When you’re planning to adopt RFID technology for retail item tracking, you need to consider some things before making the investment. Here are four fundamental things to consider before making a move towards RFID technology.
Before digitalizing your retail tracking and manufacturing operations, you need to outline the process. You need to identify a list of specific assets to be tracked and establish the locations and workflows these assets travel throughout their life cycle.
Look at your product’s entire life cycle instead of just looking at your part in the supply chain. For example, your company can gain a competitive advantage in buyers’ and partners’ eyes by providing RFID-tagged items or RFID-related services. In some cases, switching entirely to RFID might not even be possible. The buyer may need a barcode or QR code to track the flow of items.
When the process is outlined and specified, you need to assess whether the application is suitable for use with RFID. Like all technology, RFID has limitations. Environmental constraints, read range limitations, and asset material composition are just a few of the different aspects that can severely impact how effective an RFID system is for a specific application. Many constraints can be solved, but careful planning is crucial for the project’s success. We help you with this assessment and openly discuss possibilities and limitations before providing you with a quote.
Alongside assessing existing processes, you need to plan new ones regarding RFID. You need to plan the process of tagging each item with an RFID tag to make the RFID process efficient. Usually, RFID requires changes to operations. Together with customers who are new to the RFID world, we plan these RFID-related processes carefully using our expertise.
RFID is the optimal choice if the company plans to scale the business quickly and efficiently. RFID works best with large volumes and pays off quickly in a high-volume business such as retail.
When you have a clear vision of the tracking process, you can start to plan the RFID system: the placement of the readers and antennas and the tagging of the products.
Let’s go through once more how the RFID solution typically works.
The RFID system consists usually of an RFID reader, antenna, and tags. Each item is tagged with an RFID tag, including a thin antenna and a tiny tag chip containing an identifier for that item. The tag’s antenna energizes the RFID tag by absorbing external electromagnetic radiation. The RFID reader, either mobile or fixed, is a network-connected device. It uses radio waves to transmit signals that activate the tag. Once activated, the tag sends a wave back to the antenna, where it is translated into data. The reader and antenna usually work as a combo, and the antenna receives its power directly from the reader.
Tags are so small that they can be embedded in labels, hang tags, packaging, or fabric tags. RFID readers, either handheld or fixed at transition points, use radio signals to read the identifier stored on those tag chips. Unlike barcodes, up to a thousand RFID tags can be read at once, without direct line-of-sight.
Environmental conditions influence the ability to RFID reading. The environment sets requirements for reader and antenna placements. When mapping out the environment and qualifications for the reading, start with the antenna and its capabilities. What is the distance between the antenna and the tag? Will the tag be presented to the antenna at the same distance and position every time? The position and orientation of the tag affect the result of the reading process. Plan carefully where the readers and the antennas are mounted. Think about whether there is something in the way that disturbs the reading.
Placing fixed readers on the conveyor belt or warehouse gates automates tracking items and inventory in the retail industry. If items are moving outside the assembly line or gates, handheld readers can be used to fill the reading gap.
In retail, handheld readers are easy to use, and typically, they read RFID tags in clothes relatively accurately. Personnel can quickly and easily do inventory management with handhelds if the environment allows staff to walk around the surroundings and get readings.
The items are given a digital identity with the tags, and that’s why tags are a crucial part of track and trace solutions. You need to tag each item, and this process must be well-planned, but you also need to identify what kind of qualities your tags need.
RFID systems can be sensitive to certain materials and environmental factors that can cause diminished read ranges and affect overall system accuracy. If you have large electronic equipment or equipment that could cause radio frequency interference in your facility, these can very likely affect your RFID read range.
Metal and liquids are the two most common sources of interference for RFID applications. Metal products, such as jewelry or cooking utensils, reflect UHF RFID energy. When there is a significant amount of metal in the area, the radio frequency transmission becomes unpredictable. On the other hand, water absorbs RFID energy and makes it very difficult to transmit effectively – this makes products like lotions and gels harder to read.
It’s not uncommon to find asset tags that will work well for a mobile handheld RFID reader but not for a fixed RFID reader (and vice versa). That is all to say that you cannot assume that if a specific tag works well with one reader, it will work well with another. As always, testing is the best way to decrease the chance of problems in these situations. We are always happy to lend our – or our worldwide partner’s – expertise to help you with these tests.
More and more tags are released with new ways to lessen the problems, and interferences can be mitigated with the proper RFID tags, equipment, and planning.
Depending on the environmental conditions, you choose the best tag for your application. There are multiple tags with different durability. Does the tag hold up to mechanical use like rubbing? Do you need a water-resistant tag?
Mapping out needs for the tags is a crucial part of ROI. The quality and quantity of the tags influence the variable costs of the RFID investment. RFID tags are consumables meaning that high volume sales results in a lower unit price. The higher the quality, the higher the price, meaning that the more durable tags are usually more expensive. Besides separately acquiring RFID tags, they can also be printed using RFID printers.
The RFID technology is an investment that will pay itself off through enhanced efficiency and productivity. You must evaluate fixed costs, recurring costs, and the cost of switching in terms of labor costs before implementing a new system. RFID systems can be expensive. The careful calculation of the return on investment is the basis for your investment plan and decision. How quickly can the investment be paid back? When does the investment start to create profit?
Before implementing the solution, it’s a good idea to test it. But keep in mind that testing is not free. Testing requires detailed business cases and investment in different equipment and tags. After the testing phase, deployment costs begin. Only after a system has been implemented and is working properly can the timeline begin for realizing a return on the investment.
The costs of devices and RFID technical setup determines the fixed expenses, and the amount of recurring costs depend on the tag quantities. The price for the tag depends on the tag’s quality and volume. The tags you purchase at once, the smaller the unit price will be. The better the quality of the tag, the higher the price. The most expensive tags are the ones that are the most durable, work with special materials like metal and water, and can be read from afar.