Advancements in the field of technology have led to the creation of smart homes with smart showers, smart kitchens, smart lighting, smart cities with smart transportation systems, smart healthcare, smart education, and many more. Smart manufacturing is the hallmark of this industry 4.0 era which is fuelled by various technologies of the day including RFID, BLE, industrial IoT (IIoT), additive manufacturing, simulation, predictive analytics powered by AI and ML, automation and robots, etc.
We are surrounded by smart sensing devices as Industry 3.0, the industrial revolution, hoped we would. We are using Internet of Things devices and sensors to develop cyber-physical systems (CPSs) which have led to intelligent manufacturing and engineering providing us with tons of sensing data and data-driven insights. This is how we are able to sustain ourselves with high production, mobilization of the produce, and trade, all of which are necessary to keep this 8 billion-strong world fed and running.
Technologies like RFID and IoT have played significant roles, not only in industries and businesses but in personal spaces as well. Thanks to these technologies, we have smart access control and security systems in place, gated societies and office buildings where trespassers cannot enter, smart parking where we have optimum space utilization as well as quick movement, and smart healthcare (IoMT), smart education, and smart transportation.
What are chipped RFID and Chipless RFID?
Radio Frequency Identification is a wireless AIDC technology that provides remote identification and data capture from RFID-tagged items, using radio frequency (RF) signals, sans clear line of sight.
As a track and trace technology, chipped RFID uses a combination of RFID tags, RFID readers, and a software system that stores the captured data for the end-users. The same principle applies to the working of a Chipless RFID system but the only difference is that chipless RFID tags don’t contain a silicon microchip/IC, resulting in low fabrication costs.
Chipless RFID is defined as Radio Frequency Identification technology which leverages chipless RFID tags and RFID readers to wirelessly identify and track tagged objects. Unlike traditional RFID tags, chipless RFID tags are fabricated using resonator and reflector materials, and the data encoding is done via Time Domain Reflectometers (TDR), Frequency Domain, or hybrid encoding techniques. Since chipless RFID tags don’t use silicon microchips, the fabrication of these tags is rather simple and inexpensive.
Chipless RFID tags present a low-cost alternative for item-level tagging and tracking applications which is a game changer for small and medium-sized businesses in retail, supply chain and logistics, manufacturing, healthcare and education, etc. Since the implementation of traditional RFID systems at a large scale is still a costly affair, even though RFID tag costs have come down to 4-5 US cents from 40-50 US cents over the last few years, chipless RFID is bound to gain traction in the next few years.
Currently, the chipless RFID market is at 1176.7 million USD globally according to a report by Coherent Marketing Insights, and it is expected to reach approximately 6660.5 m USD by 2030, growing at the rate of 28.1% CAGR.
Global Chipless RFID Market and Traditional Chipped RFID Market
When it comes to the demand for RFID tags, chipless RFID tags and chipped RFID tags are extremely sought after.
The global RFID market size is at 18.45B USD in 2023 which is expected to reach 35.6B USD by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 11.9% during the forecast period. Of which, the chipped RFID tag market is valued at 4.4B USD in 2023 which is expected to reach 9.5B USD by 2030.
The market size of traditional RFID tags is quite high in terms of value and volume as the chipless RFID tag market only accounts for 1176.7m USD worldwide but it is highly promising with a 28.1 % CAGR in the next 7 years.
Like chipped RFID tags, chipless RFID tags also find applications in business sectors where high read range and increased data storing capabilities are required. These tags provide great advantages over barcode labels in terms of data storage, wireless read-rate, accuracy, and tracking capabilities and the cost of a chipless RFID tag being 0.01 cents per tag, these tags will hopefully replace barcodes in item-level tagging in retail and FMCG, supply chain and warehouse management.
Chipless RFID Sensors: Chipless RFID in IoT Applications
RFID, as an AIDC technology was the key IoT technology back in the day. In fact, when we talked about the Internet of Things in the early 2000s, RFID and machine-to-machine communication was the basis of IoT. Kevin Ashton, who independently coined the word ‘IoT’ in 1999 was an RFID enthusiast who co-founded the MIT-AutoID in the same year with his colleague Sanjay Sarma and others at MIT.
Over the years, the meaning of IoT changed to what we know today. Internet of Things, at present, refers to smart devices that are capable of leveraging wireless technologies like Bluetooth LE, Wi-Fi, NFC, etc., and sensors and gateways, and can communicate and share data over the internet.
When it comes to the use of RFID tags as an IoT device, we often refer to RFID sensors that are embedded with sensing materials and sense changes in temperature, humidity, strain, and the presence of toxic gases like CO2, etc.
In chipped RFID tags, the sensing material/sensors are embedded with the microchip itself while in chipless RFID tags, the fabrication of Chipless RFID sensors is quite different and simple.
Chipless RFID sensors can be used for various IoT use cases, acting as sensors in industries where they can measure strain, temperature, and humidity as well as in waste management where chipless RFID sensors can be used on waste bins to measure fill levels, ensuring timely waste collection. Apart from that, in food supply chains and cold chains, Chipless RFID sensors are used to collect data on temperature, humidity, etc. It prevents food wastage by raising alarms and sending notifications.
Fabrication of a Chipless RFID Sensor for IoT
A chipless RFID sensor is fabricated by use of only sensing and coding resonators without antenna and feedline (backscattered chipless RFID sensor) and the sensing material is used to cover one of the resonators. An appropriate sensing material is chosen based on the dielectric properties of materials at microwave frequencies, however, various sensing technologies, that usually leverage other parameters like variation of resistance, capacitance, or optoelectronic properties, seldom consider the dielectric properties (paper is a good sensing material).
A good sensing material (carbon nanotubes, silicon nanowires, organic semiconductors, metal oxides) can change its dielectric properties when exposed to the specific physical and chemical variables that need to be sensed.
Another way to fabricate a chipless tag is by adding elements, such as a thermistor or a variable capacitor which can measure environmental parameters like temperature or humidity. The added material is directly mounted on one of the resonators.
Applications of Chipless RFID
The global chipless RFID market is driven by the various advantages RFID technology offers over barcode and other technologies. As an AIDC technology, chipless RFID provides remote identification, accurate reading of tagged objects without a clear line of sight, efficient inventory control, warehouse management and security, and real-time tracking and visibility in supply chain operations amongst others.
The Chipless RFID market is growing rapidly in Northern America, in countries such as the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Asia Pacific Middle East and Africa, etc. In various developing countries such as Brazil, India, China, and ASEAN countries, the Chipless RFID market is growing rapidly, owing to the low cost of implementation and huge market opportunities due to rapid industrialization, rising investments in infrastructure development, and increasing adoption of automation technologies.
Let’s see some more applications of chipless RFID tags and Chipless RFID sensors in detail:
Chipless RFID in Retail
For all who don’t know retail sector is one of the biggest drivers of RFID demand in general. Retail operations such as retail inventory, supply chains, and in-store automation with the help of RFID, RFID sensors, and other technologies have been around for a while now. Chipless RFID tags add to this process, providing a cost-effective, universally accepted identification and data capture solution that is way more efficient than barcode technology that has been in place for many years.
Chipless RFID in Healthcare
When it comes to healthcare, chipless RFID tags are used for patient IDs, providing digital health records to all patients, and enabling staff, doctors, and patients to be equipped with the same RFID cards. Chipless RFID labels, as inexpensive as it is, can be used to label medicines and vaccines for correct and timely administration. These tags can be made into wristbands as well, enabling remote patient tracking and remote care for elderly patients (medication, help in cases of falls, weakness, etc.).
Chipless RFID sensors can also be attached to vaccine cabinets to measure temperature and humidity in the storage facility, preventing vaccine wastage and ensuring proper storing of medicines and vaccine vials.
Medical tool tracking is another example where Chipless RFID labels, RFID labels with LED lights can help immensely.
Chipless RFID in Supply Chain and Manufacturing
In supply chains, visibility in warehouses, real-time tracking of pallets and supply boxes, and order fulfillment are ever-present issues and chipless RFID tags provide an inexpensive and efficient solution here.
Chipless RFID tagging of containers, supply boxes, and pallets not only enhances inventory visibility in warehouses but also allows business owners to track supply boxes in real time and ensure order fulfillment.
Customers want updates on their orders in real-time and chipless RFID technology ensures that. The vast amount of operational data collected inside the warehouses can be used for insights leading to better supply chain management.
In the food supply chain, apart from the identification and tracking of pallets and packages, chipless RFID sensors can be leveraged for cost-effective sensing operations. It ensures that food is not spoilt within the food supply chains and is delivered to consumers in due time and in good condition.
In the manufacturing sector, tool identification and tracking and assembly line parts tracking can be achieved using chipless RFID tags. But chipless RFID sensors can be leveraged for measuring strain, cracks, temperature changes, humidity, toxic gases, etc. in a manufacturing setting.
Chipless RFID tags and Chipless RFID sensors are also quite useful in the development of cyber-physical systems that use the collected data and modern technologies like AI and ML to create intelligent manufacturing.
Chipless RFID Labels in Education
Education is another sector where chipless RFID labels are sought after. These tags provide inexpensive AIDC solutions in various aspects of education be it identification and access control, attendance, tool tracking in labs, books tracking in libraries or other library operations, and full-fledged library management.
Since a chipless RFID label costs less than 1 US cent and AIDC benefits far outweigh the barcoding technology that is previously in place in many libraries, we can safely assume that more and more libraries around the world, like The Library of Congress, Washington, the Seattle Public Libraries, The library at IIT-Delhi and IIT-Bombay, etc. will switch to this efficient method of library operation management.
Chipless RFID sensors can also be used for measuring temperature humidity and lighting inside the library where valuable historical books, journals, and manuscripts are stored, which often require measured, ideal conditions without fluctuations. Chipless RFID sensing ensures that, inexpensively I might add.
Chipless RFID in Waste Management
Waste management in cities and urban hubs is another application where chipless RFID labels and Chipless RFID sensors can be used for their IoT benefits.
Chipless RFID tags and sensors can be attached to waste bins, containers, carts, etc. to ensure proper waste collection and disposal. Chipless RFID sensors can detect fill-level, toxic gases, etc. and alerts can be raised for proper waste management.
To conclude, chipless RFID tags provide a great opportunity can replace barcoding in retail, healthcare, inventory management, warehousing, supply chain operations and manufacturing, education, etc. Barcoding has obvious challenges when it comes to efficiency productivity and tracking, which chipless RFID can eliminate for good. Apart from that, chipless RFID tags can also be used as sensors, acting like IoT devices at low costs, sensing temperature, humidity, strain, toxic gases, fill levels, etc.