Barcode and labelling specialist, inotec, has designed a range of products to increase the efficiency of industrial processes including sortation, stock count, replenishment and the movement of goods. As a result, its automatic identification solutions have become essential tools for a fast and reliable way to keep track of moving assets and products.
As inotec UK is an experienced provider of labelling solutions to industries such as logistics, automotive, food and drink and e-commerce, they have come to understand the complex issues such companies face. This has led to inotec developing its own unique and durable automatic identification solutions, including RFID (Radiofrequency Identification) labels.
RFID labelling technology is designed to support inventory control and processing; it is most commonly used on totes, crates and products. The RFID labels enable computer systems to automatically keep track of quantities, sizes and variants throughout production and distribution processes. The use of RFID labels has grown by 30 per cent and inotec predicts that this rate of growth will continue – especially within the logistics industry.
Understanding the different automatic identification labelling types
When it comes to automatic identification, there are three main categories of labelling: traditional (linear) barcodes, 2D (QR, Datamatrix etc) barcodes and RFID labels. The traditional barcode label is also known as a linear barcode because the code is all in one line. It is the most common type of barcode people see daily. When scanned, a barcode label provides a serial number which feeds a string of data to the computer system.
Moving on from traditional barcode labels, the QR code features three squares around one corner and a data matrix. They compress linear barcodes to reduce them into lines or blocks to become 2D barcodes. Users can scan QR codes with a scanner or camera to read the information stored behind the barcode. The 2D barcode was invented to carry more data than the linear barcode which only carries information for product identification.
RFID labelling solutions from inotec – inotag
The third category of automatic identification is RFID tags and labels. These are designed as a secure and accurate way to record and update data; RFID labels allow facilities to automatically capture data using radiofrequency identification. Labelling specialist, inotec UK, has launched its own range of RFID labels known as inotag labels.
With RFID, radiofrequency technology carries data within a chip. Dubbed as the RFID tag, the chip is visible as a black dot with an antenna coiled around it. This RFID tag is then placed on the back of a label. Designed to carry data through radiofrequency using antennas, the tag transmits the data from the chip to the antenna when placed within the signal field. This then feeds the data to a computer system to update processes.
The inotag labels are designed specifically so the foil antenna does not interfere with the reliability of the label adhesive. They also feature a polycarbonate covering for durability and protection from daily wear and tear.
RFID labels use radiofrequency waves to identify objects or items within range and collect the data being held on the RFID tags. They differ from barcode labels as the RFID tag is a data carrier and data can be changed or updated. Barcodes, however, are printed so they provide static data which cannot be changed unless they are re-printed.
RFID uses radiofrequency waves to transfer data two ways between the antenna of a reading unit (scanner) and any particular item with a label such as a pallet or crate. It doesn’t matter what the item is, as soon as you put the RFID label onto it, you can start transmitting data to and from it, when it is within the antenna signal field.
Once the antenna has received the information from the RFID tag, the computer software then decodes it, logs the information and transfers any new data to the chip. For example, if RFID technology is being used with grocery totes the scanner can identify what is in each tote and what needs to be added to each tote before it can be sent for delivery
High and low-frequency RFID technology – What’s the difference?
Originally available in two frequencies – high-frequency (HF) and low-frequency (LF) – there are now three frequencies following the development of ultra-high frequency (UHF) for RFID labels. These frequencies can be distinguished simply by looking at the label. There are specific reasons for choosing different RFID frequency types.
Low-frequency RFID label tags have a low read range – typically 50 cm. Designed for lifelong applications, LF tags are ideal for wet environments. More commonly, they are used for microchipping animals and within key fobs. They also have a good readability rate where metals and liquids are present.
High-frequency labels feature a coiled antenna. This could be coiled into a square, an oblong or even a circle shape. The high-frequency labels have a large memory, making them ideal for storing data. The lowest memory available is 256 bits which equates to around 25-30 characters of data. This can be text, numbers or symbols. Most high-frequency RFID tags come with a 1,000 bits memory which allows around 120 characters. This enables large data handling with a reading range of up to one metre.
A simple way of demonstrating high-frequency RFID technology is the example of contactless payments. This concept uses Near Field Communication (NFC) which requires you to tap your card or device onto a reader. There will be an app on your phone which is NFC enabled to read your bank card. You put the details of your bank card into the app and then you can just tap your phone to pay with your bank card.
So, high-frequency is ideal for processes which use a close reading range to transmit a large amount of data. If the data contains sensitive or private information, a close read range will prevent the data from being accidentally picked up by the wrong reader.
Ultra-high frequency (UHF) RFID technology was developed specifically for a longer read range. The UHF technology has a read range of up to 12 metres and has become extremely widespread within the logistics industry.
The difference between ultra-high frequency and high-frequency is that ultra-high-frequency RFID tags have the chip in the middle and then the antennas are placed on either side; this is what is referred to as a dipole antenna.
When developing UHF technology, one of the issues it was designed to overcome is the collision of signals when reading multiple tags. HF technology reads what’s in front of it over a short distance, but it can’t read multiple RFID tags at once. A big advantage of UHF technology is that you can read lots of RFID tags at the same time – even hundreds – at speed. This is because RFID does not require a line of vision to read the label, it uses radiofrequency waves. The RFID tag just needs to be within the frequency reading range of the receiving antenna.
RFID power options – passive and active tags
RFID tags require power to function, this can either be active or passive. An active RFID tag has its own internal battery which can be used to send signals over a greater distance.
A passive tag relies on receiving an amperage of power from the antenna. This small amount of power wakes the chip up to receive information. So, passive tags rely on the power that’s being sent to them by the antenna within the reader unit.
How do RFID antennas work?
The RIFD antenna is used to transmit and receive data. The antenna is constantly sending out a signal within its field and when the tag enters the field, the modulated signal powers up the chip within the tag for a communication protocol. It will then send a question to the chip such as, “what serial number are you?” and then the chip will transmit a signal back to the antenna with the answer e.g. “I’m serial number 12345”.
Once the antenna has received that data, it decodes the information from the RFID label and inputs it into the software system. Depending on your processes, the antenna may then be required to send a signal back to the tag to update the data that’s held on the chip.
As a security tag and label specialist, inotec partners with software companies to complete installations on site. The label and tag are supplied by inotec and then the software company will integrate the software so it can decode the data.
Common misconceptions about RFID labels
One of the most common mistakes people make with RFID labelling is confusing it with GPS or satellite technology. The majority of inotec’s RFID projects use passive technology – this means they operate using a local system so the labels only work when they are within range of the antenna. This could be passing through warehouse doors, scanners or gates – wherever the antenna is placed. However, when the system is set up, it will only work if the tag is within the field of the antenna.
Many people misunderstand RFID technology thinking that once the label is on, they can continuously track the item using a computer system when in a different location. However, RFID doesn’t provide continuous location tracking, just an update of when an item reaches an RFID touchpoint. In-between the pass-points, there is no information provided on the items’ location as it is outside of the signal field for the antenna.
GPS and satellite technology work differently as they are designed to pinpoint exact locations, at all times. RFID labelling technology is designed for inventory control – most commonly used on totes and crates – and therefore does not warrant constant location tracking. It simply needs to update the system at the required checkpoints. Usually, there is no need for any additional data.
Common printing and encoding of RFID labels
As part of producing and installing RFID labelling solutions, inotec UK can also print and encode labels. Alternatively, customers can buy printers and encoders to do this in-house, although, this approach is usually more common for barcode labels.
The in-house printing of RFID labels, however, is not durable enough for most applications. With products such as totes and crates, they use in-mould labels which are built-in during manufacture. This ensures they can last the lifespan of the totes and crates themselves.
With applications which require an adhesive RFID label, inotec has designed a labelling solution that features a polycarbonate covering. This provides durability and protection from daily wear and tear.
Finding a trusted supplier – inotec UK
As a label specialist, inotec has a vast amount of experience in delivering RFID labelling for a variety of products and applications. The company also has the advantage of a high-tech laboratory where RFID labels are tested under diverse conditions. This has led to inotec becoming renowned as one of the UK’s most trusted, experienced and reliable label suppliers.