Radio frequency identification technology, or RFID for short, is remarkable in both its simplicity and versatility. A radio transmitter is energized to broadcast to a receiver by an invisible energy wave of just the right length. In passive RFID, it’s almost magical as there's no obvious energy source. No immediate proximity, no batteries, no cables.
It’s such a basic communication, yet useful in all types of industries where there are things to track – retail, transportation & logistics and healthcare to name a few. It drives all types of benefits: enhanced patient outcomes, revolutionised shopping experiences (and store management), and tremendous sustainability. I mean, this one technology can provide complete visibility of assets and supply chains all over the world!
But where did RFID actually originate from?
Communication via electromagnetic radiation is nothing new. It’s how we use our eyes to interpret the world around us. Yet the technology for commercial use was developed, in part, during World War II as a response to a key problem defending forces faced. Whilst they could identify approaching planes some ways off with radar, it was impossible to tell apart friend from foe until they were in sight. To remedy this, transmitters were attached to planes, and when they received signals from radar stations on the ground, a signal was broadcast back that identified the incoming aircraft as a friend. RFID works in the same way. It sends a signal to a transponder which wakes up and reflects back a signal (passive) or broadcasts a signal (active).
Fast forward to today and RFID continues to change history as it matures. Data standardisation, the falling cost of tag production, new product development and adoption in ever more verticals are powdering the snowball – and changing how everything from cacti and cannabis to kitchen installations are managed.
The Technological Commonality Between Cacti, Cannabis and Kitchens
Deep in the stunning African countryside, conservationists are working tirelessly to fend off a poaching onslaught. It’s not rhinos or big cats in danger this time, but plants in a prickly situation. Endangered cacti are suffering a major population decline from collectors and commercially motivated thieves. The plant protection program implemented to defend them uses RFID tags placed in tamper proof boxes that are attached to the cacti alongside some tag-less dummy boxes that act as a deterrent and widen the project reach. An RFID reader alerts necessary parties when a tag is not read, and the cactus is considered stolen. The solution keeps tabs on the cacti population, letting teams know where they are, and that they're safe.
Over the pond in the U.S., there is a company from Lakeland, Florida, that was selected by the State of Colorado Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division (MMED) to deploy a system to track marijuana being grown and purchased for medicinal purposes. This ground-breaking program opened the door to all states that have deregulated medical marijuana to use RFID to ease the burden of tracking marijuana for proper distribution and consumption. An RFID solution of the highest order – and one of many hitting the market.
And, in Europe, RFID is used to prevent kitchens from going missing in Germany. Surely you can't lose a kitchen, right?! Well, it appears you can. Or you can easily mix up its parts, at least – particularly if you are Nobilia and delivering 2,600 customised kitchens every day and over half a million per year! With a baffling 250 varying specs, everything from the format of the cabinet front to the panels, fittings and handles can differ from one kitchen install to the next. There is also an extremely wide range of floor, wall, and cupboard finishes and sizes to manage. So, getting everything right the first time is one heck of a chore.
Thankfully, RFID took out much of the room for human error for Nobilia. Each component is now tagged and read as it moves through an assembly line, providing automated details about the build order. The outcome? Assembly errors have evaporated, shipments are now delivered complete, and cabinets can be instantly found in the production process. The real-time tracking capability allows better control of build sequences and awareness of exactly where each part is in the production process at any time. It's a significantly more efficient end-to-end process.
So, if you find yourself in a prickly situation with missing items, need high-performance inventory management, or sell complex products that seem to have everything (including the kitchen sink), then come talk to Zebra and see how RFID and location solutions could help change your world (and your customers’ satisfaction ratings) for the better.