Are RFID Asset Tags Right for Your Business?
While most of us are familiar with barcodes (we encounter them at grocery stores and retailers), consumers are less acquainted with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags.
But even if we’re not aware of them, RFID technology is being used by many of the businesses we patronize. RFID tags are already used by retailers, financial service providers, the government, and the healthcare industry. The market for RFID technology is expected to exceed $35 billion by 2030.
In this article, we’ll explain how radio frequency identification technology works and how RFID tags are used to track assets as well as inventory. We’ll also walk through some examples of how businesses use RFID asset tags and the asset management software that works with them.
What are RFID asset tags?
RFID asset tags are a type of asset label that uses radio frequency identification (RFID) to identify assets or property. Most businesses own equipment, tools, and other property that they need to keep track of, and RFID is a technology that helps them do so.
Asset tags are usually used for labeling and tracking fixed assets. Fixed assets are property a business uses to create value for more than one year. The unique identifier can be an RFID tag, or it can be a barcode or QR (quick response) code.
While barcodes and QR codes provide a unique visual for the scanner to read with a camera or reflecting light, RFIDs don’t require a direct line of sight because they use radio waves to identify a tag.
RFID tags include a chip with a minuscule antenna and a CPU with stored data. RFID readers send out an electromagnetic radio pulse, which triggers the tag to transmit data. Depending on the industry, businesses may use handheld RFID readers or fixed readers, which are often placed in doorways to track asset locations.
Although all RFID tags use essentially the same technology, different types of RFID tags operate at different frequencies, which are the units by which we measure radio waves. A “low frequency” signal means that there are fewer long radio waves, whereas higher frequency signals emit many smaller electromagnetic waves.
3 Types of RFID asset tags
There are three main types of RFID asset tags. Let’s cover how they differ and what they’re used for.
Passive RFID tags
Passive RFID tags are the least expensive option (as little as $0.10), but they're also less powerful. These tags have no power source or battery of their own, so they don't constantly emit a signal. Instead, when you use an RFID reader, a passive tag draws energy from the waves emitted by the scanner.
Because passive RFID tags rely on the scanner’s power, they have a smaller signal range, meaning you can usually only read the tag from a few feet away. Their low cost and lightweight design makes passive RFID tags popular among retailers and businesses that must process large inventories.
Active RFID tags
Unlike passive tags, active RFID tags include their own battery, which allows them to emit a radio signal regardless of whether or not a reader is being used. To make the battery last longer, active tags may emit a signal every few seconds or in response to a reader.
That internal power source and the fact that active RFID tags typically operate at a higher wave frequency gives them a much greater signal range. Some active RFID tags can be read from more than 150 meters away, making them useful for real-time location tracking in a production facility. Active RFID tags are also commonly used for identifying vehicles in order to collect toll fees. The drawback is that active tags are significantly more expensive than passive ones, and they need to be replaced when the battery dies.
Semi-passive RFID tags
As their name suggests, semi-passive RFID tags serve as a middle point between passive and active asset tags. Like active RFID tags, they do have an internal battery, but their signal range (as much as 100 feet) isn’t as large. Sometimes called semi-active RFID tags, they provide both a functionality and a price point between the two extremes. They’re a good option for warehouses and other large facilities.
Benefits of RFID asset tags
Generally, asset tags help you keep track of your company’s property, reducing loss and theft. You can monitor where any given asset is located, even if your business operates over multiple locations.
Asset tags and tracking also help you monitor the condition and value of your assets. With a modern asset tracking platform like RedBeam, you can keep a full history of your assets, including maintenance and repairs. This helps you take better care of your equipment and extend its life. And by tracking the lifecycle of different assets, you can anticipate replacement costs and create more accurate budgets.
Asset tags of all kinds can also help reduce or eliminate human error. In the past, companies might keep a written or digital spreadsheet of assets, but it’s easy for employees to make a mistake while reading or recording a serial number. RFID asset tags (as well as barcodes and QR codes) eliminate this risk, allowing you to perform asset audits with greater speed and accuracy.
Unlike barcodes and QR codes, however, RFID tags don’t require a direct line of sight. This makes it easier for you to scan asset tags without worrying about the exact location of the label. RFID tags can be read from farther away. As we explained above, different types of RFID tags have different ranges (from a foot or two to more than 150 meters).
Another key benefit of RFID tags is that you can read many tags simultaneously, whereas barcodes and QR codes must be read one by one. Some RFID tags even offer specialized functionality, like temperature sensors, which are vital for perishable products.
What businesses use RFID asset tags?
Nearly every business has assets of some kind that are worth tracking. Because RFID tags are more expensive than barcodes, they aren’t for everyone, but they still apply to a wide range of industries.
As we covered, many retailers use RFID technology for both inventory and fixed asset management. The ability to quickly get accurate inventory counts helps businesses know when to restock and can inform pricing and promotions. RFID tags can also help prevent shoplifting, triggering an alarm during theft.
But RFID tags can also be a vital tool for organizations with valuable or mobile equipment, including government, the military, and healthcare.
RFID asset tracking examples
For an example of how RFID asset tracking allows businesses to better manage their tools and equipment, you need only look at your local hospital.
Some hospitals and other medical facilities use RFID tags to mark tools like portable ultrasound machines or patient monitoring equipment. Then, by placing fixed RFID readers in doorways, they can track where the equipment was last used. In a hospital with dozens or even hundreds of rooms, the ability to pinpoint a device can save hours of searching, as well as loss, theft, and unnecessary duplicate purchases.
Education is another industry where RFID tags can save tons of time while reducing asset loss. For example, in many elementary and high schools, students check out textbooks for the school year and return them before the summer. With RFID tags, the librarian can scan dozens or hundreds of books at once, saving hours that might have been spent reading each barcode one by one.
RFID asset tracking software
RFID asset tags are one of the more advanced options for businesses that want to track and maximize the returns on their property. But for RFID tags to be effective, you also need asset tracking software.
Asset tracking software (also known as asset management software or an asset tracking solution) is a system that holds all the asset records and data that correspond with your RFID asset tags. While RFID tags can store a limited amount of data, asset tracking software allows you to maintain a comprehensive chronological history of each asset, including its monetary value, its location, and how it has been used.
Asset management systems like RedBeam work in conjunction with your RFID tags and readers to allow you to document, edit, and analyze asset data. Because each business has different needs, RedBeam allows you to create custom fields in your asset records. This means you can track whatever details matter to your business.
Like any technology, ease of use is an important factor in choosing asset management software. Along with a simple and intuitive user interface, RedBeam allows you to give role-based access to different employees. You can give supervisors and asset managers access to all the data and functionality they need while limiting other employees to certain tasks.
For asset management software to be most effective and efficient, it needs to integrate with your other tools and technologies. RedBeam’s REST API enables you to connect your asset records to just about any other tool.
Frequently asked questions
Here we cover some of the most common questions people have about RFID asset tags.
What is the range of RFID asset tracking?
The range of RFID asset tags can vary widely, depending on the type of RFID tag. Some passive RFID tags may only be readable from within one foot. Active RFID tags that use high radio frequencies, however, can have a signal range of more than 150 meters.
What is the difference between passive and active RFID tags?
The difference between passive and active RFID tags is that active RFID tags have their own power source in the form of a battery. Passive RFID tags, on the other hand, have no power source of their own. They only transmit data when an RFID reader sends out an electromagnetic pulse, drawing power from the reader’s radio waves. Semi-passive RFID tags have a battery, but they aren't as powerful as active RFID tags.
Can RFID track stolen items?
While RFID technology is useful for detecting theft, it can't generally be used to locate an item once it has been stolen. For example, some retailers attach RFID tags to merchandise, which are only removed after the item is purchased. RFID readers at the exit will set off an alarm if someone tries to leave with an unpurchased item. RFID tags aren't geographically trackable like GPS-enabled items.
How much does an RFID tag cost?
The costs of RFID tags depend on their type. Passive RFID tags are the least expensive and can be purchased for as little as $0.10. The most powerful active RFID tags can cost as much as $25+. Semi-passive RFID tags are more expensive than passive tags but less expensive than active tags.
Asset tracking with RFID and other technologies
RFID asset tags are a great choice for businesses that need more functionality from their asset labels. RFID tags allow you to scan large quantities at once and can even store meaningful data on the tag itself.
Now that you understand how RFID technology works, you can make informed decisions about how you track and manage your physical assets. RedBeam brings organization and insight into your assets, whether you choose RFID tags, barcodes, or QR codes.
If you’re ready to see how RedBeam’s flexible asset management platform works with RFID asset tags, schedule a demo today.