We have covered the two major categories of readers – hands free and handheld. But in this article we will be looking at the other half of the equation – the RFID tags. RFID tags are the part that go on the item that needs to be tracked.
What Are RFID Tags?
There are two major kinds of tags: passive and active. Note: there are also semi-active tags, but these are not as common. Passive tags are those that rely fully on the energy sent out by interrogators (readers and antennas) to send back information. Because they do not need their own power source, they can be very small and very cheap. For a typical retail sized tag with adhesive backing, the price can be between 5-30 cents per tag.
Active tags are those that have their own source of power, usually a battery, included as part of the tag. These tend to be larger and more expensive, but can be more resilient and offer a significantly larger read range. The price can vary wildly on these because of the difference in ability.
These tags can also differ in how many times they can be used. There are “single use” tags, which are only intended to be used on a single item before they are discarded. These tags are passive, cheaper, and usually have a paper face that can hold printed information such as price and item description.
“Permanent” or reusable tags, on the other hand, can be used multiple times or are intended to stay on an item indefinitely. These are great for large scale operations, especially in the shipping and transportation sector. They are attached to shipping containers and trucks to track movement. The tags can include the information for each item in the shipping container and be re-encoded once the contents change.
To attach the tags to the item it is tracking, there are three options available: adhesive, hanging, and mechanical. Adhesive tags have the back of the tag coated in an adhesive coating, so the tag can be stuck directly to the item. Depending on the use case, this can be great for single use tags. It is very commonly used in the retail sphere to attach the tag to boxes or directly to the item, such as a box of shoes or a toothbrush container.
Hanging tags are printable or glossy on both sides, allowing for more visual information. They are used the same as traditional non-RFID hanging tags, usually from clothing such as shirts and jackets.
Tags attached mechanically often use screws or other fasteners to keep the tag on the item. Because of this, the tags tend to be more rigid and permanent. This can include passive tags or active tags, depending on the use case of the client. Currently RIS is exploring tags like this for use with rental equipment in sports shops.
Retail RFID Tags
Passive single use tags (the most common RFID tags used in retail) are composed of four parts: front, integrated circuit (IC), antenna, and backing. The front is often used to display visual information such as the barcode, price, and item description. If this information isn’t needed, there are other front material options such as clear gloss.
The integrated circuit is a piece the size of a grain of sand. It does the actual communication and storage of the information on the RFID tag such as the store prefix and the tag serial number. The IC contributes to the range of the tag.
The antenna is the large piece of metal contained between the front material and the backing. Designs can vary widely, from essentially rectangles that take up most of the space to winding loops that wind throughout the tag. The different designs largely determine the range of the tag and the conditions in which it can be read. Some designs might aim to give the largest read range in open air, while others might aim to specifically work well on cardboard.
While there are thousands of different tags that can fit even more situations, some customers want custom tags. Sometimes clients want a specific tag type but need extra printable space. Sometimes clients want a specific IC with a specific antenna design. Customizations add lead time and cost, but allow clients to get the tag that exactly fits their needs.
While every RFID system requires tags, they can be used in a myriad of ways to fit the needs of the business. While it can all seem extremely complicated, the representative can help guide any business through what will work best. For more information, visit our website or reach out to us for a webinar!