Why You Need To Understand RFID Labels
Walmart announced earlier this year that they are expanding their use of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to include many more product categories than previously. In September of 2022, the Walmart RFID mandate will be extended to cover thousands of suppliers who previously were only required to use conventional barcodes on their products. Basically, if you supply Walmart with home products, electronics, sporting goods, toys, or automotive batteries you’ll need to add RFID tags to your products. You can read more about the Walmart RFID mandate in our recent blog post.
Walmart has already indicated that they expect RFID usage to spread into even more categories in the future and other retailers are likely to follow. As a result, many analysts and business leaders see this as an indication that RFID technology is poised for widespread adoption across the retail industry.
Even if your business isn’t directly affected by the new Walmart RFID mandate, there’s a good chance similar changes will affect you in the future. As a result, a lot of businesses are now exploring RFID solutions.
RFID is somewhat complicated, with several variables that must be considered to craft an effective solution. But one thing that makes sense as a starting point for most applications is the RFID label itself. The label is an especially good starting point for those businesses that will add secondary labels to their product to comply with Walmart’s RFID mandate.
What Goes into RFID Labels?
Before you embark on your journey to choose RFID labels, it’s helpful to have a little background about RFID tags and labels.
At the risk of oversimplifying, an RFID tag is any combination of the following:
- RFID chip – where the data is stored
- Antenna – which sends and receives radio signals
- Substrate – the material that holds the chip and antenna together
- Facing – the covering
Together, the chip, antenna, and substrate are often referred to as an inlay. There are many different inlay designs for many different applications.
When you add a white facing and adhesive backing to an inlay, you create what is generally referred to as an RFID label. At a glance, these look like plain paper labels but look closely and you can usually see the embedded RFID tag with an antenna that looks sort of like a printed circuit. Run them through an RFID printer that both prints the label and encodes the chip, and you have a label you can use for a variety of peel-and-stick applications, like adding an RFID tag to existing product packaging to satisfy the Walmart RFID mandate.
RFID labels come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. They also incorporate different inlays for different applications. For example, a larger inlay can support a longer read range, and some inlays are designed to work with specific types of handheld, fixed, or overhead readers. Plus, like common labels, RFID labels are available with a range of different materials and adhesives for different applications.
Key Factors When Choosing The Right RFID Labels
3 Main Factors:
- Label size and inlay requirements: How big can the label be and what type of inlay is required?
- Reader type: What type of RFID readers will be used to detect the label?
- Material and surface: What surface will the label be bonded to and what environmental conditions will the label encounter?
As you work through these variables, you’ll discover whether your specific application requires a general-purpose, advanced, or specialty label.
General-purpose labels typically have a paper or synthetic face and employ adhesives that adhere to non-metallic surfaces. These are often designed for use with corrugated cardboard, so they are commonly used for case, pallet, and cross-docking applications in warehouse operations.
Advanced labels typically offer a higher level of read performance, making them well-suited for use in retail and healthcare applications. Advanced labels are often designed for long-range detection, which makes them useful in manufacturing settings or other applications where long read ranges are beneficial.
Specialty labels cover a range of different applications and can include different face materials, including metal. If you need labels that can be used to tag assets with metallic surfaces, or you need durable tags for IT equipment or healthcare assets, you may find yourself looking for specialty labels.
As you can see, there are a lot of variables to consider when choosing an RFID label. The right choice will give you a tremendous advantage in asset visibility, inventory accuracy, and product tracking. Choose poorly, however, and you may be faced with underperforming adhesives, poor-quality printing, and unreliable performance that limits the return you see from your RFID investment.
And the label is just scratching the surface of RFID solutions. To truly leverage RFID technology, the best step you can take is to engage a partner like SK&T. We have 25 years of experience helping organizations navigate operational challenges. We’ll evaluate your specific requirements to help you choose the right RFID labels and help you deploy RFID solutions that improve visibility and tracking throughout your operation.