RFID is nothing new to retailers. According to a Kurt Salmon RFID in Retail 2016 study, 73% of retailers were already using some form of RFID inventory tracking. And of the retailers who weren’t, only 2% believed that RFID would not provide substantial benefits.
But what some retailers aren’t doing is tracking their outdoor assets with RFID. That’s because some of the standard “put the tracker in the box” systems don’t exactly work outside – especially when the assets aren’t boxed at all.
That’s a shame, because the reason RFID use has skyrocketed with retailers is simple: the ROI is easily seen and proven. Yet those outdoor assets – often large, expensive, and highly profitable items – are not benefitting from your RFID investment.
In this article, we’ll look at how to include those outdoor assets in your RFID strategy by choosing the right RFID tags.
Choosing Active or Passive RFID
One of the first choices you need to make is whether to go with an active or passive RFID system.
Passive RFID Systems
Passive RFID tags have no internal power source. Instead, these tags receive their power from an electromagnetic wave submitted by an RFID reader. A microchip inside the tag uses that energy to send its own signal back, which is captured and translated by the RFID reader.
Passive RFID tags are cheap and their lifespans are virtually unlimited.
Active RFID Systems
Active RFID tags are battery powered. Instead of being “awakened” by an RFID reader’s signal, most active RFID tags serve as beacons, intermittently broadcasting their own unique signals.
This has certain advantages, but comes at a significant cost – active RFID tags are much more expensive than passive ones. They also last only as long as their batteries, which average around three to five years.
RFID Insider offers this assessment: “Given the required investment of an active RFID system, active tags are usually reserved for tracking high worth assets or for items where accurate location tracking is necessary to the success of the system.”
These conditions could certainly apply to your outdoor assets. If not, you’ll probably find a passive system far more economical.
Choosing a Frequency
You need to consider frequencies when selecting outdoor RFID tags, too. Distance, materials, and obstructions can all play a role here. The higher the frequency, the more difficulties you’ll have with materials like water and metal. So generally speaking, it’s better to go with the lowest frequency that works in your situation.
- Low Frequency (LF) - 125 – 134 KHz - has a short read range of 1-10 cm. It’s not affected much by water or metal, though, so is useful in some situations.
- High Frequency (HF) - 13.56 MHz - has a more practical read range of up to 1 meter.
- Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) - 865 – 960 MHz - offers a much longer read range of 5 to 6 meters, although larger tags can be read up to 30 meters under some conditions.
These operate mainly on 433Mhz or 915Mhz, placing them in the UHF band. Because of their powered nature, they have much longer wavelengths and ranges. Maximum distances of 100 meters are not uncommon.
Location of Outdoor Assets
Another factor to consider when selecting a frequency is where your outdoor assets are located. Are they grouped closely together, spread out across a field, arranged in separate outdoor showrooms? Are they easily reached or elevated? Are there barriers that could obstruct or interfere with an RFID signal?
Anticipate how you’ll be reading and tracking those assets in order to determine the frequency required to scan them.
Choosing a Casing
Several factors dictate the size, shape, and style of the RFID tags you need.
Inlays are typically adhesive tags that look like labels or stickers. While common in an interior retail setting, they aren’t as well suited to most outdoor venues.
Hard RFID tags have casings of plastic, metal, ceramic, or rubber. Each one is designed for use with a particular material (such as tags with metal mountings for metal products) or to protect it from a certain condition.
Product and Packaging
What exactly are you attaching your outdoor tags to?
If placed on the exterior of a product or package, you need a case that will both fit the environment and stick to that surface material. If the tag can be placed safely inside the packaging, or even embedded within a product, an inlay or less conspicuous casing might be possible.
Size will follow the product, of course, with larger products needing larger casings and tiny products needing smaller ones.
The environment plays a huge role in the type of RFID tags required, especially outdoors.
If your climate is subject to snow or ice, for example, you need a rugged, weather-proof casing. For rain (or sprinklers) you need something waterproof but not necessarily as rugged. For extreme heat, you need materials to withstand that, too – ceramic might do the trick.
Choosing a System
At this point, you probably have a good idea of what you need from an outdoor RFID tag. Here are just a few more topics to consider.
There are two global RFID standards to choose from: ISO/IEC 18000–6:2010 and EPCglobal Class 1 Gen 2. While both of these are extremely similar, you might be forced to use one or the other based on your current system or supply chain partners.
What countries are you tracking products through? Different countries regulate RF emissions in different ways. What the FCC says about RF in the U.S. doesn’t always match what the EU Council says in Europe. Quality Insider created a chart listing the most reliable RFID frequencies in the U.S., EU, and Japan. If your assets are traveling internationally, make sure your RFID tag vendor supports their tags in all the countries you need to track them in.
Some RFID tags are capable of storing and transmitting data. If you need this additional data source in your tracking operations, then you need a tag with onboard memory. This can narrow the field quite a bit, however, and is usually reserved for complex processes and machinery.
Choosing Your Outdoor RFID Tags
So now that you know what to look for… are you ready to choose an outdoor tag?
At DecisionPoint, we don’t make RFID tags, but our software is the best way to put those tags to use. If you’d like a free consult on how to save a lot of money implementing RFID tags with our DecisionPoint systems, just give us a call.