Contactless data capture through RFID labels
RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) labels can be considered in many cases as a complementary technology to barcode labels. The impressive advantages in combination with the reliability and flexibility of these labels allow the use of RFID in almost all business areas today. We will explain the advantages and answer the question why international companies especially (which are subject to strong standardization pressure) prefer RFID functionality.
Almost all European manufacturing and transport companies rely on optimised logistical processes. For this purpose, processes are standardized, and forms / labels are used that are often marked with barcodes or 2D-codes. Increasingly these feature RFID functionality (Smart Labels).
How Smart Labels (RFID) work as transponders
With Smart Labels, the data carrier is not a barcode, but an integrated microchip embedded between two thin, glued layers of paper. All relevant data is stored on this microchip. By means of an antenna connected to the microchip, which is integrated into the Smart Label, the data can be transmitted to the respective readers via electromagnetic waves and read by them. No battery is required to supply the RFID label with power, as the required energy is taken from the field of the reader. Basically, the Smart Label is nothing more than a transponder – it is a radio communication device that receives incoming signals in general and answers them automatically. Even more precisely, the Smart Label is a special form of passive transponder, since the Smart Label draws the energy required for communication and processing of internal processes exclusively from the field of the transceiver. Accordingly, the microchip used is inexpensive in mass production. This leads to acceptable prices for the Smart Label with good performance. Radio frequency waves can penetrate materials. Therefore, the label does not have to be applied outside the object to be marked. It can also be placed inside the packaging of the respective product or behind an adhesive foil to protect the label and especially the microchips.
The new way of identifying goods and commodities using Smart Labels (RFID):
In summary, Smart Labels or transponders in general can be read contact-free – even from a greater distance. This makes them far superior to optical identification technologies such as barcodes. This advantage is used above all for circulating and thus recurring goods carriers and packaging materials. Compared to barcodes, Smart Labels (RFID) are extremely robust and insensitive to dirt – making them ideal for harsh environmental conditions.
This RFID technology is by no means new: The military has been using RFID for years to track replenishment deliveries. And we also encounter the transponders on a regular basis in everyday life: for example, when securing goods in retail stores or automatically opening the car door as soon as the car key is within range.
In the future, the use of Smart Labels will be useful wherever combined solutions offer increased benefits, cost savings and/or system solutions that are only possible with a new technology. Combined solutions require Smart Labels, i.e. thin transponders which are printable in the application and correspondingly flexible. If these requirements are met, it is possible to integrate the technology into existing processes without having to change essential parameters.
Advantages of RFID
RFID labels can in many cases be considered as a complementary technology to barcode labels. But the technology also opens up completely new possibilities. The essential advantages include:
- No visual contact is necessary to read and write the data content
- Several RFID labels can be recorded ‘in parallel’ (bulk)
- Contactless identification (even without visual contact)
- The positioning of the object to be recorded is less problematic compared to the barcode. It is sufficient if the object is within the reading distance of the registration unit.
- Transmitted and received signals penetrate various materials (cardboard, wood, plastic, clothing fabrics)
- In some cases, the detection of RFID-equipped objects is up to 20 times faster than with the barcode
- The reading of an RFID tag is possible even if it is dirty
Fields of application of Smart Labels
The compelling advantages in combination with the reliability and flexibility of transponders make the use of RFID in almost all business areas possible today:
- Material tracking
- Container and pallet identification
- Control of the material flow
- Access control
- Labelling of medical devices
- Goods deliveries in the textile industry
- Kanban systems in production
- Content control with closed container
Due to the large differences in unit costs between barcode labels and Smart Labels, barcode labels are rarely given priority in practice. Although complete substitution is not expected, the ratio will shift in favour of RFID technology in the next few years. This is because goods movements are increasingly being bundled. Pallets, containers and receptacles can be verified in seconds by means of RFID bulk registration. Furthermore, RFID marking rules out media discontinuities, as there is simply no need for optical contact between the recording system and the identification medium. In addition, the documentation requirements for goods movements in companies is becoming increasingly stringent. The RFID user can take these requirements adequately into account with the RFID tag, which can be inscribed with additional (real-time) data during the ongoing material flow.
How SEEBURGER supports
The SEEBURGER printEngine supports both Smart Labels and barcode labels and thus offers a free choice for the automation of logistic processes. The SEEBURGER printEngine can be easily integrated into the SAP ERP systems and already supports the following SAP document types
- Smart Labels
- Transport labels with barcode
- Delivery notes
- Delivery call-offs
- Forwarding orders
- Accompanying documents
- Goods tags
- Loading lists
- Transport master sheets
- Consignment notes
- Collective invoices
- Invoice lists
SEEBURGER AG has been offering the printEngine for SAP for over ten years. In particular, internationally operating companies that want to use globally standardized processes or are subject to industry standards (‘standardization pressure’) appreciate the flexibility in the implementation of document adaptations with and without RFID functionality.
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Written by: Uwe BillenUwe Billen has been Head of Development SAP at SEEBURGER AG since 2013 and is responsible for the software solutions in SAP and their interfaces. His focus is on software design and coordination of the development of SAP UI and Fiori applications, pre-sales and project management are also part of his activities. He is a graduate computer scientist and has been working for SEEBURGER AG since 2003. His responsibilities in the company include BIS-, Java- and Lisp- development as well as ABAP among others.