or RFID Connect.