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Deploying an RFID System: 20 Questions and Answers

Contents

  1. How do I know if RFID is right for my application?
  2. Is there a chance RFID won't work for me?
  3. How much will an RFID system cost?
  4. Can I try RFID before investing in a full system?
  5. What do I need for a full system?
  6. How do I choose my RFID hardware?
  7. How do I choose my RFID tags?
  8. Can I get RFID Tags pre-printed and pre-encoded?
  9. What sort of software will I need for my RFID system?
  10. Can I setup an RFID system without software?
  11. Do I need a software engineer on staff?
  12. Who installs the RFID system?
  13. Is there a recommended way to set up RFID hardware and get started?
  14. How many red zones are needed and where will they be located?
  15. There are items in my facility that contain liquids/metals; does that mean RFID will not work for me?
  16. What if I want to use RFID in my facility for more than one application? Should I have separate RFID systems?
  17. How long does a typical RFID system take to deploy?
  18. How do I train my employees on RFID?
  19. When will I see a return on investment from my RFID system?
  20. Where can I learn more about RFID?

Q:How do I know if RFID is right for my application?

A: There are several steps required to answer this question: 

1.) Define the Business Problem 

Before considering RFID as a potential solution, a company should first seek to understand its business problem. The problem may be as simple as “I can’t find my items when I need them”; however, pinpointing the root of the problem and considering all the various associated pain points is a critical first step. A well-defined problem leads to a well-defined solution, including any goals a company is looking to achieve. Properly defined problems are easier to scope and solve, which leads to saving time, money, and resources, and allows for determining if RFID will be a necessary part of the solution (or not). 

2.) Complete Internal RFID Testing (or hire an RFID expert to complete a site survey) 

All facilities are different, especially when considering the environmental factors which play an important role in the success of an RFID system. Through individual testing or consulting with an RFID expert to conduct a site survey, each potential read zone in a facility should be examined in order to determine: 

• Which challenges exist that would never need to be overcome if an RFID system were to be deployed? 

• Which specific types of readers, tags, and antennas would be required in order to achieve a company’s goals? 

• Which process changes (if any) would be required in order to ensure RFID tags can successfully be read? 

3.) Establish a Business Case (i.e. determine the cost of an RFID solution and complete an ROI assessment) 

After defining the business problem to be solved, setting related goals, and thorough testing or site survey analysis, a company should have enough information in order to estimate how much a system should roughly cost. Whether borne internallyor purchased externally from a third party, estimated costs should cover all necessary hardware, software, installation, and support, as well as any ancillary services that may be required to get a system up and running (e.g. running network and power drops, installing bollards to protect equipment, etc.). Special attention should be paid to initial system setup costs vs. potential on-going costs (e.g. consumable RFID tags, annual support) when calculating all costs for an ROI analysis. From there, a company should complete an ROI assessment, effectively weighing the costs of implementing a system vs. the expected return on investment (assuming the given system will achieve the predefined goals).

4.) Determine Feasibility

There are two main reasons that RFID might not be suitable for a specific application: 

1. Application Feasibility – from an environmental or pure physics standpoint, it may not be possible to deploy an RFID system that is able to capture RFID tags reads with enough success to meet a company’s goals. 

2. Cost/ROI Feasibility – RFID might work well for the application, but the ROI isn’t significant enough to justify implementation of the technology.

Q: Is there a chance RFID won't work for me? 

A: Yes, RFID is not the answer for every application. The application itself must be feasible from an environmental perspective as well as a cost perspective. For example, if there are temperature or pressure extremes that could destroy RFID tags, or if an RFID system’s costs outweigh the value added, then RFID shouldn’t be implemented. Ideally, such aspects would be determined during the business definition and scoping process.

Q: How much will an RFID system cost? 

A: Because RFID systems can differ greatly in size from one handheld reader and a few tags to hundreds of readers and antennas and thousands of tags, there isn’t a particular cost (or range of costs) that can be determined without some sort of analysis. In order to get an estimate for a specific system, it is important to consider both near-term and long-term costs. 

There are two different classifications of costs for just about any RFID system – start-up (i.e. near-term) costs and recurring (i.e. long-term) costs. Start-up costs can be defined as the amount of money spent in order to get an RFID system up and running and integrated with any other current systems. Recurring costs are ongoing costs that are needed in order to keep a system functional; these costs can recur weekly, monthly, or yearly. 

Some examples of start-up costs might include: 

RFID Hardware - Readers, antennas, cables, etc. 

RFID Tags - Reusable tags for fixed assets or tags for one-time purchase 

Software - Custom development costs and/or initial license cost 

Services - Installation and testing/tuning 

A few examples of recurring costs could include: 

Support Contract - For additional support for a defined period of time for the system 

Software - Annual maintenance fees 

Consumable Supplies - RFID tags (if they can’t be reused), printer ribbon, etc.

Q: Can I try RFID before investing in a full system? 

A: Yes, RFID development kits and RFID tag sample packs are an ideal way to test RFID and see if it will work well for a specific application. Complete RFID solutions can be expensive, so starting small and thoroughly testing is a best practice before investing a lot of time or money. 

Development kits include all the basic RFID equipment needed in order to set-up and test an RFID system. Most RFID development kits come with a reader, one or more antennas, some sample tags, a sample program for reading, encoding, and testing RFID tags, as well as access to the reader’s SDK (i.e. software development kit –documentation, API access, and code samples). 

RFID tag sample packs provide a cost-effective way to test different RFID tags and find the ideal one for each application. Testing multiple tag types and sizes is an important and necessary task to ensure optimum performance from the RFID system.

Q: What do I need for a full RFID system? 

A: Most RFID systems consist of the same basic elements: 

Readers - An RFID reader is the “brain” of the RFID system and necessary for any system to function. Readers, also called interrogators, are devices that transmit and receive radio waves in order to communicate with RFID tags. 

Antennas - RFID Antennas are a necessary element in any RFID system; however, they are “dumb devices” which use power from the reader to generate an RF field allowing the reader to transmit and receive signals from the RFID tags.

Tags - An RFID tag, in its most simplistic form, is comprised of two parts – an antenna for transmitting and receiving signals, and an RFID chip (or integrated circuit) which stores the tag’s ID and other information.  

Software - Software is essential to all RFID systems. Software allows the reader to operate and communicate with RFID tags, the data collected from tag reads to shown, sent, stored, etc. so that users can make informed decisions and take actions, or can trigger other systems to take preprogrammed actions. Ultimately, software can be as simple or complex as required by the application.  

In addition to the basic elements, some systems may also require ancillary devices, such as stack lights, motion sensors, and other GPIO devices. The total amount of hardware and software required will ultimately depend upon the system requirements.

Q: How do I choose my RFID hardware? 

A: A large selection of RFID hardware is available and specific types of RFID equipment are better suited for certain environments; so, choosing the right hardware for any given application can be a tedious process. In any situation, once a selection is made, rigorous testing is key to ensure success. Check out the resources below to aid in the selection process: 

RFID Buyer’s Guide - The RFID Buyer’s Guide is a 24 question eBook designed to walk potential RFID users through the buying process. Answering each question helps to enable the buyers to make informed decisions about their hardware needs. 

How to Select a UHF RFID Reader - This blog post provides potential RFID users with 3 important factors to consider when selecting an RFID reader. 

3 Guidelines for Choosing a Passive UHF RFID Antenna - This blog post provides potential RFID users with 3 important factors to consider when selecting an RFID antenna.  

RFID Antenna Cables: Achieving the Highest Performance Possible - All RFID systems use an antenna cable to connect the reader and the antenna. This blog post provides potential RFID users with important information on how to choose the best RFID antenna cable for their application.

Q: How do I choose RFID tags? 

A: There are hundreds of passive RFID tags on the market, so choosing the right tag (or set of tags) for any given application can seem like a daunting task. Similar to choosing RFID hardware, selecting the right RFID tag can be accomplished by narrowing down options using certain criteria. Once a set of tags is selected, thorough testing is necessary to ensure success. Below are resources to assist in the tag selection process: 

RFID Buyer’s Guide - The RFID Buyer’s Guide is a 24 question eBook designed to walk potential RFID users through the buying process. Answering each question helps to enable the buyers to make informed decisions about their hardware needs. 

3 Things to Know About UHF RFID Tags - This blog post provides potential RFID users with 3 important things to know about UHF RFID tags to aid in the selection process.

Q: Can I get RFID tags pre-printed and pre-encoded? 

A: Yes, most RFID tags can be pre-printed and pre-encoded, which saves a company time and money. Printing and encoding RFID tags is a custom process and usually adds additional lead time to an order. For more information on printing and encoding RFID tags, please read the FAQs

Q: What sort of software will I need for my RFID system? 

A: Few off-the-shelf (OTS) software packages specifically geared towards RFID solutions are available for purchase. As the market matures, more OTS software options will become available for various RFID applications. Until then, most companies will likely need a software solution customized to meet their needs. 

Custom software can be as simple or complex as the company desires. In many cases, it makes sense to start small with the basic necessary functionality, while architecting the software to accommodate for future expansion of all desired features and functionality. As the RFID application matures, so can the software. This crawl-walk-run methodology allows a company time to become familiar with the ins and outs of its application and better determine exactly what features and functionality will be of most use. 

Q: Can I setup an RFID system without software? 

A: In short, no. Even on a small scale, software must be incorporated in some fashion. For example, basic functions such as reading and writing tags will require software; otherwise the reader will not know which tags to write, or which tag reads to report to the system. 

Software can be as simple or as complex as needed. As part of the initial project scoping process, defining software requirements should be one of the top priorities. Depending on requirements, some commercially available off-the-shelf software (such as the Impinj Speedway Connect Software) may be all that is needed. Other times, the project may require custom software development to meet all specifications. 

Q: Do I need a software engineer on staff? 

A: Every company looking to implement RFID does not necessarily need a software engineer on staff. If a company has defined its business problem and successfully defined the project scope (including software requirements), it can begin to look into commercially available software options. 

If requirements are not met by commercially available software, utilizing a software engineer may be the next best step. Whether allocating an existing internal resource or hiring an outside resource, a company will need to employ a software engineer (or engineers) to develop a custom software solution for its RFID system. 

Q: Who installs the RFID system? 

A: If the purchasing company has a technical team with RFID experience (or, at least, superior technical abilities with the time and ability to learn about RFID), that team should be capable of testing and installing an RFID system. Without sufficient RFID experience or superior technical knowledge and ability, there is a strong likelihood that an RFID system could be setup incorrectly and not provide the desired results. 

If a company isn’t 100% confident in its ability to provide the necessary RFID implementation team, then that company should partner with an RFID professional (or team of professionals) in order to ensure the RFID installation is a success. 

Q: Is there a recommended way to set up RFID hardware and get started? 

A: Because every facility is different, there isn’t a specific way to set up an RFID system and guarantee that it will provide the desired results. A best practice when setting up each and every read zone is to spend time testing and tuning until: 

a.) 100% (or near 100%) of RFID tags are read when they should be read. 

b.) Stray reads are avoided (i.e. unintended tag reads from another area being captured in the zone being tested). 

Defining the ideal read zone for any given application is dependent upon many factors including reader settings, antenna gain, and RFID tag selection. Learn more by reading about the 6 factors that affect read range

Because even small changes in an environment can have large effects on an RFID system, there is no guarantee that a particular zone (once tuned) can simply be replicated throughout a facility. Ideally, the settings for a well-tuned read zone setup can act as a starting point from which each additional read zone can be tested and tuned. 

In short, no – there is no ideal recommended way to setup RFID hardware. Each case is different and requires thorough testing. Below are a few helpful tips when setting up an RFID system for the first time. 

• Keep the RFID reader and antenna(s) as close as possible in order to reduce the length of antenna cabled needed and, thus, cut down on cable loss. 

• When mounting RFID antennas, test different locations and antenna angles in order to get the best results. Also, testing different types of antennas may be beneficial. During tag selection, do not simply settle for a tag that works. Test different types in order to find the ideal RFID tag (or tags) for your application. 

• Test different settings on the reader (e.g. transmit power, search modes/sessions, etc.) in order to ensure best results.  

Q: How many read zones are needed and where will they be located? 

A: In short, an RFID read zone should be located at every point it is necessary to gather data (i.e. every point where reading RFID tags is required). 

In some cases, a portal-type setup at a dock door to read items going in and out may be the appropriate solution; in another, a single handheld RFID reader may be the best fit in order to scan items within an inventory closet. Moreover, installing read zones at various stages of a manufacturing process allows a user to know exactly where any given (tagged) item is on the facility floor. Some companies may only be interested in knowing if an item is in the facility. In these cases, read zones would only be necessary at the facility’s entrances/exits. 

Ultimately, the amount of read zones required and where those zones should be located depends on the type of application as well as the amount of data needed to achieve the desired results.  

Q: There are items in my facility that contain liquids/metals; does that mean RFID will not work for me? 

A: As with any RFID application, thorough testing is key. There are certain methods and measures that can be put in place to mitigate potential interference caused by metal and water (as well as other interference causing elements). 

If a company has limitations within the facility, environment, or items being tagged, it should not discount RFID as the solution entirely. Instead, limitations should be noted and thorough testing should be executed in order to see if such obstacles can be overcome using specific equipment or techniques. Each type of item to be tagged will have different specifications that should be noted when choosing the ideal tag. Some applications might require the use of several different types of RFID tags in order to get the best results. 

Read more about multipath issues caused by metal and water within facilities. 

Q: What if I want to use RFID in my facility for more than one application? Should I have separate RFID systems? 

A: The answer ultimately depends on the business case at hand. If it makes more sense (from a business perspective – data access, user access, etc.) for the systems to be combined, then they should be combined. If the business case dictates that the systems should be separate or standalone, then they should be separate. The answer to whether a new RFID system should be combined with an existing one or a separate standalone system should be created, should be determined during the business problem definition and scoping phase of the project. 

Q: How long does a typical RFID system take to deploy? 

A: The timeline for an RFID deployment can vary greatly based upon the type and complexity of an RFID application. A commercially available all-in-one RFID hardware and software solution could potentially be purchased and deployed within a few weeks. A custom RFID solution that addresses complex business problems and requires much testing and custom software development may take 6 to 12 months to fully deploy. 

Below are the typical stages when deploying an RFID system: 

  • Define the business problem 
  • Establish the Business Case 
    • Project Scoping 
      • Understand the potential and limitations of RFID technology 
      • Define the project objectives 
    • Analysis of the Existing System 
      • Collect information 
      • Information analysis 
  • Develop a Project Road Map 
  • System Design 
    • Requirement analysis 
    • Hardware/software selection 
    • Develop a new process 
  • Proof of Concept 
    • Prototype Testing 
      • Debug 
      • System Adaptation 

  • Pilot Implementation 
  • Full Implementation 
    • System deployment 
    • Training 
  • Continuous Improvement 
    • Monitoring 
    • Collect feedback from users 

Q: How do I train my employees on RFID? 

A: If a company decides to implement RFID within a facility, key employees should be trained on the basics of RFID – what it is, how it works, key limitations, etc. In addition, one or two persons should be designated as RFID “experts” and receive more in-depth training on RFID, such as classes offered by 3rd party companies.

The more employees are educated about RFID (and, in particular, the actual system being deployed), the more effective the system will be and a company should see fewer issues and errors. 

Q: When will I see a return on investment from my RFID system? 

A: The amount of time between purchasing an RFID system and seeing a return on investment (ROI) will be different for each company and application. Ideally, a company will have already completed a feasibility analysis and ROI assessment before deciding to install an RFID system.

Depending on the value the system provides, a company may start seeing an ROI immediately. Full system payback depends on the cost of the system as well as the rate of return on investment; however, properly implemented RFID systems tend to fully pay back within 1 to 3 years. 

Q: Where can I learn more about RFID? 

A: There are a few RFID books on the market that can be purchased in order to gain a better understanding of how RFID works. Additionally, there are multiple sources online dedicated to helping customers learn more about RFID: 

RFIDjournal.com - RFID Journal is a news website covering companies and applications around the world deploying RFID. 

RFIDinsider Blog - A go-to blog on all things RFID, specializing in news and knowledge for the beginner, intermediate, and advanced RFID enthusiasts. 

RFID Resources - An atlasRFIDstore webpage dedicated to eBooks, customer profiles, and videos for enhancing RFID knowledge. 

RFID Videos - atlasRFIDstore’s YouTube page containing videos about how RFID works, RFID products, and tutorials.

 

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