Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

What is RFID?

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a form of wireless communication that uses radio waves to identify and track objects through the use of tags and tag readers. It allows users to relay information via electromagnetic waves from a tag to a reader which is linked to a computer. The tag (or transponder) can contain a transmitter and receiver for communications with the readers. The readers or terminals can be fixed or portable, such as mounted on a forklift truck or in a workers hand.

What can you use RFID tags on?

The RFID tagged inventory could include virtually anything physical, such as equipment, pallets of stock, or individual units of product like clothing, books and tickets so offers a real-time data capture of inventory levels.

Does RFID need to be used with other technology?

RFID forms part of a collection of technologies named Auto Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) which are used to identify and collect data about designated objects. As well as RFID, examples of these types of technologies include barcodes, biometrics (such as fingerprint or iris recognition) and voice and image recognition.

Watch Our Latest Webinar

The future of global supply chains Andrew Lahy

Hear Andrew Lahy talk about the future of global supply chains in this webinar.



How does RFID work?

The RFID system consists of these parts:

A tag (or transponder) which has been programmed with data; a scanning antenna; a reader to interpret the data and a central database to collate data and co-ordinate action.

At its most basic level, the following operation is performed:

Data is programmed into the RFID tag's microchip and waits to be read. The tag's antenna receives electromagnetic energy from an RFID reader's antenna.

Using power from its internal battery or power harvested from the reader's electromagnetic field, the tag sends radio waves back to the reader.

The reader picks up the tag's radio waves and interprets the frequencies as meaningful data which it sends to the central computer system. This data is then used to take management action.

RFID System Icons

Each RFID tag contains a unique, pre-programmed ID which helps set one tag apart from another. The tag is attached to a specific item and the computer is informed to associate that unique ID with the item it has been attached to. Tags can contain a combination of data of the customers choosing to identify specific products as well as some sort of recognised numbering system that can represent a particular style or size or another characteristic such as use-by date, lot or batch numbers. They do not need batteries and can be used for years.

Advantages of RFID over barcoding

RFID tags are now used across countless industries instead of barcoding for the following reasons.

  • Tags can be read over long distances and are fast to read
  • Large volumes of data can be held securely with password protection
  • RFID performance is reliable and requires minimal human intervention

Disadvantages of RFID over barcoding

They have not replaced barcodes though and have the following disadvantages.

  • RFID is an expensive technology due to the process of inserting the chip
  • Overlapping signals can cause errors in technology
  • Tags can be difficult to read in through liquid and metals

To find out more about this subject read the full knowledge paper: Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

An icon of a document

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID): login to view

Log in to view our members-only guide to Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). If you would like to gain access to over 1000 member-only guides, webinars and papers join CIPS now. Login or Join CIPS

Radio Frequency Identification


For addition reading on this topic visit Operations Management


Page Loading
Page Loading
Page Loading
Page Loading


This may take up to 30 seconds