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  Scope & limitations of RFID

Though the RFID cannot completely replace the barcode technology due to its higher cost, the scope for accuracy, speed and the return on investment is high in RFID system, affirm Rajkishore Nayak, K N Chatterjee, Tanuj Gupta and Asimananda Khandual.

RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) is an automatic identification method consisting of several components such as tags, tag readers, edge servers, middleware, and application software. Among these the three important components are RFID tag (also known as transponder), RFID reader (also known as transceiver or interrogator) and software for data processing. An RFID tag is a small object that can be attached to or embedded into a product, animal, or person. It consists of a tiny chip where the data is stored and an antenna to enable it to receive and respond to radio-frequency queries from an RFID transceiver.

The tags contain Electronic Product Code (EPC) and the information related to the product like the name of the company, batch and year of manufacturing, price, etc. There are four main frequency bands for RFID tags commonly in use. They are categorised by their radio frequency: low frequency tags (125 or 134.2 kHz), high frequency tags (13.56 MHz), UHF tags (868 to 956 MHz), and microwave tags (2.45 GHz or 5.8 GHz). RFID tags can be active, semi-passive (ie, semi-active) or passive.

RFID Tag with Chip and Antenna

Passive RFID tags have no internal power supply. The minute electrical current induced in the antenna by the incoming radio frequency signal provides just enough power for the integrated circuit (IC) in the tag to power up and transmit a response. Most passive tags signal by backscattering the carrier signal from the reader. This means that the aerial (antenna) has to be designed to both collect power from the incoming signal and also to transmit the outbound backscatter signal.

The tag chip can contain nonvolatile EEPROM (Electrically Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory) for storing data. Lack of an onboard power supply means that the device can be quite small: commercially available products exist that can be embedded under the skin. As of 2005, the smallest such device commercially available measured 0.4 mm 0.4 mm, and is thinner than a sheet of paper; such devices are practically invisible. Passive tags have practical read distances ranging from about 2 mm up to about few metres depending on the chosen radio frequency. Semi-passive RFID tags are very similar to passive tags except for the addition of a small battery. This battery allows the tag IC to be constantly powered. This removes the need for the aerial to be designed to collect power from the incoming signal. Aerials can therefore be optimised for the backscattering signal.

Semi-passive RFID tags are faster in response as compared to passive tags. Active RFID tags or beacons, on the other hand, have an internal power source, which is used to power any ICs and generate the outgoing signal. They may have longer range and larger memories than the passive tags, as well as the ability to store additional information sent by the transceiver. At present, the smallest active tags are about the size of a coin. Many active tags have practical ranges of tens of metres, and a battery life of up to 10 years. Because passive tags are cheaper to manufacture and have no battery, the majority of RFID tags in existence are of the passive variety.

Working of an RFID system

Readers communicate with a tag, which contains digital information. Readers are just like the barcode sensors, which broadcast a radio signal through the antena to the tag. The tag then responds to the radiowave, and the data can be read from the chip of the tag. Simultaneously data from multiple tags can be studied. Readers also decode the signal provided by the tags and transmit to the CPU. A suitable software receives and interprets the information collected from the tags and stores it. Simultaneously, multiple data can be collected and stored with much accuracy as compared to the existing barcode systems.

Applications of RFID

RFID in production

Inside the stores of the production department the stock level can be quickly monitored which helps in a real-time and efficient inventory management. The location and movement of the components, semi-finished and the finished products can be detected by the RFID system, which helps in production monitoring and control. The performance of departments and the individuals can be evaluated by the rate of movement of the garment components from the departments or individuals. This helps in improving the productivity and the quality. In the packing floor the mixing of different styles and sizes can be avoided by RFID tags. Also the number of pieces in packed cartons can be counted without opening, which saves time and labour.

RFID in retail

It can be used in retail to monitor and control the floor level out-of-stocks (OOS). It is mostly required where there is high product display density, low staffing level and chances of mishandling is very high. The stock level of the items is properly maintained and the items can be grouped according to their demand. Similarly while receiving the goods at the store the accuracy of the deliveries can be ensured quickly with less labour. Mostly the retailers verify the accuracy and integrity of the shipment by open-box audit prior to stocking or storing of goods. But now it is possible to read all the items packed inside the carton without opening, which saves time and labour cost. So the RFID provides a new horizon to the retailers in receiving of materials, which eliminates the invoice disputes, mixing of different quality products, etc.

The theft of garments from the fitting room can be prevented by mounting a small reader at the entry point of the room. The tag information of the garment is captured when the customer takes the garment to the fitting room. The items that are taken to the fitting room but not come out are reported as potential loss items. So the RFID can be used to identify the missing merchandise and prosecution of the shoplifters.

The store merchandise recovery and replenishment process presently used is completely manual, unsystematic and ineffective. Also it requires a very long time and high labour force and some popular items are not replenished for weeks. This can be overcome by RFID technology. The tags help to estimate the stock level frequently and there is an in-stock position improvement up to 30%.

This has a positive impact on sales and customer satisfaction. It prevents the fashion or the seasonal merchandise to lie undetected in the back room and to be sold at significant markdowns thus improving the profit margin. Also at the point of sales the RFID tag can be read quickly and it avoids the physical handling of the product as in barcode system. Also the customers can be informed about the status of merchandise by interactive display screens. The tags can be placed at the side seams or hem or in a paper cartoon label without affecting the aesthetic appeal or the comfort properties.

Other applications

RFID has also many other applications in various fields. Low-frequency RFID tags are commonly used for animal identification. Pets can be implanted with small chips so that they may be returned to their owners if lost. High-frequency RFID tags are used in library book tracking, object tracking in stores, building access control, airline baggage tracking, etc. The American Express Blue credit card now includes a high-frequency RFID tag, a feature American Express called as ExpressPay.

UHF RFID tags are commonly used commercially in pallet and container tracking, and truck and trailer tracking in shipping yards. The tags with a frequency of 13.56 MHz are being placed on prescriptions for Visually Impaired Veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Pharmacies is now supplying the tags with label information stored inside that can be read by a battery powered and talking prescription reader. This reader speaks information such as: Drug Name, Instruction, Warnings, etc. Microwave RFID tags are used in long range access control for vehicles.

The RFID tags can be used for toll collection at toll booths. The tags are read remotely as vehicles pass through the booths, and tag information is used to debit the toll from a prepaid account. The system helps to speed traffic at toll plazas. The smart key concept adopted by Toyota Prius and some Lexus models use an RFID circuit which allows the car to sense the presence of the key within 3 feet of the sensor. The driver can open the doors and drive the car when the key is inside the pocket or the handbag. Also it can be implanted on the skin of a patient in hospital for related information and proper identification. The tag can be implanted on soldiers at the time of war to trace the missing soldiers.

Advantages of RFID over Barcodes

Barcode systems though used for product information, inventory control, etc have some drawbacks as compared to RFID. The amount of information stored in a barcode is very less as compared to RFID. RFID can store up to 1000 bytes of data. An RFID is specific to each item, whereas the barcode is not. Barcode needs human interaction for proper operation. It requires time-of-sight access to an optical scanner for the product related information. The barcode is to be replaced if the information it contains needs modification, but in RFID it can be modified at stages of the supply chain by the interaction between the microchip and the reader software. The barcode system is less accurate as compared to RFID.

Limitations of RFID

Though RFID technology has already been applied effectively, it has certain technological barriers that still need to be overcome to optimise its application. These lacunas are high investment, lack of security and privacy, and some related to the technology of RFID.

  1. Cost: Although there is a great potential of RFID in the local logistics sector, the major drawback is the cost of the RFID tag, which is higher as compared to barcode system. So industrial leaders are concerned about the return on investment and net profit by investing the extra cost in the existing system. The cost depends on the volume of usage. The lowest cost tags available on the market are as low as 7.2 cents each in volumes of 10 million units or more. The average cost of a RFID tag is around 30 to 40 cents if the volume is not sufficienly large but the cost is only 4 cents for a barcode. The companies like Wal-Mart, Benetton, Prada are trying to still reduce the price. After the price is reduced all the retailers and manufacturers can implement the technology. Apart from the initial cost, there is cost involved in maintenance and upkeeping of the system. RFID tags are expected to completely replace the barcode system in future.

  2. Security and Privacy: The security and privacy of the RFID against unauthorised readers is in debate from the very beginning. There is a great challenge to the consumer privacy. The consumers using the product with RFID tags can be traced easily. The RFID tag broadcasts the ID serial number or the Electronic Product Code (EPC) to the nearby reader. There is a very high chance of privacy violations. The size of the dress a women wants can be publicly readable by any nearby scanner. Due to this problem the cloth retailer Benetton has planned to withdraw the use of RFID tags in its apparel products. CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Policy Invasion and Numbering) group, based in US has claimed that RFID tags embedded in items can track the consumers creating unwanted surveillance and an invasion of privacy. Many security measures have been proposed for RFID in various literatures to overcome the above problem. The simplest is the "Kill Tag" approach in which the tag is electronically deactivated after the item is being sold out. The tag also can be removed physically from the product before they are placed on the hand of the consumers. The other approaches are Cryptographic approach, Hash Function approach, Faraday Cage approach, Randomised Hash Lock, backward channel XORing, Active Jamming approach, Regulation approach, etc.

  3. Technology: As the RFID is based on the concept of Radio Frequency, it can be interfered with other radio transmissions, metals, liquids, etc. The degree of interference depends upon the frequency of the tag and the usage environment.

  4. mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-ansi-language:EN-US;mso-fareast-language: EN-US;mso-bidi-language:AR-SA">Lack of standardisation: RFID is at the infancy stage and there are many hurdles ahead of it. There are many versions of RFID that operate at different frequencies and need different software and readers. So the need is to be agreed upon one or group of frequencies to have interoperability between the manufacturers, retailers and distributors.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-ansi-language:EN-US;mso-fareast-language: EN-US;mso-bidi-language:AR-SA">Conclusion

Though the RFID cannot completely replace the barcode technology due to higher cost accuracy, speed and the return on investment is high in RFID system. The retailers, manufacturers and consumer goods companies like CVS, Tesco, Prada, Benetton, Wal-Mart and Procter & Gamble are now implementing the technology and exploring the impact of the technology on their business. Others can also take advantage of RFID. The basis of success lies in understanding the technology and other features to minimise the potential problems. It is high time that Indian apparel industry should start utilising the new technology such as RFID in various applications such as manufacturing, and storing purposes.


  1. Creigh-Tyte A: RFID Technology, a Tale of Villains and Heroes, Textile Asia, September 2005, pp 61-64.

  2. Wong K, Hui P and Chan A: Data Protection in the RFID Era, Textile Asia, October 2004, pp 25-27.

  3. Amrohvi I A: RFID Technologies Tagging the World, 'It', October 2005, pp 50-54.

  4. Bhagwat V M: RFID for Textile Supply Chain Management, Clothesline, June 2005, pp 81-83.

  5. http://www.lakewest.com

  6. http://www.webopedia.com.

  7. http://www.rfidsurvival.com.

  8. http://www.covansys.com/what/400935.pdf.

  9. http://www.vics.org/home/Apparel_RFID.

  10. http://topstitch.cornell.edu/issues/Topstitch_Spring2004.pdf.

  11. http://www.smartweartechnologies.com/whitepaper.pdf

  12. http://www.rsasecurity.com/rsalabs/staff/bios/ajuels/publications/blocker/blocker.pdf.

  13. http://www.autoid.org/metatraffic2/track.asp?mtr=/sc31/2004/june/ 789_Apparel_DCC_JPN_20040427.pdf.

  14. http://www.retailsystems.com/advisory/RFIDSurveyPR1.pdf.

Rajkishore Nayak, K N Chatterjee, and Tanuj Gupta are with the Technological Institute of Textile & Sciences, Bhiwani 127 021. Asimananda Khandual is with the University Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai 400 019.

published July , 2007
Reader Comments
feroz  |  1/27/2010 1:06:53 PM
satheesh  |  2/21/2009 5:31:08 PM
very good
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