Before you hire a consultant or attempt to implement RFID on your own, you need some basic knowledge about the technology.
RFID tags are available in three configurations:
Passive tags have no internal power source, but they draw power from the reader. These are usually the most inexpensive tags and are often disposable.
Active tags contain a battery used for transmitting and are usually more expensive but can often be reused.
Semi-passive, a hybrid of passive and active, use a battery to operate the RFID chip, but communicate using power from the reader.
RFID tags are also available in various frequencies. These include low frequency (LF), high frequency (HF), ultra-high frequency (UHF), and ultra-wide band (UWB). Typically, higher frequencies offer more bandwidth and data exchange, and a higher communication range, Thompson says. Likely, you'll need UHF, the "supply chain frequency," mandated by Wal-Mart, the DoD, and Sam's Club.
RFID Starter Kits
As complex as RFID may sound, "it isn't sorcery," Thompson says. Nor is it as expensive as it was a few years ago when Wal-Mart mandated RFID from 100 of its larger suppliers. Some suppliers initially balked, with estimates of up to $1 million for new RFID systems, but technology vendors soon responded with easy-to-implement and lower cost "starter kits" and "slap-and-ship" applications, which allowed small businesses to experiment with RFID and try one application at a time.
"Many RFID equipment providers will provide starter kits for as low as $2,500, including a reader and some tags," Thompson says. "For $25,000, many implementers will provide some kind of express ROI assessment or focused implementation, including one or two readers, some tags, installation, and support."
The best type of project for a small business to start with is one that is small, confined to one application (such as asset tracking), and in a "closed loop," which means within the four walls of your property. Businesses can always expand the applications or the types of goods tracked, and the data can be integrated into enterprise computer systems, but it's important to master the technology on a small scale before attempting a larger undertaking, experts say.