What is the difference between fixed and integrated RFID readers?
RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology has evolved over the past couple of decades into a critical tool for businesses to increase the visibility of a wide variety of valuable items.
RFID solutions are used to track retail products such as apparel, eyewear, cosmetics, beauty products and many others are accurately tracked from point of manufacture to point of sale with limited human intervention. Similarly, assets including cars, trucks, construction equipment, technology and works of art can be easily tracked as they move around offices and work sites to avoid loss and the cost of replacement.
RFID technology uses a variety of components to create an integrated solution for businesses to track valuable assets and inventory. In this article we’re going to take a closer look at what type of RFID reader – fixed or integrated – might be best for a particular use or application.
But first, here’s a quick overview of all the components that make up an RFID solution, and how they work together to track all kinds of assets.
What is RFID technology and how does it work?
RFID technology uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to items (small to large), objects and people.
A ‘smart’ RFID tag is affixed to an item needing to be tracked. RFID tags come in a variety of shapes, sizes and capabilities, but common to them all is the ability to store information and communicate data such as movement and location back to a central database via an RFID reader. You can choose active RFID tags, or passive RFID tags – this article will help you understand the differences, strengths and weaknesses of each of these types of tags.
RFID readers are used to ‘read’ tags from a distance, often with the simple wave of a hand in a packed storeroom full of tagged products using a handheld reader or App-enabled smartphone. In addition, RFID readers or stations can be strategically located in say a warehouse or workplace to track the movement of items, vehicles and people in and out. It’s this latter type of RFID reader we’ll look at in more detail shortly.
All the information fed from tags to readers is then relayed to a central location where custom RFID software (such as RAMP’s Loca.fi need link to Loca.fi page?) stores and analyses a huge amount of data to identify the precise location of valuable items in real-time, as well as providing useful insights to help make more informed business decisions.
Fixed and integrated RFID readers explained
Firstly, we need to clear up the use of terminology. Typically, a ‘fixed’ RFID reader is defined as one that is mounted in a single location that reads RFID tags as they pass by this static reader. These fixed readers are contrasted with handheld readers that are mobile and can move between locations to read RFID tags in different places or rooms.
When we talk about ‘fixed’ and ‘integrated’ readers here, they are all of the static or mounted kind. So essentially, ‘fixed’ and ‘integrated’ RFID readers are both types of the same family of readers. And the main difference between them is how they work with the antennas that allow them to communicate with RFID tags.
If you are confused about this or any aspect of RFID technology, you can talk to RAMP, Australia’s leading RFID specialist. Or read on!
Integrated RFID readers
We’ll start with the integrated RFID reader as it the most simple and cost effective solution between the two types of readers. An integrated RFID reader combines the reader and antenna into a single (hence integrated) device. No external antenna is required to create an out-of-the-box solution that is ready to go.
An integrated RFID reader can support up to one additional external antenna, providing two in total. This is a great, low-cost solution that is easy to implement, but a maximum of only two antennas limits the coverage area to read antennas.
Fixed RFID readers
The fixed RFID reader does not have a built-in antenna. Instead it comes with multiple antenna ports (from 4 to 8) to which external antennas can be attached. Some fixed RFID readers come with multiplexers that allow the connection of up to 32 antennas to the same reader.
Given you need to purchase the external antennas to connect to the reader, this will create a more expensive solution than an integrated reader, that is more complex to configure and implement.
However, multiple antennas means this type of reader potentially has a greatly increased coverage area. This solution also offers the added flexibility of choosing exactly which type of antenna combination will work best in a specific situation, as well as swapping antennas out for different use cases. Antennas have different features and capabilities and range from low gain proximity antennas to high gain far-field antennas (gain being send/receive signal strength).
Which type of reader is best?
The choice between RFID reader types will come down to the usage scenarios(s) in your business. If you only need one or two different read points, minimal coverage area and you don’t need a lot of flexibility to change configuration with different antennas, an integrated RFID reader is probably the best choice. An example may be in a small retail shop with inventory items moving into a stock room, then out onto the floor.
On the other hand, if you need multiple read points and a wider area of coverage, with the added requirement of different antenna types, a fixed RFID reader will be the best option. Think of a large warehouse with multiple entry and exit points.
You can rely on RAMP to help you make the best choices in RFID
RAMP is the best place to start if you need advice on which type of RFID reader is best for your business, or to answer any other questions you might have about using RFID technology.
As the leading specialist provider of RFID technology solutions in Australia, RAMP can help design and implement a cost-effective RFID technology solution to improve efficiency, minimise losses and increase visibility at every point of the supply chain.
RAMP has been working with Australian businesses for over a decade to design and implement customised RFID solutions to automate and streamline processes for supply chain management and to track inventory, assets, vehicles and people across a range of industries and applications.
Choose RAMP for RFID solutions delivered by locally-based consultants, engineers and software developers.