Navigating Tough Terrain in RFID – Implementation with Zone24x7

Navigating Tough Terrain in RFID – Implementation with Zone24x7

RFID Gaining Momentum

RFID is changing the way the world is keeping track of things, whether that be in warehousing, any retail environment, or various other applications across all domains of life. From monitoring vehicles to provide unique insights on a racetrack to following a single shirt throughout the entire sales lifecycle gathering insights along the way, RFID has been gaining momentum for decades and has reached prominence recently in a variety of industries.

One of the greatest utilizations of RFID technology has been realized recently in the warehousing industry as well as retail environments in order to quickly inventory products that have previously taken a large amount of time. With the help of RFID technology inventory can be gathered from large areas of space in a matter of minutes rather than hours or even potentially days in some settings. RFID utilizes radio waves in order for an antenna to quickly communicate with special tags to gather information and report back to a central system.

Because of the reliance on radio waves, there are some products and materials that can prove difficult for an RFID system to scan properly and effectively. In order to fully realize the full potential of an RFID inventory system, it is important to have a trusted partner like Zone24x7 to mitigate any risks that difficult products or environments may provide for RFID radio waves. Zone24x7 has the expertise and experience to adapt your challenging products or environments to get an RFID system in place in any retail or warehouse environment.

What Kind Of Goods And Materials Can Be Problematic For RFID? 

Two of the main obstacles to RFID signals are metals and liquids. The more troublesome of the two are metals, being much more prevalent in shelving and warehousing apparatus as well as products. Metals have the possibility of both reflecting and absorbing the radio wave produced in RFID depending on the situation which can cause erroneous results in either form. A variety of products can contain metals like electronics, tools, sporting goods, miscellaneous parts, among others. In addition to any potential metals in products, metal is also the most used material in industrial shelving making most shelves immediately difficult to adapt with RFID. While metal shelving may make it difficult to adapt RFID, it is certainly not impossible. Often the recommendation would be to replace any metal fixtures with wood fixtures of the same type, although this can be costly and provide a hurdle to RFID implementation. To mitigate some of the possible interference due to metal shelving, a mixture of wood and metal can be used to attempt to minimize the impact of metal shelving.

(Figure 01 & 02 – Using a combination of Metal and Wood to ensure effective RFID scanning)

Metallic packaging can also make it difficult to get a signal read off of a tag due to the metallic backing interfering with the tag’s communication feedback. To mitigate against these risks with metals, many specialty tags exist on the market that often provides an (often plastic) casing in which the RFID tag can still communicate with antennas within scenarios with metal-related complications.

Due to the high cost of these specialty tags, they can prove to be impractical for most situations aside from extremely high-value goods. Sometimes depending on client needs, metal shelving can actually provide some positives in which to work with. Metal environments can sometimes act as a Faraday cage providing a good area for RFID bombardment to achieve extremely high levels of accuracy. Because no RFID signal will penetrate the metal enclosure, RFID power levels can be exaggerated inside the enclosure to ensure proper scanning results.

Part of Zone24x7’s RFID experience lies within these hard-to-scan regions. From retrofitting spaces to service maximum RFID efficiency with hard-to-read metal sporting goods, or providing custom solutions to guide specific needs based on existing structures with high-value electronics. These represent a portion of our expertise in the area. The nature of RFID implementation involves testing solutions as the process unfolds and having insights into complex situations making each RFID implementation, we perform at Zone24x7 to be more sophisticated and evolve as the technology does.

Mitigating Problematic RFID Situations With Experienced Experts

Although there can be some tricky situations that may cause issues with RFID implementation, with the right steps you can mitigate any complications and ensure accurate and efficient inventory management in even the hardest to scan settings. Depending on need and inventory needs high amounts of research and development are needed in order to make sure all customer requirements are being met as well as any roadblocks that any warehouse environment may present in any stage of development/implementation of any RFID feature.

The first steps are ensuring testing is done to filter out the myriad of tag options available on the market to ensure cost and performance measures are met as needed. Often with metallic products/packaging, a flag-type tag will provide the best results for the cost of the tag. Tag placement can also play a large part in tag readability. Often depending on item orientation flagging tags off of the top of the products in order to create a line of sight to the antenna will provide the best results. In parallel with this effort, there should be any modifications to the infrastructure needed for testing or prototypes built in order to properly layout any extemporaneous RFID needs based on inventory/objects to be tested.

The final part of the preliminary analysis includes finding and sourcing antenna and other hardware components for proper testing. If an environment has an abundance of metal shelves, increased antenna numbers may be needed in order to achieve high levels of accuracy. Next, in-depth testing will be done to achieve desired accuracy standards using a variety of software/hardware methods to improve accuracy based on given environmental impacts.

Zone24x7 has found that working closely with the client is important to ensure minimal impact on legacy operations while enriching their processes with the benefits of RFID real-time inventory. Often operational changes will be in order to help streamline the RFID efforts into an already working environment. Using barcode technology, goods may be stacked up or bunched up in a way that is not conducive to RFID. This issue can be mitigated by properly spacing products to allow the radio waves from RFID antennas to pass between your products and provide accurate readings where previously not possible. This often falls on employees, who play a large part in the overall success of RFID implementation. The operational efficiency that RFID can offer any warehouse environment is palpable and often can add benefits while only needing small changes to existing processes.

(Figure 03 – Using Flag type RFID tags and proper spacing on a golf club shaft to ensure maximum readability)

Results With Proven Experts

With many large warehouse operations and retailers getting into the RFID inventory space, there is an increasing desire for businesses to adapt to this new efficient and accurate technology. However, in practice, RFID implementation can often get complicated fast and require expertise to properly adapt. Zone24x7 has the knowledge and expertise for RFID technology backed by real-world experience implementing real-time RFID inventory across multiple industries. With the help of an experienced RFID partner like Zone24x7, RFID implementation can become a reality for many companies wanting to venture into the future with RFID inventory solutions.

Dalton Pellanda

Sales and Engineering Solutioning Specialist

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