Many companies new to UHF (Ultra High Frequency) RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) confuse it with UHF RTLS (Real Time Location Systems). While both indeed do use UHF RFID, they differ substantially in what they can actually do for you in your business.
Standard UHF RFID systems can see multiple tags on equipment and products up to several meters away, if set up properly. With emphasis on “set up properly.” While UHF RFID works quite well, its unique characteristics require testing in the environment where it will be used to ensure success.
UHF RFID has several purposes:
- To see if an item has passed a certain point, commonly known as a choke point. Examples of this are items being loaded on or off a trailer at a shipping door or items passing from one area to another in a plant.
- To verify if something is within a certain area when using a scanning device, such as a handheld reader. If one is scanning shelves of parts or equipment, it will help locate those items.
- To track usage of equipment in MIS systems.
- The tags can also have data written to them if needed.
The big thing that UHF RFID cannot do is effectively track the exact location of something at any given time in a cost-effective manner. Generally, UHF RFID uses what are called passive tags for the antennas to read. These tags have no battery and get energized from the antenna signal. If you placed enough antennas all over a facility and enough of these tags, then you could possibly locate something within a certain proximity, but not exactly, and this is hardly cost effective.
UHF Real Time Location Systems (RTLSs)
RTLS, on the other hand, are specifically designed to pinpoint the location of anything with a tag or transponder on it. In fact, RTLS refers to any system that can accurately determine an item or person’s location. An important aspect of RTLS is how frequently assets must be tracked. This data can be used in different ways depending on the application. For example, some RTLS applications only need timestamps when an asset passes through an area, while others require much higher visibility, requiring constant updating of time data.
An ideal RTLS can accurately locate, track, and manage assets, inventory, or people, and help companies make knowledgeable decisions based on collected location data.
Like regular UHF RFID, RTLS can use passive or active tags (tags with batteries), but they use triangulation of multiple antennas to determine the location of an object or person. The strength of the signal at each antenna, combined with the software attached to the antennas, allows the identification of the location of an object or person within less than 1 meter.
The system you choose depends on the needs at your location. They both work quite well when implemented properly by trained professionals.
Also, due to the inherent properties of ultra-high frequencies used in UHF RFID technology and RTLS, you should perform a feasibility study that actually tests the system in the real world environment of the plant prior to implementing these systems in any application.