Contactless Identification and Communication

RFID Technology

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification – a technology used for contactless reading and storage of data via radio transmission. An RFID system consists of an RFID transponder (a microchip with an antenna) and an RFID reader. These two components communicate wirelessly with each other without line of sight. RFID technology uses various RFID transponders (tags) and readers that differ from each other in terms of frequency range, read range, storage capacity and other functionalities.

NFC, HF and UHF

Subsumed under the acronym RFID are various frequency ranges and technologies that differ from each other in terms of their characteristics and thus their fields of application. Especially in logistics processes, the UHF frequency range (= ultra-high frequency: 860 to 960 megahertz) is used because it enables ranges of more than 10 meters with passive labels. In the context of UHF RFID, the term RAIN RFID is used increasingly often as well. HF (= high frequency 13.56 MHz) is another important frequency range. In this case, a basic distinction is made between two major standards. ISO 14443 has been defined for security applications with short read range so that in reality ranges between 1 and 3 cm are possible and higher write and read speeds are achieved in the case of large data volumes. ISO 15693, on the other hand, enables slightly higher read ranges and a wide variety of suitable readers are available especially for industrial processing.

Both HF and UHF tags can be identified, read and written to with handheld devices or permanently installed system/hardware solutions, for instance, when they are integrated in a packaging line or used for inventory monitoring. In addition, smartphones can be used for reading within the HF frequency range. For this purpose, the NFC (Near Field Communication) Consortium has defined standards enabling easy data exchange between NFC tags and smartphones. Both iOS and Android systems can interpret these data and, for instance, open an app or a mobile website and transmit additional data. Among other things, this makes it possible to authenticate a product by means of a smartphone or to provide interactive user information.

 

UHF

HF (ISO 15693/ 14443)

Bluetooth

QR-Code

Theoretical range

~10 m (passive Tags)

~10 cm -1,5 m

100 m (Class I)

10 m (Class II)

Depending on quality, environment, equipment

Real-life range*

1-15 m (depending on several factors)

1-50 cm

1-10 m (Class I)

(5 – 50 cm)

Infrastructure

Dedicated RFID reader

Dedicated RFID reader/ nearly all recent smartphones
(incl. iPhone 7 and newer)

Nearly all smartphones

Nearly all smartphones with corresponding app and camera (recognition quality may vary)

Battery/
tag requires power

Passive tags – no power needed
Active tags - yes

No power needed (exception: active sensor tags)

Power (battery) needed

No power needed

Pairing

Connects automatically in a fraction of a second

Connects automatically in a fraction of a second

Manually set up connections between smartphones, which takes several seconds

Device must be placed directly in front of each label in a very specific position

Interaction / communication

One reader to many tags

One reader to many tags/ one-to-one

One-to-one

1-way one-to-one

Security

Data and authenticity can be protected

Data and authenticity can be protected

Optional: two levels of password protection

Easy to counterfeit and data itself is always readable

Main use cases

Track & trace,
inventory & asset management

Lock & Key (consumables identification),brand protection & user interaction

Device to device connectivity (e.g. audio, heart rate,…)

User interaction

The type of technology and transponder to be used primarily depends on the application. The radio waves can easily penetrate diverse materials and enable product identification within fractions of a second.

Most RFID tags can be written to once or multiple times. Classic memory sizes of RFID chips range from a few bits (e.g. 96bit) to several thousand bits (e.g. 10kbit).

Bulk Data Acquisition and Reading on Unit Level

Especially UHF RFID enables simultaneous bulk reading of data from many transponders such as those on products in a box or on a tray. But single product units equipped with smart labels can be read as well.

 

RFID/NFC Labels

RFID/NFC inlays are very thin and flexible. They can easily be integrated into labels for medicine containers or medical devices and inconspicuously blend with existing designs. The smart labels can simply be dispensed onto primary containers during the production process.

Can an RFID Label be Used Anywhere Without Any Problem?

Nearly any label used in the pharmaceutical or healthcare sectors can be equipped with an RFID chip. Several factors determine whether or not a smart pharma label can be used on the desired primary container and for the intended purpose:

  • Surface: Especially metal affects read range and performance; in the case of UHF glass has a major impact as well.
  • Substance: Liquid drugs affect performance of UHF RFID much more significantly than of HF RFID.
  • Container size: Containers with very small diameters can change the antenna’s geometry and thus considerably reduce read range.
  • Inlay size: The basic rule is that the smaller the antenna the shorter the read range.

 

Specialty label and inlay designs can help overcome these influencing factors. It is also often possible to integrate RFID into existing label designs. Ideally, the RFID solution used is precisely adapted to the respective application in these cases.