Like Science, Technology is also about holding on to something until something better comes along. Barcodes and RFID are two distinct technologies that have existed for quite a long time. Both are uniquely placed in different areas of applications. While barcodes are most famous for providing a UPC (Universal Product Code), giving an identity to every product from chips packets, chocolate boxes to keyboards, printers and anything else you can think of, RFID is made popular (some say retail giant Walmart added the popularity in retail business) for its ability to identify and track any object or individual, over a short range, wirelessly.
You must know that, even though RFID technology is far more efficient and people have been hoping, for years, that RFID would replace barcodes for good, barcode is still here. With the popularity of 2D barcodes, better known as QR codes, Barcoding has found a new life. From advertisement to digital payments, QR code has created a niche for itself in quick responsive barcoding.
So, the question is when will RFID replace barcodes? Well, hopefully in the near future, by Chipless RFID labels.
Chipless RFID Replacing Barcode
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology has revolutionized the business world by providing an efficient and accurate way to track inventory, monitor supply chains, and streamline logistics. As we know, unlike traditional barcodes, RFID tags use radio waves to communicate data to a reader without the need for a line of sight. It has been evolving rapidly in recent years and the implementation costs have come down heavily, The latest development is chipless RFID, which is now replacing barcodes for good.
As it happens, Barcodes have been the primary technology used for inventory tracking and management since the 1970s. Although they are simple to read, low-cost, and widely adopted, barcodes have some limitations. Barcodes can only store limited information (though QR codes have solved that problem), are easily damaged or obscured, and require line-of-sight scanning and such drawbacks often lead to errors, delays in processing, and inefficiencies in supply chain management. However, new chipless RFID technology offers a game-changing solution to these problems.
What is Chipless RFID?
Chipless RFID tags are essentially paper-thin labels containing tiny metal particles that respond to electromagnetic signals. It doesn’t need a microchip to store information but linear encoding on resonating and reflective materials helps with data storage needs. Like traditional RFID tags, it also does not require line-of-sight scanning, making it ideal for tracking items in harsh environments, such as shipping containers or warehouse racks.
Moreover, chipless RFID technology does not rely on batteries or semiconductor chips, making the tags more durable and cost-effective than traditional RFID tags.
Chipless RFID: How do you store data with no chip?
Anyone who has even some basic idea about RFID knows that traditional RFID tags come with an antenna and an IC (Integrated Circuit) which stores data. It comes with four kinds of memory banks with variable bit sizes, from 32-bit kill passwords to 512-bit user memory going up to 4k or 8k bits.
So what’s with Chipless RFID? How do you store data without a chip?
The chipless RFID doesn’t use a silicon microchip but plastic or conductive polymers while some chipless RFID uses materials that reflect back some of the RF signal coming from the RFID reader. The ID code is thus contained in a printed planer encoder (implementable with conductive inks).
Multiple resonators can also be used to encode data on the chipless RFID and the capacity is increased by increasing the number of spiral resonators, which of course are of different lengths.
The encoding of the chipless RFID is done in Time domain (TD) and Frequency Domain (FD) encoding mechanisms. Surface Acoustic Wave (SAW) resonators provide a higher memory capacity, up to 256 bits however these use piezoelectric materials and increase the cost of the chipless RFID. A better alternative is the use of reflectors.
The Frequency Domain (FD) mechanism uses multiple resonators tuned at different frequencies. FD chipless RFID finds better use in IoT applications.
Chipless RFID Sensors
The traditional RFID tags offer sensing applications via the use of sensors along with chips. The sensor whether it is a temperature sensor, humidity, toxic gas sensor, or fill-level sensor, is embedded with the chip. In the case of chipless RFID tags, there is no IC. Chipless RFID tags, thus, use sensing materials such as paper, carbon nanotubes, metal oxides, silicon nanowires, organic semiconductors, etc. which either are printed with a resonator substrate or placed on top of the resonator during fabrication. The sensing depends on the dielectric property of the sensing material.
Since the fabrication of a chipless RFID sensor is cheap and does not require special methods, chipless RFID sensors are an inexpensive sensor alternative to other IoT sensors.
Benefits of Chipless RFID over Barcode
Various research and surveys with retailers have shown that chipless RFID technology has several advantages over barcodes and can permanently replace barcodes.
Chipless RFID tags can read more quickly and can store more data making it possible to track items from their origin to their destination. This extra information improves quality control, reduces waste, and allows manufacturers and retailers to gain insight into consumer behavior and preferences. Barcodes don’t offer that.
Apart from that, Chipless RFID tags can be read at a high read rate enabling efficient and quicker inventory management than barcodes. Inventory managers can scan a chipless RFID-tagged pallet from some distance, without a clear line of sight which is just not possible with barcodes. You have to use an optical laser barcode scanner, up close to scan a barcode tag.
Chipless RFID, just like traditional RFID tags, is more durable and can be scanned under harsh conditions. Barcode tags get damaged and fail under such conditions.
Some companies have already started to adopt chipless RFID technology. Walmart, for example, has mandated suppliers to use RFID tags for tracking items on their delivery trucks, reducing delivery time by 30% and increasing accuracy to 99%.
Delta Airlines has also employed chipless RFID tags to track luggage throughout its transportation network, resulting in fewer lost bags. It has also enabled instant alerts and notifications about luggage handling to customers leading to improved customer satisfaction.
Chipless RFID technology is rapidly replacing traditional barcodes and even traditional RFID technology as the preferred method for inventory tracking and management. The technology's numerous advantages, including its ability to store and communicate vast amounts of data, ease of use, and durability, that too at low cost, make it ideal for industries ranging from logistics to healthcare. As chipless RFID continues to improve and become more affordable, it will likely become even more widespread in different business areas including retail, asset management, inventory management, etc. Besides, chipless RFID sensors are also becoming popular.
- Last updated on Sep 06, 2023