Work efficiency is getting more important for businesses, as consumers demand faster availability and live and accurate stock information. Warehouses need to adapt to these changes by utilizing technologies that help them to keep track of items. This is where RFID comes in: A lot of companies already use RFID readers as a substitute for or an addition to barcode readers which boosts productivity and accuracy tremendously.
What is RFID?
RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification and is a technology that can read so-called RFID tags through radio waves. Inside of such a tag is a microchip that reacts to a specific wave, or MHz (Megahertz). RFID tags are available in lots of versions: They can be active or passive, they can be really tiny for the anti-theft system of your car, or they can be used as a sticker or integrated into a card, to name just a few examples.
There are various sub-categories of RFID, such as LF (Low Frequency, less than 134.2MHz) or HF (High Frequency, 13.56MHz). You’ve likely came across HF in daily use already, since it is widely used in modern smartphones for payments using the NFC standard (Near Field Communication). NFC enables communication between compatible devices and, as the name suggests, only works for short distances.
As for warehouses and distribution centers however, UHF (Ultra High Frequency) is the most commonly used RFID technology. UHF uses a frequency of 800-900MHz (and even higher) and is able to track and identify goods from a distance of up to 9 meter (30 ft) if the conditions are right.
What’s the difference between UHF and barcode scanner?
Barcode scanner technology has dramatically improved work efficiency, but there’s a problem: Scanners need the line of sight to operate, meaning the scanner needs to literally see the barcode in order to capture it. If the barcode is hidden in a box, unreachable or heavily damaged, there is no way to read it. It is also only possible to read only a single barcode at a time. By using UHF, these problems will be eliminated as data can be captured even when it is hidden. And since UHF is capable of reading multiple data at once, it is the optimal technology for warehouses where lots of boxes are stacked and piled up. Unlike barcode scanners, RFID tags don’t have to be placed in a specific place to obtain information, as long as it inside the box or attached to the product. Imagine you have to regularly perform inventory tracking, and you’ll see immediately why UHF is a much faster and safer way to know exactly what is going on in your floors. Of course, this technology does not only have advantages: Certain materials or liquids can influence the signal, more complicated implementation and lastly, RFID readers are usually more expensive than their barcode pendants.
Capturing data from an RFID tag
In a typical (connected) warehouse, large scale RFID gates are installed where boxes arrive or leave. This way, all incoming and outgoing shipments can be tracked and monitored at all times. This works similar to how shopping malls or stores prevent stealing by installing those RFID readers at the entrance. If a tagged product surpasses the gate, the system detects goods being stolen and an alarm will go off.
Back to the warehouse. The systems for tracking goods are a lot more complex and require the right software solution and the right hardware. The hardware (for example the RFID gate, or a handheld pistol grip style RFID reader such as the RF300 or RF851) ensures that the tag data is captured properly in all conditions, while the software processes the data to the backend and forwards it to the staff to inform them about model, quantity, and supplier details. The data is either being sent by the Wifi installed in the warehouse, or by cellular connection, for example in outdoor areas or areas with low Wifi signal strength. Automating warehouse processes for both incoming and outgoing shipments reduces processing time, and also significantly lowers the error rate.
Point Mobile’s RFID reader are using UHF, which is a form of RFID. UHF has an higher read range compared to other forms (LF,HF), it means it is specialized for warehouse environment. RF300 can read up to 6m, RF851 can read up to 8m.
Will RFID replace barcode scanners?
Improving work efficiency is very important and this technology can certainly help to do so. But as great as it sounds, RFID is not perfect. While it can scan data from multiple items at once, and it is more durable, it’s also much more expensive than barcode technology. As the industry keeps developing and warehouses get more and more automated, we expect a steady trend towards companies adapting UHF technology, but as barcodes may not be as efficient, they are a solid solution and implementation is a lot simpler – especially when you’re on a budget.
The answer is: Both technologies will keep co-existing. Sometimes, the better way is to use barcodes, other times it may be smart to use RFID, and then sometimes, a mix of both worlds is the way to go.