What Are Active and Passive RFID Tags?

RFID Chip - No machine-readable author provided. Maschinenjunge assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons`

RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags are used to store and track data wirelessly. You’ve likely seen them in key cards, access chips, and even on your pet’s collar. These unique tags allow for quick and easy identification without needing direct contact.

You may not realize that there are two types of RFID tags: active and passive.

In this short guide to RFID tags, we will look at these two types of tags - including how they work and their most common applications. We’ll also take a look at their potential for use in the shipping industry to help create a more efficient and secure shipping process.

What are Active RFID and Passive RFID tags?

Active RFID Tags

Active RFID tags have their own power supply, often a battery, which provides energy for the tag's circuitry and signal transmission. These tags can send a carrier signal and respond to the reader without being stimulated, allowing for a more extended communication range, typically up to a few hundred meters.

Active tags have their data broadcasted, allowing multiple readers to access the information simultaneously - which can be useful for tracking large numbers of items in a complex system. For instance, the tags may be used to monitor assets across a fleet of vehicles or to identify the location of personnel in a building.

A downside to active RFID tags is that their battery life limits their lifespan and requires maintenance for replacement. This sometimes makes passive RFID tags more advantageous, as they do not require a power source.

Common Uses for Active and Passive RFID Tags

Active and passive RFID tags are used in various industries, from retail to manufacturing. Here are some common examples of how they are used:

  • Retail and Supply Chain - Active RFID tags are used in retail stores and supply chains to track real-time inventory levels. This helps businesses keep track of their stock levels and ensure they always have enough products.
  • Access Control - Active RFID tags can control access to buildings or restricted areas. By using active RFID tags, businesses can limit who has access to certain areas, ensuring that only authorized personnel can enter.
  • Medical and Hospital - Active RFID tags often track patient information and medical equipment. This helps staff quickly identify patients’ medical records and locate any medical equipment that may be needed for treatment or diagnosis.
  • Logistics and Shipping - Active RFID tags are also used in logistics and shipping operations to track shipments from point A to point B. This helps companies ensure that their goods arrive on time and in good condition.
  • Asset Tracking - Active RFID tags can be used to track high-value assets such as vehicles or machinery, allowing businesses to monitor the location of these items at all times.
  • Employee Tracking - Active RFID tags can also monitor employee attendance or movements within a facility, helping businesses keep better tabs on their workforce’s activities throughout the day.

Passive RFID Tags

If active RFID tags are too expensive or complex for your needs, passive RFID tags are also available. These consist of a simple chip and antenna, and they rely on an external energy source (such as a nearby RFID reader) to provide power so that they can be read.

Passive RFID tags are much cheaper than active RFID tags but have a much shorter read range (usually just a few meters).

These tags are ideal for applications where the item being tracked doesn’t need to be monitored over long distances or from far away. Common uses include asset tracking, inventory management, and people identification.

Common Uses for Passive RFID

Passive RFID tags are used in a variety of industries for a range of applications. Here are five uses for Passive RFID tags:

  • Access Control: Passive RFID tags can control access to buildings, rooms, and other restricted areas. They can also monitor the movement of people or assets within an area.
  • File Tracking: Passive RFID tags can be attached to files or documents, allowing them to be tracked as they move through an organization or across different locations.
  • Race Timing: Passive RFID tags can be used in sports events such as marathons and triathlons to track athletes’ progress and times throughout the race.
  • Supply Chain Management: Passive RFID tags can track goods moving through the supply chain, from production to delivery, ensuring that products arrive on time and in good condition.
  • Smart Labels: Passive RFID tags can be attached to products such as clothing or electronics, providing customers with information about the product’s origin, quality, and other important details.

Choosing Between Active & Passive RFID

The decision between active and passive RFID tags will depend on the specific application.

Active tags are typically more expensive but offer greater range and data transmission capabilities, making them well-suited for asset-tracking applications. For example, if you are tracking the movement of large containers in a warehouse, active tags might be more effective than passive tags.

On the other hand, passive RFID tags are typically less expensive and require no battery power. This makes them suitable for applications such as inventory tracking or product identification. Passive RFID can also track people or animals in an enclosed area.

In addition, some tags are designed for specific environments and applications. For example, rugged RFID tags are made to withstand harsh conditions such as extreme temperatures or moisture. These tags can be used in outdoor applications where other types of tags would fail.

No matter what type of tag you choose, it’s important to consider the tag's range, power requirements, and durability to ensure that it will work for your particular application.

Potential Uses of Active and Passive RFID Tags in the Security Seal & Shipping Industry

While less common, RFID tags can offer a range of benefits to the shipping industry. Currently, security seals are one of the most popular methods for securely tracking shipments; however, RFID tags may offer an alternative that is worth exploring as the technology advances:

Active RFID Tags: Long-Range and Real-Time Tracking

As discussed above, active RFID tags are excellent for long-range tracking of high-value cargo, ensuring that assets remain secure and monitored throughout transit.

Due to their ability to broadcast data simultaneously to multiple receivers, active RFID tags enable seamless coordination between stakeholders, like supply chain partners, shipping companies, and customs authorities. This can be especially useful for companies that manage complex, multiparty shipments.

Moreover, the tags often have sensors that capture live data from within the shipment containers or pallets. This data can help monitor temperature and humidity levels to ensure that goods remain secure and of good quality during transit. When the goods are in transit, the tags can also track their exact location and projected arrival time.

Passive RFID Tags: Short-Range and Data Integrity

Passive RFID tags are ideal for close proximity tracking, such as within warehouses or distribution centers, where data integrity and accurate location are crucial. When combined with security seals and other measures, these RFID tags can also help to prevent theft or tampering of sensitive goods during transit.

The low cost and small size of passive RFID tags make them suitable for tagging individual shipping containers or pallets, enabling efficient inventory management and monitoring. Passive tags are an attractive option for companies looking to add a lower-cost RFID tracking solution.

Will RFID Impact the Future of Security Seals?

RFID technology has been around for decades and has advanced quickly since 2000 - showing just how powerful this technology can be. As RFID tags become more commonplace, the potential applications for this technology will only increase.

Although the technology has been used sparingly for Tamper Evident Security Seals, Active RFID tags do have use for high-valued shipments that need tracking. Additionally, a passive RFID tracking system can be beneficial for certain companies and industries, as well as segments of those industries that require secure tracking of items.

Please let Alta Max know your issues, and we can help find the correct Security Seal options that will work best. Contact us today to learn more.

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