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» RFID Overview
RFID Overview
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a hot topic in the inventory management world at present, for a variety of reasons. First, some of the nationís largest retailers are demanding that their suppliers implement RFID by 2005. That demand has suppliers scrambling to find quick and cost-effective ways to implement the technology and avoid losing business. Secondly, some experts contend that RFID is good technology, but too costly for most businesses to implement. Yet another set of experts assert that RFID does not present that many more options and advantages than do current methods like bar coding.

What is RFID? It is a method of tracking inventory by attaching devices to the packaging that store data and transmit that data when signaled to do so. A tag, which may be either active or passive, is embedded, for example in a shipmentís packaging material. Active tags are those that contain their own battery, enabling them to be read from greater distances. Passive tags donít have a battery, but send a signal when powered by the reader device. The only other equipment required is a reader that receives and interprets signals from the tags.

There are some substantial advantages to RFID technology that make it particularly useful for retailers, especially in terms of managing their inventory. The chief advantage is that, unlike bar codes, RFID technology does not require line-of-sight reading. It can be read through other materials, or around a corner, provided it is in fairly close proximity. Pallets, then, might contain mixed loads of products, all varying, and all of which can be identified without moving or unloading any of it. And, because large numbers of tags can be read within a very short time span, efficiency is improved and costs are reduced.

A second major advantage of RFID is that the tags can be embedded in packaging material, which gives them a significant degree of protection. Unlike bar codes, they arenít exposed to the outside environment. Thus, they wonít be torn, smudged, abraded, or otherwise damaged by coming into contact with other materials.

Additional advantages are that RFID tags are capable of holding more data than a simple bar code. Because they contain a microchip, ideally the tags can be programmed to contain a great deal of information. The ability to change tag data as a product passes through shipping channels and into the retail environment, is also an advantage.

However, this is where some experts disagree and their predictions are based on cost. It is not disputed that RFID tags are capable of holding additional information far beyond the capability of bar codes. But, the greater the capability of the microchip, the greater the cost involved. Some people question whether or not the tags will contain any more information than bar codes already do, based on the cost factor alone. By the same token, the capability for changing tag information as a product moves through the system is valuable, but costly. Read-only tags are much less expensive at present than the read-write variety.

Thus, some individuals have questioned whether there are really huge cost savings to be realized by implementation of RFID technology. They contend that, while there are certainly advantages to the technology, those advantages may not be momentous enough to justify the additional cost of implementing it, at least not on a wide scale, and not at present.
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