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How to Perform an RFID Site Survey

If you follow these five steps, you'll go a long way toward ensuring the success of your RFID deployment—and save money in the long run.
By Jennifer Zaino
Jun 18, 2007—A site survey is a critical element of any RFID project—particularly if you're ready for a large-scale rollout, but even if you're just preparing to test the technology in a limited pilot. Conducting an RFID site survey will enable you to stop interference problems among wireless technologies before they have a negative impact on your deployment. It can also help better plan your deployment steps.

By doing a site survey upfront, you can make sure you get things right the first time, and you'll wind up saving money in the long run. That can easily justify the cost of hiring a qualified expert to do the survey, which may range from less than $10,000 to as much as $25,000 per facility, depending on the size of the project. For government installations, which require secured personnel and documented procedures, costs will be higher.

ODIN Technologies has conducted more than 100 RFID projects to date. Clients include the U.S. Department of Defense, leading computer manufacturers, and global and mid-size product and pharmaceutical companies, and the company has developed a particular expertise in RF physics. Patrick J. Sweeney, president and CEO, explains how ODIN performs its site surveys.

"A site survey can be considered, basically, a form of insurance, or a couple of forms of insurance," says Sweeney. "The first is general liability insurance—that is, how to prevent bad things from happening. The second is errors and omissions insurance: What have I left out that may hurt our deployment, or slow it down, or cost more money?"

If you conduct an RFID test without first performing a site survey, you won't be clued into RF equipment that could interfere with the RFID system, or vice versa. For example, your tag read rates could be significantly lower than they should be, or your bar-code systems might be unable to transmit data to back-end applications.

ODIN provides a three-step site survey analysis for its clients: Full Faraday Cycle Analysis (general insurance), Path Loss Contour Mapping (errors and omissions) and infrastructure analysis. (Sweeney jokes that he doesn't have a good insurance analogy for this step.) "The initial phases are really dependent on having good knowledge of physics," he says, "and like any other project, you must measure twice and cut once to make sure you get it right."

Companies should plan their site surveys at the corporate level, so that the appropriate members of their RFID committee—which may include facilities, electrical, IT and RFID specialists—can weigh in on which other parties across the organization (such as individual plant managers) may need to be in the loop. Once that's all in order, the site survey can get underway.

Presented on the following pages is a step-by-step guide to conducting a site survey, as well as the potential "gotchas" at each level—and how to steer clear of them.
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