Guide to RAIN RFID (radio-frequency identification) readers and tags
What you need to know about use, function, advantages and choosing the right RFID systems for you. Also read expertise about RFID readers, transponders and antennas.
The creation of digital twins forms the basis of digital transformation in logistics, production, retail and healthcare. The digital twin of an object or process comes into being and lives through the generation of a great deal of data already in the development phase, which later interacts with the existing data in the realization and test phase. This is the challenge of digitization: data must be generated, collected, evaluated and interpreted - in real time if possible, but without using additional resources such as employees or working time.
RFID UHF is one of the technologies that can automatically generate data as part of a value-adding activity - if RFID is applied intelligently. We would like to introduce you to the basics for a sensible and efficient use of RFID technology in this guide.
We answer your questions about the functionality, variants, advantages and restrictions, fields of application and future prospects of RFID in the age of digitization and the digital labeling of a wide variety of objects.
What is RFID and how does it work?
RFID stands for "Radio Frequency Identification" - the contactless identification of objects and living beings by means of radio or radio waves. Basically, there are three relevant RFID frequency ranges worldwide and the associated standards:
- LF RFID 125 KHz
- HF RFID 13,56 MHz
- UHF RFID 865 – 928 MHz
An RFID reading station essentially consists of three components:
- an RFID transponder on the object to be detected with an integrated antenna and RFID memory chip, on which the respective data can be written or read.
- an RFID antenna that generates the electromagnetic radio field for energy and data transmission.
- an RFID read/write device, the so-called RFID reader, with which digital data on the RFID chip of the transponder can either only be read or also written. Intelligent RFID readers can also filter the data and forward it to higher-level IT systems.
As soon as the RFID transponder is within the range of a reader, the RFID reader builds up an electromagnetic field with its internal or also external antenna(s), which supplies the RFID transponder with energy and activates it so that data can be transmitted wirelessly and bidirectionally.
What are typical application scenarios for RFID? Where is RFID used?
RFID is one of the basic technologies for the digitalization of material and production flow processes, for the registration of vehicles in toll systems, control of access systems in parking garages or as an electronic nameplate on machines and systems. Thanks to an intelligent design, RFID enables fully automatic data generation, which leads to an increase in efficiency, a minimization of errors and cost savings.
The following application examples are applicable regardless of industry and sector. The example scenarios mentioned clearly show which RFID potentials can be tapped.
Intralogistik and Supply Chain Management
In both internal and external material flows, RFID technology creates transparency with regard to goods, assets and raw materials as well as their path in supply chains - from the warehouse to production, from the shipper to the customer. In addition, goods identification via RFID ensures seamless traceability. RFID systems are also used as driver assistance systems on forklift trucks.
RFID Load Carrier Management
The following load carrier information is mandatory for efficient and transparent digitized load carrier management:
- Total number of load carriers
- Position of the load carriers
- Status of load carriers: full, empty, defective, in service, etc.
- Availability of the load carriers
Which load carriers can be tracked seamlessly and transparently using RFID? In principle, any load carrier if a suitable RFID transponder has been selected depending on the external environmental conditions that can withstand thermal, chemical or mechanical stresses.
Load carriers marked with RFID, such as Euro pallets, small load carriers KLT, electroplating or powder coating racks, can be detected zone by zone by means of corresponding RFID reading points in logistics or production. The data to be generated then determines the zone-specific position of the RFID reading points - e.g. entry and exit of empties, transition from production to warehouse, provision before or after a production line or of specific process steps.
The detection points of the load carriers not only generate location information, but also provide information on the status of the load carrier, such as filled, emptied, available or blocked. Historical data is also generated, such as the number of runs of a load carrier, so that it can be revised in good time.
Inventory management and localization
RFID technology is suitable for automatically detecting goods - even without direct visual contact. Assets can be recorded and managed individually or in batches on a pallet or in another container. This improves inventory accuracy and reduces inventory effort. As object identifiers, RFID transponders in real-time localization systems such as RTLS (Real-Time Location System) from Kathrein Solutions contribute to transparency in production-related and intralogistics material flow and asset management.
The following potentials are offered by eKanBan when using RFID-tagged containers:
- Availability of C-parts on production lines or production islands
- Automatic replenishment
- Inventory security by means of automatic material flow bookings
- Working time savings through automatic material flow or container bookings
The digitized containers marked with RFID transport physical units and data. These are stored in the RFID transponder and/or can be married with the RFID container ID in the leading system with information such as article number, batch number, production data or destination coordinates.
The data is generated by RFID capture points to automatically book and plausibilize putaways in C-part shelves.
Replenishment is automatically triggered by RFID capture or detection of the removal of empty totes from the C-division shelf. The RFID ID of the container provides information about the article number to be replenished.
Advantages of the RFID eKanBan:
- Saving of employee time for replenishment bookings
- Minimization of errors through automatic, correct RFID part number recording
- Timely triggering of the replenishment process: "Shelf reorders itself".
- Inventory minimization due to precise quantity recording
- Real-time recording of consumption on the production line
- Reduction of tied-up capital due to lower buffer stocks
Read the eKanBan Success Story here.
Production control, handling and assembly technology
RFID systems are used in manufacturing to automate the tracking of raw materials, parts and assemblies, and the control of production processes. In assembly plants, RFID enables automated handling and target control of containers. In machine tools, tools are identified by RFID chip and automatically inserted to match the machining job.
RFID production status and material flow postings in production
RFID-tagged finished parts, semi-finished parts or raw materials automatically register at production stages or production machines. RFID detection points automatically scan delivered material, finished or semi-finished parts, or even containers with corresponding bulk material or small parts.
The data captured by the RFID system is subjected to a thorough plausibility check. This check ensures, for example, that the correct material is available for the upcoming production order. It also ensures that the correct production stage has been reached and that no steps in the production process have been omitted. It also verifies that the delivered part or material has successfully passed quality inspection and received the appropriate release.
The material flow and order status posting takes place automatically after a positive plausibility check. The process described is repeated per manufacturing stage.
Access control and ticketing
RFID technology can be used to control access to buildings, as an exit control for managed or reserved parking areas, and as an electronic payment ticket for a wide variety of applications.
RFID as one of the world's leading technologies for vehicle detection in tolling and parking systems
RFID UHF systems according to the ISO 18000-6b and 6c standard form the technical framework for almost 60% of all toll systems worldwide. Passive RFID transponders, which are attached to the inside of the vehicle windshield or to the outside of a motorcycle headlight in the form of head lamp tags, allow vehicles traveling at speeds of up to 200 km/h to be detected quickly and securely using reading stations integrated into the road infrastructure.
Integrated payment systems allow secure transaction of toll fees, special RFID chips with AES 128 bit encryption prevent manipulation of the system.
RFID readers with integrated 4G/5G interfaces can also be cost-effectively integrated into existing energy infrastructure and enable fast implementation times.
Download a free white paper on how to use RFID for your project
Download our free white paper on the use of RFID based on an example application or get in touch.
Do you already have a specific project?
Get started right away and find the right entry point for your RFID or RTLS digitization project. The Kathrein Sales Consultants direct your attention to the relevant questions and check together with you which technology or which technology mix is target-oriented for your project challenge, so that you can directly create a future-oriented and well-founded project concept. Kathrein Solutions will also support you in finding the best implementation partner. To do so, simply fill out the form.
What and how much information can be stored on RAIN UHF RFID transponders?
Depending on the integrated UHF RFID chip, different amounts of data can be stored on different memory areas of the RFID transponders. The storage capacities of RFID transponders depend on the transponder chip type used.
When selecting the transponder, it is essential to consider the memory requirements needed by the planned application. This is usually done as part of an RFID feasibility study (RFID proof-of-concept).
RAIN RFID UHF transponder memory areas
EPC Memory (EPC Memory Area):
All RAIN RFID UHF transponders have an EPC (Electronic Product Code) memory area that can range from 96 bits (12 bytes) to 496 bits (62 bytes), depending on the manufacturer and type. The EPC memory can be read and written.
TID Memory (TID memory area):
All RAIN RFID UHF transponders also have a so-called TID memory area (Tag unique ID), which can only be read and contains special manufacturer information about the type of transponder. The TID memory is usually only 32bit in size.
User Memory (user-defined memory area):
This memory area can be written to and read from. Depending on the manufacturer and type, it can be from 32bit to 8kbit in size and is very suitable for storing product-specific data such as the manufacturer's date, revision levels, configuration data, etc. on the transponder. If the product equipped with the transponder is read by means of an RFID reader, this information is also available decentrally.
RFID transponder variants
Basic distinguishing features of RFID transponders are the type of communication standard (LF, HF, UHF) as well as the design of the transponder's construction - i.e. the packaging of the RFID antenna and the RFID transponder chip in the transponder housing.
There are two basic types of RFID transponders - active and passive. Active RFID transponders have their own power source, such as a built-in battery. Passive RFID transponders, on the other hand, draw their energy for data transmission exclusively from the electromagnetic field of the RFID reader or writer.
Passive RFID tags do not have their own energy supply. The energy for data transmission is induced into the RFID transponder antenna by the electromagnetic field of the RFID reader antenna. Depending on the communication standard, ranges of a few centimeters (LF RFID) over up to 50 cm (HF RFID) and max. 20 meters with UHR RFID are possible with passive transponders. Passive transponders can usually always be read and written. Passive transponders can usually always be read and written.
Active RFID Transponder
Active transponders do not require the induction of energy by radio waves, because they have their own energy supply - usually in the form of an integrated battery. This makes it possible to transmit data over long RFID ranges of up to 100 meters - a decisive criterion in some applications.
RFID Sensor Transponder
Sensor transponders are transponders that can be read via the passive RFID standards such as HF RFID and UHF RFID, and also have a special sensor that can measure temperature, pressure or other physical values, for example. With purely passive types, the measured values can only be determined when the transponder is in the reading field. In the case of battery-supported sensor transponders, the transponder can determine the sensor readings without interruption but can only pass them on when the transponder comes back into a reading field of an authorized RFID reader. RFID sensor tags are used, for example, in logistics, manufacturing, medicine, and building automation. In transportation and logistics applications, sensor RFID tags are used to track the condition of goods. In production, manufacturing processes can be monitored to monitor quality. In medicine, RFID sensor transponders help monitor patients or track medications (RFID cold chain tracking) or equipment. RFID sensor technology is constantly evolving, so the field of application will expand to other industries.
PACKAGING TYPES OF RFID TRANSPONDERS
Based on a basically identical inner life of RFID transponders with chip, antenna and, if applicable, battery, these electronic data carriers differ in the way they are packaged - and thus in their mechanical, thermal and chemical resistance.
RFID Transponder Labels
RFID tags, which are designed as labels or adhesive labels, are available in a variety of designs. Depending on their mechanical robustness or quality, they are suitable, for example, for the permanent marking of a fire alarm at the installation location under the ceiling, or for short-term marking, e.g. during an intralogistics process. RFID labels can be produced in large quantities and very inexpensively. They can be printed and programmed with standard RFID label printers.
RFID Hardtags (rugged housing)
In many applications, especially industrial and logistic applications, RFID chip and antenna are integrated and/or encapsulated in robust plastic or metal housings of various types and sizes in order to ensure the longest possible service life of the RFID tag through maximum mechanical, thermal and chemical load capacity. This design is also generally referred to as an RFID hard tag.
RFID on-metal Transponder
RFID on-metal transponders are specially designed for use on metallic surfaces. The antenna system of the transponder is designed for mounting on conductive materials and reaches its maximum reading range only on metallic surfaces. On-metal transponders are available as RFID labels as well as RFID hard tags.
RFID- Windshield Transponder
Especially for use in toll collection, there are so-called windshield transponders that are optimized for mounting on the inside of a vehicle windshield. With a suitable reading infrastructure, reading ranges of up to 20 meters can be achieved.
For this type of transponder labels, many additional security functions (Tamper Evident / Tamper Proofed) are possible. These range from so-called pre-cuts at the ends of the label to hologram hologram inserts or fragile antenna structures that cause defined destruction when the label is removed.
RFID transponder in ISO check card format
Contactless RFID cards are widely used, especially in the service sector. Possible applications are: RFID access control, RFID employee attendance and absence recording, RFID payment systems, RFID library systems or security checks. Particularly in the case of security-relevant systems, attention must be paid to the encryption of the data. For this purpose, some manufacturers offer transponders with very secure encryption such as AES 128 bit. Read more about security and encryption of RFID systems here.
The main component of an RFID reading point is the RFID read/write device, which is usually referred to as an RFID reader.
The RFID reader generates an electromagnetic field by means of an RFID antenna. The electromagnetic waves are received by the RFID transponder's antenna. The electrical energy induced in the process is transmitted to the RFID chip of the transponder. The transponder is thus able to send its data to the RFID reader's antenna via the RFID transponder antenna. Protocols embedded in the operating system of the RFID reader control the exchange of data on the so-called RFID air interface in order to read or write to the RFID transponder.
Both mobile RFID readers and stationary RFID readers are available to users. Depending on the type of application, either mobile or stationary RFID reading systems (RFID readers) are recommended in accordance with the processes to be mapped.
Stationary RFID UHF reader
Stationary RFID reading systems are available in two variants: one with an integrated RFID antenna and one with one or more external antenna(s) connections or ports. Simple RFID readers offer USB or serial interfaces, high-end devices usually feature readable interfaces like TCP/IP or even wireless interfaces like BLE, WiFi or 4G Mobile Interface. An integrated operating system based on Linux makes RFID readers flexible and easy to integrate into existing backend systems.
High RFID reading performance thanks to multiport RFID readers
Each RFID reader variant offers specific properties. Multiport RFID readers are used when RFID reading conditions are difficult or when a large number of RFID transponders must be read. In this case, the use of several RFID antennas per RFID reader enables electromagnetic waves to reach the RFID transponders to be read from different angles at different times in order to supply the transponder with energy and start the reading process. Intelligent RFID antennas also have the option of using different antenna polarizations and thus also increase the reading rate in difficult environments. The polarization is switched by means of a control signal on the antenna line. Multiple antenna combinations are primarily used in the field of logistics, e.g. to automate the booking of loading and loading processes using RFID.
Cost savings through intelligent multi-port RFID readers
Multiport RFID readers enable cost savings because a multiport reader can operate multiple RFID antennas. This means that multiple acquisition points can be set up with one RFID reader. With Kathrein technology ©KRAI, even up to 32 RFID antennas can be operated. In this way, a larger number of RFID capture points can be implemented in an economically efficient manner. One application example is the automation of replenishment control in a KanBan process. By means of integrated RFID antennas in the intermediate shelves of the respective shelves, the position of a small load carrier KLT equipped with an RFID transponder can be monitored. If the KLT is empty, the worker removes it from the shelf, which results in the automatic booking of another filled KLT. The advantage of this solution, which is now widely used, is that material consumption can be determined in real time, or the material flow can be controlled directly from the ERP or MES system. Another application example for the cascading of several RFID antennas is the position-accurate detection of plastic parts to be painted in the automotive industry. Here, not only must up to 12 individual parts be detected on a painting rack, but the position on the painting rack must also be determined for quality reasons.
RFID systems differ in their transmission frequencies. They are divided into the following frequency ranges:
- LF (Low Frequency, 125 kHz)
- HF (High Frequency, 13.56 MHz)
- UHF (Ultra High Frequency, 865 MHz to 928 MHz)
RFID in the LF band
In RFID systems in the LF band, data is exchanged in the 125 kHz frequency range. The worldwide standards are ISO/IEC 11784/85. Characteristic of LF RFID are the very small reading range of a few centimeters, the very good penetration of fabric and moisture and the high memory sizes in the transponders of up to 2048 bits. In the LF range, the so-called pulse reading of several transponders with one reading point is not possible. The LF RFID technology is very common in the application field of animal identification, waste management and in the automotive field for the keyless entry application.
RFID in the HF band
RFID systems can also be found in the HF frequency range at 13.56 MHz. The worldwide standards for this are ISO/IEC 14443 and ISO/IEC 15693. HF RFID systems are widely used in many different applications. The largest share is accounted for by the so-called NFC NearField Communication System in mobile devices. Other fields include automation technology for the detection of workpiece carriers and tools. The reading range of HF systems can be up to 70 cm, and pulse reading is now possible with the latest generation of HF systems.
RFID in the UHF band
The latest RFID technology operates in the UHF frequency range between 865 - 928 MHz, depending on world regions. The global communication standard is defined in ISO 18000-6C / EPC Gen2 V2 and allows worldwide interoperability. RFID UHF has some outstanding technical capabilities: passive UHF RFID transponders can be detected over long ranges of up to 20 meters, up to 500 transponders can be read per second in pulse applications, and they can be reliably detected on highways at speeds of up to 200 km/h. UHF technology is widely used in the logistics and retail sectors, as well as increasingly in vehicle detection and toll systems. In the healthcare sector, RFID UHF is used to monitor sterile garments or to locate special mobile devices and equipment indoors. Especially for security-relevant applications, transponders and readers with high encryption algorithms are available on the air interface.
RFID-UHF in the Upper Band
RFID-UHF in the Upper Band
The CEPT (European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations) has now also approved the 915 - 921 MHz range for the use of UHF RFID systems in Europe, in addition to the previous 865 - 868 MHz frequency band. The European Commission describes this frequency band as the "Upper Band". More information about the European Upper Band can be found here.
RFID: uniformity through norms and standards
RFID technology is subject to a number of standards that ensure global and cross-vendor compatibility and interoperability of RFID systems.
- IEC 18000
This series of standards describes various RFID technologies and protocols for wireless communication between transponders and readers.
- ISO/IEC 15693
This standard describes an HF RFID system for the identification of objects at short distances.
- ISO/IEC 14443
This standard deals with contactless RFID transponders and RFID readers used for short-range wireless data exchange.
GS1 is a network of not-for-profit organizations that develop, negotiate and maintain standards for inter-company processes worldwide.
EPCglobal is an industrial consortium focused on developing standards for the use of Electronic Product Code (EPC). The EPC (Electronic Product Code) is a globally unique identification key that can be used to uniquely identify objects. It always consists of the GS1 base number, an object type and a serial number.
Standards for special applications
For a number of applications of RFID technology, special standards must also be observed, such as the global IATA standard RP1740C for the identification of airline baggage, VDA 5500 for RFID use in the automotive industry, ISO 10374 for container identification in the logistics sector, or ISO standard 11784 for the marking and identification of livestock.
What makes RFID a future-proof labeling and identification technology?
The future of RFID - and UHF RFID in particular - is promising.
Technical and regulatory development
The technology is constantly evolving, with the result that new applications are constantly emerging - or known ones can be solved better. The standardization of RFID technologies ensures extensive compatibility and thus avoids proprietary isolated solutions. Due to the possibility of fully automatic data generation, RFID is gaining more and more importance worldwide for the steadily advancing digitalization in industrial manufacturing, logistics, retail and healthcare.
RFID offers many advantages
UHF RFID in particular - already more performant than LF or HF systems in terms of range and reading speed - dominate in large application fields such as logistics and inventory management. In addition, they are usually more cost-efficient compared to the other RFID technologies - especially in applications with a large number of transponders. Furthermore, the use of UHF systems is approved in most countries as an alternative to HF systems, which can be prone to interference with other wireless devices.
The benefits for digitization as well as the worldwide standardization of UHF RFID technology are the reason that UHF RFID technology will continue to gain acceptance.