Radio frequency identification, popularly known as RFID is quite efficient as a technology when it comes to track and trace. Maybe that is the reason that it is now heavily in use in many business sectors including retail, healthcare, supply chain and logistics and manufacturing amongst many others. The technology is not new; however, it is finding new applications across businesses. RFID tags are now used in retail inventory management, warehouse management, asset tracking, jewelry tagging, animal and wildlife tracking and livestock management and that is not all. In office building it is used for visitor management and visitor movement tracking for security reasons, for time and attendance management and for keeping sensitive documents safe by labeling them with RFID tags.
And above mentioned applications of RFID are most probably the reasons driving RFID demand leading to an unprecedented growth in RFID market globally. According to a survey by Market Research Future (MRFR), the global RFID market is to grow at a CAGR (Compound Aggregate Growth Rate) of 13.20% during the forecast period 2022-2030. The RFID market is expected to reach the USD 40.71B mark by the end of year 2030 globally from 17B USD in 2022. The RFID tags market itself is projected to reach USD 9.5B in 2030 from 4.3B USD in 2023, pushed by high demand of UHF passive RFID tags (860MHz-960MHz) in retail and supply chain and manufacturing. The global economic growth and technological applications in manufacturing sector have also contributed to this rise in RFID demand over the years and will continue to do so.
Under these circumstances, RFID tag printing and encoding process becomes of prime importance and RFID businesses are offering RFID tags printing and encoding services as per clients’ requirements. So what exactly one can encode an RFID tag with or what data should be printed over an RFID tag?
These are questions that businesses ask when they try to customize RFID tag printing and encoding as per their requirements. So, let’s see what data can be printed on or encoded within an RFID tag.
What is RFID and RFID tags?
RFID is a wireless technology that is used to track and trace an object or individual accurately, over a short distance. It is a short range technology that is capable of identification and automatic data capture, without a clear line of sight, unlike barcodes that need a clear line of sight to communicate and function.
RFID tags are one important component of RFID technology amongst RFID readers, antennas (mostly integrated within the RFID tag), and software system. RFID tags are attached to objects/assets we need to identify and track and trace. Whenever this RFID tag is in the range of an RFID reader, it can communicate with the reader by sending RF signals, thus transmitting the encoded data to the RFID reader. The RFID reader in turn reads the data and displays it on a screen for the end users and stores it in a computer system for future use.
Businesses in retail and supply chain use this very process to identify articles and track their location within a compound. For long range tracking needs active RFID tags (Active UHF RFID tags) are used that can provide a range of up to 100-150m and it can be used with other technologies like UWB (Ultra Wide Band) to provide real-time location service (RTLS).
How RFID printing and encoding is done?
The process of RFID tags printing and encoding is done by RFID experts where the desired data is printed on the surface of the RFID labels/tags and some key data is encoded with the tag that is read by an RFID reader.
RFID printing is done using a variety of thermal transfer printers (TTP) and direct thermal printers but now there exist ‘plug and play’ thermal transfer printers that can not only print RFID tags but also encode the data simultaneously, saving production time and cost.
Writing to an RFID tag or encoding an RFID tag can be time consuming as tag needs to be still and in close proximity with the RFID writing or encoding device which is typically a handheld RFID reader. However, technology now exists that allow encoding of an RFID tags from a distance, up to 50 feet away using the steerable phased-array technology and a software as developed by RF Controls, an RFID RTLS solutions company.
What data can we encode and print on an RFID tag?
Coming to the most important topic of what should be printed or encoded in terms of data, we need to know what an RFID tag looks like. Typically an RFID label consists of an embedded antenna and a chip on a substrate, wrapped with an adhesive base and a front face. So every printing has to be done on the front surface while encoding is to be done within the chip.
The chip is very small in size and can contain a little amount of data (more than a barcode though). An UHF RFID tag can be encoded with four types of data in its four kinds of memory banks but you can customize it as you like.
The four types of memory banks and their data holding capacity is as follows:
1. TID memory – 32 bits to 160 bits
2. EPC memory - 96 to 128 bits
3. User memory - 0-512 bits (not all chips have this memory banks)
4. Reserved memory – 32bits -64 bits
So overall the followings data can be encoded within an RFID chip, no matter what memory ban it is stored in:
1. A TID number: It’s a number that manufacturer uses to give the tag identification, as a branding. However, any other information can be associated with this number to work as an id.
2. UPC or SGTIN: Universal Product Code (UPC) or Serialized Global Trade Item Number (SGTIN) is used to identify the tagged asset. This data is typically stored in the EPC memory.
3. Data for customers: information such as product expiration data, product details, name, location etc.
4. Passwords: Access and kill passwords to prevent rewrite and to deactivate the RFID tags.
When it comes to printing data on the surface of the RFID tags, given the size and material quality of the tag, it varies from a QR code, Barcode, company logo to a serial no. that identifies the tag. You can customize the front surface with company logo or a unique QR codes as well that can contain detailed information or a URL to a website.
In essence, RFID printing and encoding is the most important part of implementing RFID in a business setting where each tag represents an object or a set of objects. When it comes to printing on the surface, high quality Thermal transfer printers are preferred and now such TT printers are available that can print and encode simultaneously, saving production time and costs.
- Last updated on May 31, 2023