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Radio Frequency Identification

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Radio frequency identification

Radio frequency identification, or RFID, is a generic term for technologies that use radio waves to automatically identify people or objects. There are several methods of identification, but the most common is to store a serial number that identifies a person or object, and perhaps other information, on a microchip that is attached to an antenna (the chip and the antenna together are called an RFID transponder or an RFID tag). The antenna enables the chip to transmit the identification information to a reader. The reader converts the radio waves reflected back from the RFID tag into digital information that can then be passed on to computers that can make use of it.

RFID is a better technology than bar codes in many ways. The two are different technologies and have different applications, which sometimes overlap. The big difference between the two is bar codes are line-of-sight technology. That is, a scanner has to "see" the bar code to read it, which means people usually have to orient the bar code towards a scanner for it to be read. Radio frequency identification, by contrast, doesn't require line of sight. RFID tags can be read as long as they are within range of a reader. Bar codes have other shortcomings as well. If a label is ripped, soiled or falls off, there is no way to scan the item. And standard bar codes identify only the manufacturer and product, not the unique item. The bar code on one milk carton is the same as every other, making it impossible to identify which one might pass its expiration date first.

RFID technology can deliver benefits in many areas, from tracking work in process to speeding up throughput in a warehouse. Visit RFID Journal's Case Studies section to see how companies are using the technology's potential in manufacturing and other areas. As the technology becomes standardized, it will be used more and more to track goods in the supply chain. The aim is to reduce administrative error, labor costs associated with scanning bar codes, internal theft, errors in shipping goods and overall inventory levels.

If RFID has been around so long and is so great, but not all companies are using it. Many companies have invested in RFID to get the advantages it offers. These investments are usually made in closed-loop systems-that is, when a company is tracking goods that never leave its own control. That's because some existing RFID systems use proprietary technology, which means that if company A puts an RFID tag on a product, it can't be read by Company B unless they both use the same RFID system from the same vendor. Another reason is the price. If a company tracks assets within its own four walls, it can reuse the tags over and over again, which is cost effective. But for a system to work in



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