Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a product identification method that relies on storing and remotely retrieving data using RFID tags. This technology aids primarily in the accountability and identification of product. Unlike UPC bar codes, RFID technology does not require contact or line of sight for communication. This system enables automatic identification of any material object or inventory item without scanning individual labels or tags.
The RFID tags are integrated circuits that include a small antenna, using electromagnetic fields to transfer data. The tagging system includes the tag itself, a read/write device, and a host system application for data collection, processing, and transmission. The RFID reader transmits an encoded radio signal to the tag. The tag receives the message and then responds with its identification and other data. This may simply be a unique tag serial number, or may contain product-related data such as a stock number, lot or batch number, or other specific information. Since tags have individual serial numbers, the RFID system design can discriminate among several tags that might be within the range of the RFID reader and read them simultaneously.
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RFID tags that contain their own power source are known as active tags. An active tag has an on-board battery and periodically transmits its ID signal. Active tags have more memory and can be read at greater ranges. Those without a power source are known as passive tags. A passive tag is cheaper and smaller because it has no battery. This type of tag is briefly activated by the radio frequency scan of the reader. The electrical current is small—generally just enough for transmission of an ID number.
Systems are flexible and adaptable, able to read large amounts of tagged items at once and allowing for various applications. RFID tags can be applied to or incorporated into a product, allowing for various applications. They are typically small enough that they are not easily noticeable and therefore can be placed on many types of objects. This technology is continuing to grow in use and application.