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Avoiding Five Common RFID Mistakes

Many people think RFID tags are like bar codes, but in reality, there are big differences. Different RFID tags offer different performance.


I am approaching my 11th year working in the RFID industry, and even though the technology has evolved considerably, the barriers to adoption seem to remain the same. Those of you that know me have seen how fired up I can get about this subject, but it’s simply because I want to see people succeed. To that end, I have compiled a list of the most common mistakes I continue to see and how to avoid them.

#5) Selecting the Wrong RFID Tag(s)

This may sound very basic but many people new to RFID think tags are like bar codes, but in reality, there are big differences. For example: just because you see a tag doesn't mean your RFID equipment will see it. Contrarily, if you can't see a tag, it doesn't mean your RFID equipment won't read it. Many people even try to use a hand-held RFID reader like a bar code gun and don't realize they are reading tags because there's no light coming from the front of the reader. My point is: RFID is still new to many people and different RFID tags have different performance.

For the record: UHF RFID tags work on metal and can be read in water! You just need to know which combination of RFID tags, antennas, and readers to use. If you don't know, then read our Durable Asset Tag Product Evaluation & Benchmark.

The RFID Network has an entire section of our website titled the RFID Tag Buyer's Guide dedicated to helping you understand how RFID tags work, where to place the tag on what you're trying to track, what RFID tag you should use, and the cost of an RFID tag. We have published a list ofImportant Considerations When Selecting RFID Tags as well as a list of What You Need to Know Before Talking to a RFID Tag Provider.

#4) Trying to Use Battery Assisted Passive (BAP) Tags to Overcome Poor RFID Reader Performance

A couple of years ago I wrote, “If you’re having problems reading passive RFID tags in your environment, I encourage you to try battery assisted passive tags”. In hindsight, I should have written: “try battery assisted passive tags with a more sensitive RFID reader.” BAP tags require an RFID reader with high sensitivity. I said it in the video, but apparently I wasn't loud enough. We’ve had dozens of people contact us after watching our video on BAP tags to tell us they don’t get the same performance we achieved. In every case it’s been because they’re using an older RFID reader. However, when BAP tags are used with a high sensitivity reader, you can achieve 120+ meters of read distance, watch our benchmark tests here.

#3) Selecting the Wrong RFID Antennas

At a recent conference, I spoke with a large retail company that had spent several months trying to develop a solution to track fine jewelry in their stores. When I mentioned that we produced a video demonstrating this solution at a store in Hong Kong (How RFID Improves Retail Fashion), the gentleman was very surprised because the well-known RFID manufacturer he was working with was unable to demonstrate a reliable solution.  As we discussed his RFID project in more detail, it became apparent the company he was working with was limiting the solution to only the products they manufacture and they don’t make an antenna suitable for his requirements.

Since this is one of the most common topics we explain to people and it’s really difficult to do without pictures, we have a video that visually shows you the differences between near field, far field, and evanescent antennas, as well as circular and linear polarized antennas.

If you want to achieve subject matter expertise on antennas, then you should read Antenna Gain, Polarization, and Propagation - one of the most in-depth technical references I've ever read.

#2) Improper RFID Equipment Installation

This is such an important topic and there is so much to say that The RFID Network has produced eight (8) different videos demonstrating how RFID equipment should be installed in a variety of locations and environments.

The Importance of RFID Equipment Enclosures

RFID System Installation Best Practices

How to Install RFID Systems Successfully

The first video also has an in-depth article that includes a comprehensive list of what to consider when installing RFID equipment and selecting equipment enclosures.

#1) Selecting the Wrong RFID Software Integration Platform

By far, the most costly mistake I’ve seen is due to companies selecting the wrong software integration platform.

I spoke with the CIO of a Fortune 50 company that spent nearly a year, and over a million dollars trying to get a platform from a well-known software company to coordinate RFID readers, door switches, operator feedback devices, and business logic together. It didn’t work because the software could not scale.

An aerospace manufacturer spent $500K developing an RFID solution that worked flawlessly with 4 dock doors, and then tried to implement the same solution for 200+ dock doors. It didn’t work because the software could not scale.

I recently visited a distribution center that spent $250K on RFID middleware yet they have to reboot their server three times a day because it randomly stops reading tags.

The good news is that the first two companies tried a different software solution and was up and running in a couple of weeks.

Please do not underestimate the challenge of writing software that combines RFID, wireless sensors, operator input / feedback devices, etc., and turns that data into useful information which business rules can be applied and acted upon. We have two very in-depth articles dedicated to this subject, the first of which has a list of the most important considerations before making a purchasing decision.

RFID Middleware is Extinct: The Intelligent Sensor Network is Born

The Evolution of RFID Middleware to Intelligent Sensor Network

I know there is a lot more that can be said about this subject. These are the topics people call us on. To the RFID subject matter experts out there: I welcome your feedback and contributions to this, or any article. I'll be happy to add them and credit you.

Best of luck to everyone in the RFID projects.

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