Avoid these 6 common pitfalls and gotchas of RFID implementation

Pitfalls and gotchas of RFID

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is fun! It’s exciting! It definitely has the “wow” factor. However, before jumping straight into the deep end with RFID it’s important to think through the application and come up with a detailed objective and implementation plan to help avoid some unfortunate issues that may raise their ugly head. Understanding these common pitfalls and gotchas can help users avoid them. Here are six issues we commonly see when users are having difficulties with their RFID installation.

1.Tag selection too late in the process

It is common and understandable for users to focus their time and energy on the “big ticket” items in their RFID implementation – namely the hardware and the software. After all, those are the things that will make the application a success, right? What many often forget is that the RFID tag is what ties the entire system together and if proper attention isn’t given to ensure the right tag is selected then the hardware and software really don’t matter, do they?

For example, if the items that need to be tracked are metal, but an on-metal tag isn’t used, users will not get the expected and/or needed read range. Or, if the tag does get the expected performance, but doesn’t fit into the allotted space, users may have to go back to the drawing board after wasting precious time and money that could have been saved by consulting on the tag earlier in the process.

2. Unrealistic expectations for ROI

RFID can undoubtedly be both a time-saving and money-saving technology. However, is it right for every application? Absolutely not. That is why it is very important to understand what the expected ROI is before starting down that path. That is also why Metalcraft has it as part of the first step in our DART™ Qualification Process.

The first step in the process is to Define the Objective, which we help users do by asking such questions as What is the expected outcome? What do you want to accomplish? And, of course, Do you have a target ROI? Sometimes what we find is, while RFID is the latest and greatest thing, it just may not be right for every application. There are also tools like this one here https://www.universalrfid.com/roi-calculator to help determine if the ROI goal set is realistic.

3. Testing in lab conditions vs real life

Testing in “real life” conditions is the most important thing we recommend to users. Yes, we test the tags in our anechoic chamber for theoretic read ranges on a variety of different surfaces and we also test the tags in simulated “real life” conditions using a variety of different readers, but absolutely nothing compares to testing the tags in the actual environment in which they will be used. By testing we also mean testing multiple tags – how many depends on the actual size of the application, but not just one or two. Testing also means for an extended period – again, the length of time depends on how long the tag is expected to last, but we recommend days not hours. Due diligence in testing up front definitely saves time and money on RFID implementations in the long run.

4. Not using an integrator when needed

A systems integrator is a company or individual who either provides a ready-made product or can customize a complete RFID solution for an organization. They can provide great value to a company looking to implement RFID. They’ve already been there and done that. Many of them specialize in a specific area so not only do they have expertise in RFID, but they have expertise in RFID for the same application or industry that you are interested in implementing.

Questions to ask when considering whether to use an integrator include:

  • What is my level of expertise?
  • Do I have enough qualified manpower, or will there be training required and how much training will be needed?
  • Do I have any connections within the RFID industry to help me navigate this implementation?
  • How complex is this implementation? Will a site survey or an RF analysis be required? Do I know what those services are?
  • Am I confident in my installation skills?
  • How will I test the installation?

After examining the answers to these questions and reviewing what the overall objective of the implementation is, contacting an integrator may be in order.

5. Not understanding the differences between readers

The reader required for a successful RFID implementation depends on many factors including the type of application it is. For example, an asset tracking application may require users to visit multiple sites, which is more conducive to a handheld or portable reader instead of a fixed or portal reader. On the other hand, if one of the objectives of an asset tracking application is increased security – knowing who has what asset – a portal reader tracking items in and out of the area may be the way to go. Looking at RFID readers a different way, understanding what type of antenna a reader has, and then maximizing read range by using an RFID tag optimized for that type of antenna ensures a much smoother implementation.

6. Not understanding different programming schemes

Understanding RFID programming can be tricky. Users may want to write a book of information to a tag and may not understand how much information a certain tag can hold or how that information needs to be programmed (hex) to “talk” to the reader. We typically recommend a license plate approach where each tag is assigned a number and the number is associated with information about the asset it is attached to in the software on the backend. Utilizing an IT department may be the answer for some companies, but definitely not all. Often these departments are already overloaded and taking on an RFID implementation may not be the best use of their time. Programming is one area where an integrator can be a big help.

As mentioned previously in this article, these RFID pitfalls and gotchas are certainly not a given – they certainly don’t have to happen. Nearly any RFID pitfall or gotcha can be avoided by having a detailed, well thought out RFID implementation plan to help ensure a much smoother transition.