RFID tags are available in three configurations:
Passive tags have no internal power source, but they draw power from the reader. These are usually the most inexpensive tags and are often disposable.
Active tags contain a battery used for transmitting and are usually more expensive but can often be reused.
Semi-passive, a hybrid of passive and active, use a battery to operate the RFID chip, but communicate using power from the reader.
RFID tags are also available in various frequencies. These include low frequency (LF), high frequency (HF), ultra-high frequency (UHF), and ultra-wide band (UWB). Typically, higher frequencies offer more bandwidth and data exchange, and a higher communication range, Thompson says. Likely, you'll need UHF, the "supply chain frequency," mandated by Wal-Mart, the DoD, and Sam's Club.
RFID Starter Kits
As complex as RFID may sound, "it isn't sorcery," Thompson says. Nor is it as expensive as it was a few years ago when Wal-Mart mandated RFID from 100 of its larger suppliers. Some suppliers initially balked, with estimates of up to $1 million for new RFID systems, but technology vendors soon responded with easy-to-implement and lower cost "starter kits" and "slap-and-ship" applications, which allowed small businesses to experiment with RFID and try one application at a time.
"Many RFID equipment providers will provide starter kits for as low as $2,500, including a reader and some tags," Thompson says. "For $25,000, many implementers will provide some kind of express ROI assessment or focused implementation, including one or two readers, some tags, installation, and support."
The best type of project for a small business to start with is one that is small, confined to one application (such as asset tracking), and in a "closed loop," which means within the four walls of your property. Businesses can always expand the applications or the types of goods tracked, and the data can be integrated into enterprise computer systems, but it's important to master the technology on a small scale before attempting a larger undertaking, experts say.
How to Use RFID Technology: Working with RFID Experts
RFID is a tool, much like a hammer or wrench. Some jobs you can do yourself, but other times you'll need to call in a "master craftsman," Thompson says.
"Companies will most likely need help, except for the simplest applications," Roberti says. "One problem they will face is getting experienced systems integrators to work with them. There are very few highly experienced integrators, and they tend to focus on bigger companies that can spend more. Getting a good integrator involved in a smaller project can be a challenge, but if the scope of the project is well defined and the small company understands the benefit it will get, then an integrator will take the work."
Look only for consultants with experience implementing RFID and all forms of automatic identification, including barcode. While RFID is one method of auto ID and data transfer, it will not necessarily be the right one for your business, Thompson says. A reputable consultant will have numerous clients and references, and ideally, one with a product or process similar to yours.
Here are some things to ask the RFID implementer you're considering working with:
Understand your integrator's main business and make sure they are focused on RFID. Are they really a hardware vendor trying to upsell software or services? Are they really a barcode integrator trying to sell RFID? Are they really a software provider trying to sell integration and deployment services?
It's about business results, not technology. Make sure your integrator can point to successful projects they have deployed which have delivered business results.
Be clear about the help you require. If you need help with the business case, then make sure to choose an integrator who can help you up front, building the project justification, as well as deploying the solution.
Résumés of the people who will work on your implementation. "Ask if they are employees or contractors," Thompson says. "Ensure your services contract specifically states what role the experienced resources will play. Be sure they will not just be assisting by phone."
A presentation that will provide an overview of the RFID solutions developed for other customers. The implementer has signed nondisclosure agreements, so they can't tell you everything, Thompson says. However, the implementer should be able to describe what equipment was used, how it was integrated, what challenges were overcome, and the business results of the solution.
RFID customer references. Then thoroughly verify them.
On-site training. "Look for a consultant who can provide on-site training," Thompson says. "Off-site product classes are good, but hands-on training with your specific solution is far better."
Names of RFID hardware manufacturers with which the implementer has experience. Then ask the RFID manufacturer for a reference, and whether the implementer is certified on that equipment, Thompson suggests.