Frequently Asked Questions

EPCglobal and Auto-ID Labs

  • What is EPCglobal
    EPCglobal is a not-for-profit joint venture set up by the Uniform Code Council, which licensed the EPC technologies developed by the Auto-ID Center, and EAN International, the bar code standards body in Europe. EPCglobal is an umbrella organization overseeing local chapters that will work with companies to encourage the adoption of EPC technologies. EPCglobal will issue EPCs to companies that subscribe to its service.
  • What is the difference between EPCglobal and EPCglobal US?
    EPCglobal is an umbrella organization that oversees local EPCglobal chapters. EPCglobal US is the chapter that will issue EPCs in the United States. It is a subsidiary of the Uniform Code Council. Other chapters of EPCglobal have been set up around the world.
  • What is the Auto-ID Center?
    The Auto-ID Center was set up in 1999 as a not-for-profit consortium to develop a system for using the Internet to identify goods anywhere in the world, using something called the Electronic Product Code (EPC). It was originally supported by the Uniform Code Council, EAN International, Procter & Gamble and Gillette, and was based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. Over time, it received funding form large read more
  • What are the Auto-ID Labs?
    The Auto-ID Labs are nonprofit research labs, headquartered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that do primary research into the development of EPC and related technologies. The labs were part of the Auto-ID Center. The name was changed when the Auto-ID Center ceased to exist after October 2003.
  • What type of research are the Auto-ID Labs doing?
    The Auto-ID Labs are focused both on the development of the EPC network technology and applications for the technology. Work is being done to develop standards for sharing data. The labs have also set up special interest groups to research ways of embedding tags in packaging and solving problems reading tags on certain types of products, and to develop standards for using EPC and other technologies to reduce counterfeiting of read more
  • Is EPC technology just for use on consumer products goods?
    The original vision was for EPC technology to be used on all types of products, not just consumer products. Having a single numbering scheme would make it easier to track goods not just within an industry but across industries as well. Goodyear, for instance, sells tires to automakers and to Wal-Mart, and it would be better to use one numbering scheme to track all their tires. But many industries have read more
  • What is EPCglobal?
    EPCglobal is a not-for-profit joint venture set up by the Uniform Code Council, which licensed the EPC technologies developed by the Auto-ID Center, and EAN International, the bar code standards body in Europe. EPCglobal is an umbrella organization overseeing local chapters that will work with companies to encourage the adoption of EPC technologies. EPCglobal will issue EPCs to companies that subscribe to its service.

General RFID Information

  • What is automatic identification?
    Automatic identification, or auto ID for short, is the broad term given to a host of technologies that are used to help machines identify objects. Auto identification is often coupled with automatic data capture. That is, companies want to identify items, capture information about them and somehow get the data into a computer without having employees type it in. The aim of most auto-ID systems is to increase efficiency, reduce read more
  • What is RFID?
    Radio frequency identification, or RFID, is a generic term for technologies that use radio waves to automatically identify people or objects. There are several methods of identification, but the most common is to store a serial number that identifies a person or object, and perhaps other information, on a microchip that is attached to an antenna (the chip and the antenna together are called an RFID transponder or an RFID read more
  • Is RFID better than using bar codes?
    RFID is not necessarily "better" than bar codes. The two are different technologies and have different applications, which sometimes overlap. The big difference between the two is bar codes are line-of-sight technology. That is, a scanner has to "see" the bar code to read it, which means people usually have to orient the bar code toward a scanner for it to be read. Radio frequency identification, by contrast, doesn't require read more
  • Will RFID replace bar codes?
    It's very unlikely. Bar codes are inexpensive and effective for certain tasks, but RFID and bar codes will coexist for many years.
  • Is RFID new?
    RFID is a proven technology that's been around since at least the 1970s. Up to now, it's been too expensive and too limited to be practical for many commercial applications. But if tags can be made cheaply enough, they can solve many of the problems associated with bar codes. Radio waves travel through most non-metallic materials, so they can be embedded in packaging or encased in protective plastic for weatherproofing read more
  • If RFID has been around so long and is so great, why aren’t all companies using it?
    All technologies take time to reach a level of maturity at which standards exist, uses of the technology and its benefits are well understood, systems do what users need them to do and early adopters prove the solutions work. Bar codes were invented in the 1950s. The first bar code was scanned in a store in 1974, and it took almost a decade more for the technology to be widely read more
  • What have the initial benefits of RFID technology been?
    RFID technology can deliver benefits in many areas, from tracking work in process to speeding up throughput in a warehouse. Visit RFID Journal's Case Studies section to see how companies are using the technology's potential in manufacturing and other areas. As the technology becomes standardized, it will be used more and more to track goods in the supply chain. The aim is to reduce administrative error, labor costs associated with read more
  • What has prevented RFID from taking off until now?
    There are well-developed standards for low- and high-frequency RFID systems, and these technologies are widely used. For instance, LF tags are used to track livestock around the world. HF is used in access control systems for buildings, ticketing applications, and automobile immobilizers. UHF is relatively new. The first UHF products didn’t reach the market until 2003, and the first ISO standard was not introduced for UHF until 2005. Another issue read more
  • In what ways are companies using RFID today?
    Thousands of companies around the world use RFID today to improve internal efficiencies. Club Car, a maker of golf carts uses RFID to improve efficiency on its production line (subscribers, see Golf Car Maker Scores with RFID). Paramount Farms—one of the world's largest suppliers of pistachios—uses RFID to manage its harvest more efficiently (see Farm Harvests RFID's Benefits). NYK Logistics uses RFID to improve the throughput of containers at its read more
  • What are some of the most common applications for RFID?
    RFID is used for everything from tracking cows and pets to triggering equipment down oil wells. It may sound trite, but the applications are limited only by people's imagination. The most common applications are payment systems (Mobil Speedpass and toll collection systems, for instance), access control and asset tracking. Increasingly, retail, apparel, aerospace, defense, manufacturing, consumer packaged goods and pharmaceutical companies are looking to use RFID to track goods within read more

Intellectual Property Issues

  • Who owns the intellectual property created by the Auto-ID Center?
    The Auto-ID Center was a unique partnership between industry and academia. Strictly speaking, the intellectual property belongs to the universities where the research is being conducted. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where the Auto-ID Center started, licensed the core EPC intellectual property to the Uniform Code Council on the condition that it be made available on a royalty free basis to any company that wants to use it.
  • Does EPCglobal charge fees for the use of EPC technology?
    EPCglobal charges membership fees. Members are issued Electronic Product Codes to use on their products. EPCglobal doesn't charge licensing fees to vendors that want to build RFID tags and readers based on the EPC standards.
  • Is EPC Gen 2 a royalty-free standard?
    EPCglobal says that it is a royalty-free standard because a vendor doesn't need to use technology patented by anyone to practice the standard. However, the standard is royalty free in only the most narrowest sense. Most experts say that today there is no practical way to build products based on the Gen 2 standard without infringing patents owned by Intermec Technologies, a vendor based in Everett, Wash. Intermec says it read more

Other RFID Issues

  • Are there any health risks associated with RFID and radio waves?
    Some have questioned whether electromagnetic fields (EMF) generated by power lines, mobile phones, WLANs, RFID readers and other wireless devices may be harmful to human health. The World Health Organization's research, as well as many other scientific studies, have shown that EMF exposure below the limits recommended in internationally adopted guidelines has not revealed any known negative health effects. To ensure a uniform benchmark for compliance, EPCglobal recommends adhering to read more
  • Will RFID lead to massive layoffs of workers?
    RFID technology is a laborsaving technology, so it's likely that some tasks will be automated through the use of RFID. Fewer workers will be needed to scan bar codes. But the transition from bar codes to RFID could take a decade or more, so it is unlikely that RFID will lead to wide-scale displacement of workers. The technology will likely create new jobs, just as Internet technologies creating new jobs, read more
  • How can RFID improve worker safety?
    RFID has the potential to improve worker safety by ensuring that only qualified people operate equipment or enter hazardous areas of a facility. Machinery can be set up so it will not operate if someone without training identifies themselves to a reader tied into to the equipment's ignition. An RFID access control system can set up to require workers to wave a badge to gain entry to areas of a read more
  • How can RFID improve promotional and marketing incentives?
    Companies such as Kimberly-Clark, Procter & Gamble and many others are using RFID to track the location of promotional displays in the supply chain and within RFID-enabled stores. By knowing that promotional displays are not where they need to be, these companies can proactively work with retailers to get displays out, thereby increasing sales. RFID also has the potential to improve in-store marketing by enabling retailers to advertise to shoppers read more

Privacy and Data Collection

  • Will governments be able to use RFID to spy on people?
    If companies choose to put RFID tags in clothes and items consumers carry around, such as wallets, and consumers choose not to kill the tags in these items, it might be possible for governments to use RFID tags for surveillance. But they would have to have access to the database of information related to the tags' EPCs, and it would be easy for individuals to avoid being tracked. RFID readers read more
  • In the future, is it possible that a criminal could scan the EPCs on watches, jewelry and other items to choose whom to rob?
    It's not clear whether RFID tags will ever be used on these items. Companies may simply use them in the packaging of these items. People who buy valuable items will also have the option to kill the tag in these items. But if a company did embed a tag in a watch and a consumer chose not to kill the tag, it would be possible to scan the RFID tag read more
  • What information is stored on RFID tags?
    The tags most companies are planning to use in the supply chain in the short term and in consumer packaging in the long term will contain only an Electronic Product Code. The EPC will be associated with data in online databases. Some information about the item might be accessible to anyone-such as what the product is-but other information, such as where it was made and when-will be accessible only to read more
  • Why are companies so keen to use RFID if it is not to gain more information on consumers?
    RFID could dramatically improve efficiency in the supply chain and reduce waste. If it can reduce the times products are not on the shelf when consumers want to buy they, it could also increase sales.
  • Are there laws governing the use of RFID?
    Many existing privacy laws cover the use of data collected by RFID systems, as well as bar codes and other systems. Some U.S. states have enacted or considered enacting new laws dealing with issues particular to RFID, such as the surreptitious scanning of tags by retailers or those with criminal intent. Washington introduced HB 1031 (the Electronic Bill of Rights), imposing rules on how companies could deploy RFID and retain read more
  • What kind of data do companies want to collect?
    Companies are interested in using RFID in the supply chain. The main goal is to use it to make sure they have products on the shelves when companies want to buy them. It's envisioned that "smart shelves"—shelves with RFID readers in them—will alert staff when inventory is running low. There is also hope that RFID can be used to reduce theft by alerting staff when there is unusual shelf activity—such read more
  • What is RFID Journal’s position on RFID and privacy?
    Our editorial position is that consumers should be notified when products contain RFID tags and when RFID readers are being used to read tags, such as in a retail store. We believe consumers should have the choice to buy goods without RFID tags or with tags that have been killed, and consumers should be notified about what data is being collected on them and how it should be used. We read more
  • Could a criminal build an illegal, high-powered reader and scan all the items in homes to choose which ones to rob?
    That's very unlikely. For a reader to read passive tags through the walls of a home from the street, the power output would have to be so high that the popcorn in the cupboard would start popping. In addition, the criminal would obtain only a string of serial numbers, which might have no meaning unless it were a truly sophisticated criminal with access to EPC databases. And looking in windows read more
  • Will RFID enable companies to keep track of what consumers buy?
    There are very few items with RFID tags in them today, so it is not clear exactly what information companies will collect. But it's likely that any information companies collect using RFID will be similar to what they glean today when consumers buy items using a credit card or a loyalty card. It's envisioned that the packaging of products will have an RFID tag that contains an Electronic Product Code-a read more
  • Can RFID tags be read from satellites?
    Passive RFID tags, the kind companies are talking about using one day on consumer products, can't be read from more than 20 feet or so. Active RFID tags, which use a battery to broadcast a signal and are used on cargo containers and other large assets, could be read from a satellite if there is little RF "noise" (ambient RF energy that causes interference) and the broadcasted signal is powerful read more
  • From how far away can a typical RFID tag be read?
    The distance from which a tag can be read is called its read range. Read range depends on a number of factors, including the frequency of the radio waves uses for tag-reader communication, the size of the tag antenna, the power output of the reader, and whether the tags have a battery to broadcast a signal or gather energy from a reader and merely reflect a weak signal back to read more

Questions About RFIDJournal.com

  • How Is RFID Journal organized?
    All news stories, features and case studies are posted on our homepage. RFID Journal articles are also organized and archived in two ways—by story type (news, Editor's Note, Expert View, feature, case study, how-to article, blog or best practices) and by subject (distribution/logistics, innovation, IT/infrastructure, manufacturing, labeling, retailing, security, supply chain and so forth). You can click on the various stoy types in the left-hand navigation bar to find all read more
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  • Where can I search for stories posted on RFID Journal?
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  • Does RFID Journal offer an RSS news feed?
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RFID in Consumer Products

  • Can RFID tags in consumer products be deactivated before the customer leaves the store?
    Yes. This is known as the "kill" command. The reader sends a code to the tag that turns the tag off permanently. When RFID systems are fully deployed in stores and most products have RFID tags in their packaging (this won't happen for at least 10 years), each checkout counter will likely have an RFID reader that can kill the tags. In the mean time, companies will likely place kiosks read more
  • How big are RFID transponders?
    RFID transponders range in size from the size of a grain of pepper to the size of a brick. The size depends on whether the tag uses a battery to broadcast a signal or simply reflects a signal back from the reader. The other factor is the size of the antenna. As the antenna gets smaller the read range decreases. Tags that are the size of a grain of pepper read more
  • Can tags be reactivated?
    EPCglobal, the nonprofit organization that is developing standards for the use of EPC technology, has stipulated that all EPC tags should have a feature that enables them to be rendered permanently inoperably by the kill command. This is to prevent anyone from reactivating a tag and using it to track a person without their knowledge. It's always possible that a design flaw is discovered which enables someone to reactivate a read more
  • Can RFID tags be hidden in consumer products?
    RFID tags can be read through non-metallic packaging so they can be embedded in products and product packaging. However, it's unlikely that companies would try to hide tags in their products, since these would be easy to discover. A consumer could use a reader to locate the tag.
  • Are there any consumer benefits to RFID? Or do all the benefits go to the companies that use it?
    There are many consumer benefits. Greater efficiency in the supply chain will reduce costs and improve efficiencies. Companies will pass some of these savings on to consumers to try to gain market share from less efficient competitors. RFID could be used by retailers to expedite returns and by manufacturers to manage warrantee claims and improve after-sales support of items such as computers and DVD players. RFID could also reduce the read more
  • Can RFID tags be sewn into clothing?
    Yes. A number of companies make RFID tags encased in protective plastic. These tags are designed for use in the laundry and uniform rental business. The tags used are typically 13.56 MHz tags, which have a read range of less than 3 feet (1 meter). Today, there is no way to embed a tag that is undetectable to the consumer into clothes. Companies that are testing RFID systems for tracking read more
  • Can RFID be embedded in money?
    It's possible but so far, no country has used RFID tags in this way. Hitachi, the Japanese high-technology company, has developed a very tiny RFID chip, called the mu-chip, designed to help governments prevent the counterfeiting of passports, securities and other documents. There have been reports that the European Union and Japan are considering embedding these chips in large bills, but officials of the EU Bank and the Bank of read more

RFID Journal's Digital Magazine

RFID Printer-Encoders

  • What is an RFID printer-encoder?
    Companies tagging goods to meet retailer mandates or improve internal processes need an RFID printer-encoder to create smart labels to affix to pallets, cases and possibly items. Smart labels, typically sold in rolls, are adhesive labels embedded with RFID tags, or transponders. The encoder electronically writes information—typically a unique ID, or Electronic Product Code (EPC)—to the RFID inlay, and the printer marks the label with a bar code and human-readable read more
  • What are some of the issues companies should consider before purchasing RFID printer-encoders and applicators?
    Performance capability can be measured by how well hardware executes against its advertised capacities. Operational capabilities can be measured based on an assessment of how well the device performs against defined business processes. This structured approach can help companies determine the ability of hardware to execute its intended function in a consistent and repeatable fashion, while allowing the firm to make better business decisions without relying on a specification sheet. read more
  • Is there much difference among RFID label printers in terms of features or functionality?
    In terms of features, most printers perform the same basic functions—namely, they print graphics and/or text, encode RFID inlays and perform verification. At that point, the printer's handling of dead and/or improperly encoded tags is what differentiates the field in terms of functionality (members, see The Smart Way to Print Smart Labels).
  • Can companies easily upgrade existing, non-RFID-enabled printers or applicators to print or apply RFID labels?
    Existing equipment would require extensive modification to integrate RFID functionality, so most vendors support only their newest printer and applicator models with an RFID option (members, see The Smart Way to Print Smart Labels).

RFID Readers

  • What is an agile reader?
    An agile reader is one that can read tags operating at different frequencies or using different methods of communication between the tags and readers.
  • What are intelligent and dumb readers?
    These terms are not precise, but many people use "intelligent reader" to describe one that has the ability not just to run different protocols, but also to filter data and even run applications. Essentially, it is a computer that communicates with the tags. A "dumb" reader, by contrast, is a simple device that might read only one type of tag using one frequency and one protocol. This type typically has read more
  • What is reader collision?
    One problem encountered with RFID systems—mainly longer range UHF systems—is that the signal from one reader can interfere with the signal from another where coverage overlaps. This is called reader collision. Readers can use shielding, but this complicates deployments and makes them more expensive. The EPC Gen 2 standard includes something called “dense reader” mode to avoid reader collision. See below.
  • What Is Dense Reader Mode?
    This is a mode of operation that prevents EPC Gen 2-compliant readers from interfering with one another when many are used in close proximity to one another. Readers hop between channels within a certain frequency spectrum (in the United States, they can hop between 902 MHz and 928 MHz) and may be required to listen for a signal before using a channel. If they "hear" another reader using that channel, read more
  • Can Class 1 and Class 0 readers be upgraded to read Gen 2 tags?
    In most cases, a reader that reads Class 1 or Class 0 tags, or both, can be upgraded to read EPC Gen 2 tags by changing the reader firmware. However, EPCglobal plans to certify three different levels of Gen 2-compliant readers. At the lowest level, readers will be certified to work only when there are no other readers within a 1 km radius. The next level will be for readers read more
  • Who are the leading RFID reader vendors?
    There are many different RFID reader makers. They may make smart readers or dumb readers. Some focus only on UHF. Others sell low-, high- and ultra-high frequency systems. RFID Journal has created a searchable database of RFID vendors around the world. Visit our online buyer's guide to locate the type of vendor you are looking for.

RFID Standards

  • What is the EPCIS standard?
    EPCIS (the Electronic Product Code Information Service) is a specification for a standard interface for accessing EPC-related information. Electronic Product Codes allow for unique serial numbers for each individual object, enabling companies to track them independently and collect real-time data about each, as well as store and act upon that information. EPCIS enables supply-chain partners to share and exchange information efficiently, providing a standard interface for trading partners. The result read more
  • Are there any standards for RFID?
    Yes. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has been making RFID standards for more than 20 years. ISO 15693 and ISO 14443 are well-established HF standards. The EPCglobal Gen 2 standard has been adopted as a global standard (ISO 18000-6C), and ISO 18000-7 is an international standard for active tags operating at 433 MHz.
  • Are EPC standards finalized?
    No. The standards development process is ongoing. The Auto-ID Center developed Class 1 and Class 0 specifications for EPC tags and handed these off to EPCglobal in September 2003. In June 2004, these two specifications completed EPCglobal's standardization process and became the first EPC standards. In Dec. 2004, EPCglobal's board approved a single second-generation standard that will eventually replace Class 1 and Class 2. In 2005, EPCglobal ratified the Application-Level read more
  • What is EPC Gen 2?
    Gen 2 is the shorthand name given to EPCglobal's second-generation EPC air-interface protocol (the laungage tags and readers use to communicate). It was designed to work internationally and has other enhancements, such as a dense reader mode of operation, which prevents readers from interfering with one another when many are used in close proximity to one another.
  • What is the foundation protocol?
    The term “foundation protocol” is sometimes used to describe the second-generation EPC air interface protocol, or UHF Gen 2. EPCglobal calls it the foundation protocol because Gen 2 is designed a way that higher-class tags will also talk to readers. These higher-class tags will have more memory, encryption capabilities, the ability to use a battery to broadcast a signal to a reader and the ability to communicate information from temperature read more
  • What’s the difference between ISO and EPC?
    The Electronic Product Code is a standard created by EPCglobal, designed as a global standard for use in many industries. In July 2006, the EPC Gen 2 protocol was approved and adopted by the International Standards Organization as the ISO 18000-6C standard. ISO has created many standards for RFID that deal with both the air-interface protocol and applications for RFID. EPC deals with more than just how tags and readers read more
  • What is ISO 18000-6?
    ISO 18000-6 is an international standard governing the way tags and readers communicate in the UHF spectrum. There are currently three versions: 18000-6A, 18000-6B and 18000-6C. Of these, 18000-6C is by far the most commonly used.
  • Why is EPC Gen 2 important?
    EPC Gen 2 was designed to work internationally and has other enhancements that are significant, but the real benefit of Gen 2 is that it works anywhere in the world and major manufacturers of chips and tags have lined up behind it.
  • What is the EPCglobal e-pedigree standard?
    The purpose of the EPCglobal e-pedigree standard is to provide the pharmaceutical industry with a common format that supply-chain partners can use to collect pedigree information, upon which providers of pedigree solutions can build their pedigree software offerings. While it addresses only electronic pedigrees (e-pedigrees), as opposed to paper-based ones, the standard does not specify RFID as the only technology that can automatically identify drugs products being shipped and received. read more
  • Why is EPCIS important?
    EPCIS provides a standard interface enabling companies in numerous industries to perform track and trace, diversion detection and product authentication. This offers a lower-cost alternative to multiple, partner-specific interfaces, without a need for customized implementation. Security is a core concept of the EPCIS, as trading partners maintain ownership of their own data, with each partner moving or sharing data on demand. EPCIS maps to existing enterprise applications easily, and trading read more

RFID Tags

  • How much information can an RFID tag store?
    It depends on the vendor, the application and type of tag, but typically a tag carries no more than 2 kilobytes (KB) of data—enough to store some basic information about the item it is on. Simple "license plate" tags contain only a 96-bit or 128-bit serial number. The simple tags are cheaper to manufacture and are more useful for applications where the tag will be disposed of with the product read more
  • What’s the difference between read-only and read-write RFID tags?
    Microchips in RFID tags can be read-write, read-only or “write once, read many” (WORM). With read-write chips, you can add information to the tag or write over existing information when the tag is within range of a reader. Read-write tags usually have a serial number that can't be written over. Additional blocks of data can be used to store additional information about the items the tag is attached to (these read more
  • What’s the difference between passive and active tags?
    Active RFID tags have a transmitter and their own power source (typically a battery). The power source is used to run the microchip's circuitry and to broadcast a signal to a reader (the way a cell phone transmits signals to a base station). Passive tags have no battery. Instead, they draw power from the reader, which sends out electromagnetic waves that induce a current in the tag's antenna. Semi-passive tags read more
  • What is the read range for a typical RFID tag?
    There really is no such thing as a "typical" RFID tag, and the read range depends on whether the tag is active or passive. Active tags broadcast a signal, so they have a much longer read range—300 feet or more—than passive tags. The read range of passive tags depends on many factors: the frequency of operation, the power of the reader, interference from other RF devices and so on. In read more
  • What is tag collision?
    Tag collision occurs when more than one transponder reflects back a signal at the same time, confusing the reader. Different air interface protocol standards (and different proprietary systems) use different techniques for having the tags respond to the reader one at a time. These involve using algorithms to "singulate" the tags. Since each tag can be read in milliseconds, it appears that all the tags are being read simultaneously.
  • What is energy harvesting?
    Most passive RFID tags simply reflect back waves from the reader. Energy harvesting is a technique in which energy from the reader is gathered by the tag, stored briefly and transmitted back to the reader.
  • What is a chipless RFID tag?
    "Chipless RFID" is a generic term for systems that use RF energy to communicate data but don't store a serial number in a silicon microchip in the transponder. Some chipless tags use plastic or conductive polymers instead of silicon-based microchips. Other chipless tags use materials that reflect back a portion of the radio waves beamed at them. A computer takes a snapshot of the waves beamed back and uses it read more
  • Who are the leading RFID tag vendors?
    There are many different RFID vendors with different areas of expertise. Some make active tags. Some make passive tags. Some focus only on UHF. Others sell low-, high- and ultra-high frequency systems. RFID Journal has created a searchable database of RFID vendors around the world. Visit RFID Connect to locate the type of vendor you are looking for.
  • I’ve heard that RFID doesn’t work around metal and water. Does that mean I can’t use it to track cans or liquid products?
    Low- and high-frequency tags work better on products with water and metal. In fact, there are applications in which low-frequency RFID tags are embedded in metal auto parts to track them. Radio waves bounce off metal and are absorbed by water at ultrahigh frequencies. That makes tracking metal products, or those with high water content, with passive UHF tags challenging. However, in recent years, companies have developed special UHF tags read more
  • What are micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS)?
    MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems, which are smaller than microscopic dust mites) have been used for several decades in everything from inkjet printers to accelerometers that deploy air bags in cars. A MEMS RFID tag contains micromechanical components that are expected to be rugged and easier to produce, and which could be attached directly to medical devices. Such a tag can withstand exposure to wide temperature ranges and gamma radiation (see MEMS read more
  • How is data stored on an RFID tag? What mechanisms are used to change data values on passive RFID tags?
    Data is typically stored in user memory on a tag. This is separate from the field for the unique serial number, which can be pre-programmed or assigned by a user. The air-interface protocol standards for passive HF and UHF tags (for example, the UHF EPC Gen 2 standard) define basic operations, including read-write, and which memory banks or blocks can be written to. Reader manufacturers often combine these low-level commands read more

RFID Technology

  • How does an RFID system work?
    An RFID system consists of a reader (sometimes called an interrogator) and a transponder (or tag), which usually has a microchip with an antenna attached to it. There are different types of RFID systems, but usually the reader sends out electromagnetic waves with a signal the tag is designed to respond to. Passive tags have no power source. They draw power from the field created by the reader and use read more
  • What is the difference between low-, high-, and ultra-high frequencies?
    Just as your radio tunes in to different frequencies to hear different channels, RFID tags and readers have to be tuned to the same frequency to communicate. RFID systems use many different frequencies, but generally the most common are low-frequency (around 125 KHz), high-frequency (13.56 MHz) and ultra-high-frequency or UHF (860-960 MHz). Microwave (2.45 GHz) is also used in some applications. Radio waves behave differently at different frequencies, so you read more
  • How do I know which frequency is right for my application?
    Different frequencies have different characteristics that make them more useful for different applications. For instance, low-frequency tags use less power and are better able to penetrate non-metallic substances. They are ideal for scanning objects with high-water content, such as fruit, but their read range is limited to less than three feet (1 meter). High-frequency tags work better on objects made of metal and can work around goods with high water read more
  • Do all countries use the same frequencies?
    No. Different countries have allotted different parts of the radio spectrum for RFID, so no single technology optimally satisfies all the requirements of existing and potential markets. The industry has worked diligently to standardize three main RF bands: low frequency (LF), 125 to 134 kHz; high frequency (HF), 13.56 MHz; and ultrahigh frequency (UHF), 860 to 960 MHz. Most countries have assigned the 125 or 134 kHz areas of the read more
  • I’ve heard RFID can be used with sensors. Is that true?
    Yes. Some companies are combining RFID tags with sensors that detect and record temperature, movement and even radiation. The technology can also be used in the health-care sector. For instance, Belgium's University Hospital of Ghent has implemented a system that detects when a patient is having cardiac distress, and sends caregivers an alert indicating the patient's location (subscribers, see Belgium Hospital Combines RFID, Sensors to Monitor Heart Patients.)

The Cost of RFID Equipment

  • Can I buy a 5-cent RFID tag?
    EPCglobal's goal is to drive adoption of RFID technology to the point where massive numbers of tags are made each year and the cost for silicon-based tags that can store a unique serial number drops to 5 cents per tag. Costs have fallen steadily over the past few years and will decline further as adoption ramps up.
  • How much does an RFID tag cost today?
    Most companies that sell RFID tags do not quote prices because pricing is based on volume, the amount of memory on the tag and the packaging of the tag (whether it’s encased in plastic or embedded in a label, for instance), whether the tag is active or passive and much more. Generally speaking, active tags are $25 and up. Active tags with special protective housing, extra-long battery life or sensors read more
  • How much do RFID readers cost today?
    It depends on the type of reader. Active readers are typically purchased as part of a complete system, with tags and mapping software to determine the tags location. Most UHF readers cost from $500 to $2,000, depending on the features in the device. Companies may also have to buy each antenna separately, along with cables. Antennae are about $200 and up. The price of UHF readers has been falling as read more
  • How much does a fully functional RFID system cost?
    The cost depends on the application, the size of the installation, the type of system and many other factors, so it is not possible to give a ballpark figure. In addition to tag and reader costs, companies might to purchase middleware to filter RFID data. They will likely need to hire a systems integrator and upgrade enterprise applications, such as warehouse management systems. They might also need to upgrade networks read more

The Electronic Product Code

  • What is the Electronic Product Code?
    The Electronic Product Code (EPC) was created by the Auto-ID Center as an eventual successor to the bar code. The aim was to create a low-cost method of tracking goods using RFID technology. The benefit of RFID is that it doesn't require line-of-site, which means goods can be scanned through packaging and without needing people to scan items. EPC tags were designed to identify each item manufactured, as opposed to read more
  • How does the EPC work?
    The EPC is a string of numbers and letters, consisting of a header and three sets of data partitions. The first partition identifies the manufacturer. The second identifies the product type (stock keeping unit) and the third is the serial number unique to the item. By separating the data into partitions, readers can search for items with a particular manufacturer's code or product code. Readers can also be programmed to read more
  • Why is EPC technology important?
    EPC technology could dramatically improve efficiencies within the supply chain. The vision is to create near-perfect supply chain visibility—the ability to track every item anywhere in the supply chain securely and in real time. RFID can dramatically reduce human error. Instead of typing information into a database or scanning the wrong bar code, goods will communicate directly with inventory systems. Readers installed in factories, distribution centers, and storerooms and on read more
  • Will there be just one type of EPC?
    No. The Auto-ID Center originally proposed EPCs of 64-, 96- and 128-bits. Eventually, there could be more. The 96-bit number is the one the center believed would be most common. It chose 96 bits as a compromise between the desire to ensure that all objects have a unique EPC and the need to keep the cost of the tag down (the less information on the microchip the cheaper the cost read more
  • What’s the EPC header for?
    The EPC header is used to indicate the format of the EPC code, (i.e. the length of field partitions), and was designed to make the system flexible. For instance, the header tells the reader whether the tag has a 64-bit or a 96-bit EPC. The header also makes it possible to divide the data partitions in different ways, so a manufacturer that makes large amounts of only a few products read more
  • How can a company track items using EPCs?
    Companies have to create a network of RFID readers. In a warehouse for example, there could be readers around the doors on a loading dock and on every bay. When a pallet of goods arrives, the reader on the dock door picks up its unique license plate. Computers look up what the product is in a database, where the ID of the tag is linked to a specific product, carton, read more
  • How do you know what item 1-2345-67890 is?
    The EPC by itself tells you no more about a product than a car's license plate tells you about a car. Computers need a way to associate the EPC with information stored elsewhere about the unique item. To help computer systems find and understand information about a product, EPCglobal created the Electronic Product Code Information Service (EPCIS), which uses Internet to allow companies to look up information associated with each read more
  • How do companies use the EPC data to become more efficient and more profitable?
    How companies use EPC data and the EPCIS will be up to them, just as it's up to them to decide how they want to use the Internet. But the EPCglobal has hosted committees of end users in specific industries to create the framework for what data will be collected and shared and what software codes will be associated with tag reads to provide context for the RFID data. For read more

The EPCglobal Network

  • How does a computer act on information about a product?
    The whole point of automatic identification is to take people out of the loop, to enable computers to gather information and act on it. For that to happen, computers must be able to not just identify a product, but also interpret some basic information about it. To make this possible, the Auto-ID Center started to develop a new computer language called the Physical Markup Language. PML is based on the read more
  • How do you avoid having all this data about individual products overload existing networks?
    The Auto-ID Center created software technology called Savants to manage and move information in a way that doesn't overload existing corporate and public networks. Savants use a distributed architecture, meaning the software runs on different computers distributed through an organization, rather than from one central computer. Savants are organized in a hierarchy and act as the nervous system of the new EPC network, managing the flow of information. At the read more
  • How do Savants work?
    The Auto-ID Center designed Savants to act as the nervous system of the network. Savants were designed to be different from most enterprise software in that it isn't one overarching application. Instead, Savants were designed as a distributed architecture and the software would be organized in a hierarchy to manage the flow of data. The vision was that there would be Savants running in stores, distribution centers, regional offices, factories, read more
  • Why were Savants needed?
    There are tasks that needed to be performed in order for the EPC network to work as envisioned by the Auto-ID Center. At the time, no middleware could handle these tasks. But companies have taken the concept and incorporated many of the tasks envisioned for Savants in their middleware products. Among the tasks are: • Data smoothing: Software at the edge of the network-those attached to readers-will smooth data. Not read more
  • What is the Object Name Service?
    The Object Name Service (ONS) is an automated networking service similar to the Domain Name Service (DNS) that points computers to sites on the World Wide Web. When an interrogator reads an RFID tag, the Electronic Product Code is passed to middleware, which, in turn, goes to an ONS on a local network or the Internet to find where information on the product is stored. ONS points the middleware to read more
  • Who will maintain the ONS?
    EPCglobal has awarded VeriSign a contract to maintain the root ONS directory. But the Object Name Service will handle many more requests than the Web's Domain Name Service. Therefore, companies will likely maintain ONS servers locally, which will store information for quick retrieval. So a manufacturer may store ONS data from its current suppliers on its own network, rather than pulling the information off the Web site every time a read more
  • What is Physical Markup Language?
    The Electronic Product Code identifies individual products, but all the useful information about the product would be written in a new, standard computer language called the Physical Markup Language (PML). PML is based on the widely accepted eXtensible Markup Language (XML). Because it's meant to be a universal standard for describing all physical objects, processes and environments, PML will be broad and will cover all industries. It will provide a read more
  • What types of data will be stored in the PML file?
    In addition to product information that doesn't change (such as material composition), PML will include data that changes constantly (dynamic data) and data that changes over time (temporal data). Dynamic data in a PML file might include the temperature of a shipment of fruit, or vibration levels from a machine. Temporal data changes discretely and intermittently throughout an object's life. One example is an object's location. By making all of read more
  • Where will all these PLM files be stored?
    PML files will be stored in online databases that will be part of something called the EPC Information Service (formerly called a PML server). The EPC Information Service is a distributed system of managing EPC data across many computers connected to the Internet. One element of the service is to manage who has access to different types of company data. So a company might provide full access to some business read more
  • Will my company have to replace our entire bar code infrastructure to take advantage of the Electronic Product Code?
    EPCglobal is promoting the Electronic Product Code as the next standard for identifying products. It is trying to create a migration path for companies to move from established standards for bar codes to the new EPC. To encourage this evolution, it has adopted the basic structures of the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN), an umbrella group under which virtually all existing bar codes fall. It is envisioned that companies will read more
  • What can the EPC network do that existing bar code systems can’t do?
    Bar codes are a line-of-sight technology. That is, a scanner has to "see" the bar code to read it. That means people usually have to orient the bar code towards a scanner for it to be read. Also, if a bar code label is ripped, soiled or falls off, there is no way to scan the item. Radio frequency identification, by contrast, doesn't require line of sight. RFID tags can read more

Vertical Industries

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