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RFID Tagging Systems, What are the Options?

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

Contents of the article on RFID Tagging Systems

  1. The Nature of RFID Tagging Systems

  2. RFID Tagging Systems

  3. RFID Tagging System Costs

  4. RFID Tagging Systems Quality Control

  5. RFID Tagging Process

  6. RFID Tagging Solutions

  7. RFID Tagging Summary

We will provide you with the key tools you need to build an RFID tagging system for your own RFID implementation project. Later in the article, you will find some useful tools to download.

The Nature of RFID Tagging Systems

The THING with RFID installations is, as a company you should only ever do it once. Given that, how can you be expected to do it efficiently, with no experience, no knowledge of the process and probably no expertise in high-volume repetitive task optimisation.

When implementing RFID, you should consider the process similar to that of implementing a new telecoms system, computer system or other key technology infrastructure. The nature of all systems of this kind is that the buyer will not have the internal skills to implement them. The supplier of the system needs to provide those skills.

The difference in many RFID system implementations to other IT infrastructure projects is the labour involved in the actual tagging element of the project. Many systems require high levels of work, but few would match the ‘touch every asset’ element of RFID system implementation.

This has driven a new service offer, RFID tagging services, to complement the provision of RFID systems. Without this service the responsibility for the tagging element of implementation is held by either the system supplier or the client.

For the client this creates a barrier to entry, how? who? and when? can they provide the necessary skills and labour to complete a tagging operation. What will it cost? Additionally the control of quality and project management need to be taken into account. It’s a considerable undertaking, that they will only do once and have no experience to plan or budget for the project.

Alternatively, the System Supplier could take responsibility for the tagging element of the project. Though the skills required would then be built up over time and the supplier could become an ‘expert’ in tagging services, do they want to be? The answer is invariably NO, system suppliers have their core activities, creating, selling and supporting RFID systems. Adding the implementation process to that service portfolio will only serve to dilute the other elements of their work, hence a sensible reticence to be the providers of a tagging service.

These circumstances created the requirement for a new service to enter the market, ‘RFID Tagging Services’ is fast becoming an important complementary element of the overall RFID product / service offer.

RFID Tagging Systems

‘RFID tagging systems’ is a broad term, we’ll explain all the variables throughout this article.

Let’s start right at the beginning, how will your RFID tagging system operate? For this we need to consider a number of different things. All related to the actual assets being tagged with RFID.

  • Are the assets being tagged at manufacturing or pre-delivery prep stage? if so then the process will require designing either within the asset manufacturing process, or, with the pre-delivery prep service. Of course these are two very different considerations, and not where our skills lie.

  • Or, are the tags being applied retrospectively, on existing assets that are beyond manufacturing or pre-prep stage, active assets. This is where we will concentrate.

Even within this area the type of assets and hence the range of ‘RFID tagging systems is diverse. But there are some ‘norms’ which will assist in understanding the process. There are also areas which are most likely to go wrong, which makes them the most important to cover here.

For clarification, we will cover planning and implementing an RFID tagging project for active assets. Think IT equipment, machinery, tools, library books, patient records. Any asset that is operational within your organisation that falls under the RFID asset management structure. It really doesn’t matter what the asset is, the system is built in pretty much the same way.

Your key consideration when setting up an RFID tagging system should be:

Before we get to the bullet points you will need to answer a few questions internally. Think about what level of labour you have available for the project. And at what skill level that labour needs to be, this is not shovelling soil, it has to be completed accurately, consistently and be extremely carefully executed.

Decide on what the driver is for the project timescale, is it the cost, the labour available or other / mixed drivers, the system live date. If the drive is more to do with a live date then you may need additional labour to meet the target, you’ll certainly have to calculate the required resources carefully.

Tip The most common cause of late delivery of an RFID project is delays in the tagging element.

A reasonable assessment of productivity will be needed to understand the timescales involved. Assume the figures are a minimum of 25% lower than optimal, this work is rarely performed at optimal without experienced / skilled teams in place. Perhaps your RFID system supplier can give you some information on potential productivity rates for tagging your particular assets.

Think about the management of the project. the correct completion of the tagging will dictate the ability of the system to do it’s job correctly. It needs managing, in terms of project timescales, labour allocation, training and especially quality control. Also, think of an asset tagging process in the same way as building any other database, if the data being put in is poor then the results coming out will be equally poor.

Lets get to the bullet points, considerations for building a tagging system:

  • Calculating the cost

    • How many assets can be tagged per person per hour

    • How much would the labour cost per item based on productivity Vs wage costs

    • Are all the assets readily available, or is there a cost to locating assets

    • If the assets are movable logistics-based items, do you need a capture process

    • What level of management is required

    • What quality control costs will need including

    • What are the management costs per item or across the whole project

  • Labour provision

    • Where is the labour coming from, internal or external

    • You will need an induction process that both buys the team into the end result and trains them thoroughly on how and specifically why RFID tagging is performed in a specific way.

    • How reliable is the labour provision, do you need some redundancy built-in

Checklist based process to ensure you have everything covered

RFID Tagging System Costs

A standard cost is impossible to gauge as a catch-all industries figure, but not so hard to calculate once you know all the variables.

So what are the variables, they’re pretty straightforward, however complex a tagging process may appear it’s a few small processes creating one larger process. Calculate the individual process costs and you can understand the total cost. Yes there are variables, issues, specifics to industries, but they can all be built into the equation fairly easily.

Equipment is required for the process, at least usually, some system allow the use of standard devices via apps. You will need to ensure that the right equipment at the right quantities are available for the process. Usually the amount of equipment required during the initial tagging project is far greater than the ongoing tagging equipment requirement. So your system supplier may wish to charge something for the loan of that equipment. Otherwise, they may be keen on completing the implementation and are happy to provide it for free. In other cases, where a commercial tagging provider is utilised they will usually have their own tagging equipment, but not always.

The largest cost calculation is for labour, to get to that you need to understand what the hourly, or daily, production rate is per tagging operative. Depending on your industry there may be some guidelines around this, although to date we haven’t found them particularly accurate, an inaccurate guideline, in this case, is better than no guideline. We’d suggest you build in a potential variance against the guideline figures of 15% downwards, treat the guideline figure as utopia and the reduced figure as realistic, utopia is unlikely, realistic will still take some good management and dedicated teams.

So lets assume for the ease of calculation that you can ‘expect’ a figure of 100 items processed per person per day. You should easily access the cost of your internal labour, or external agency labour, per day. Divide that by 100 assets and you have your base per-asset cost.

Next to add-in is the management cost. This will depend on the complexity of the project and the amount of labour being deployed to complete it. Assume 20% of the total labour cost for setup and training. The bigger the project, the less this % should be, a sliding scale from small, perhaps a 1 or 2-day project at 25% of total labour cost for management to a much larger project of say 8 weeks with 10 tagging operatives at perhaps 15-18% of the total labour cost being applied for management.

Quality control is covered in depth below. You can assume a similar but slightly higher, and less reducing, management cost can be applied to the QC element of the project. We’ll talk a lot more about quality control in the next section.

Asset location is another element to take into account. When the calculation was made to ascertain how many items could be tagged per day was the location of the assets taken into account. Are the assets moving within your infrastructure, if they are how will they be captured? Will that slow down the tagging process and cause the daily production rate to be lower than expected.

Any other costs should be incidental.

In summary, your RFID tagging project costs should be calculated roughly by:

A – Cost per tagging operative per day

B – Total items tagged per person per day

A/B = Cost per item to be tagged for labour (C)

Management cost = C x 25% (D) (taken from the tagging cost graph)

Quality control cost = C x 25% (E) (taken from the tagging cost graph)

Total cost = C + D + E

RFID Tagging Systems Quality Control

There are a number of very important factors to take into account with QC during RFID tagging projects.

  1. The QC element is the most important part of the project, poor data in or badly placed tags can destroy the effectiveness of your shiny new RFID asset management system

  2. People get frustrated, lazy, bored, they need to be watched constantly

  3. People also believe they can do it quicker, better or more efficiently than the way they were taught to do it. Not monitoring all the team all the time will allow people to ‘improve’ the system, invariably these improvements are detrimental to the quality of the outcome.

  4. The initial training is extremely important, ongoing monitoring just as important.

Dependent upon the system that’s being implemented there are other considerations for quality control. The three key elements are:

The physical process of applying the tag

The digital process of applying data to the tag (some systems not all)

The analysis of the tag data

Getting the physical tag application correct is essential to the longevity of the tag itself. Furthermore, read ranges can be adversely affected by poor tag placement. there will be strict guidelines to adhere to for the process. Your RFID system supplier will have all the information required regarding the tag, read ranges and positioning.

Applying data to the tag comes in a number of forms. the nature of RFID means cross-contamination of data in some instances is a real risk. In our experience in one field, where inexperienced or poorly motivated teams have applied the tags and the data, cross-contamination has caused whole systems to be entirely inoperative! We know because we’ve been asked to go and fix it, which we have done, several times. This year alone we have re-programmed over 200,000 badly tagged assets.

Analysis of the data being applied to tags on a constant basis during the project is the most efficient way of highlighting an incorrect data transfer procedure (or just sloppy work). We use our own software but depending on the project size and / or the amount of items being processed daily, a physical scan of the data will probably highlight any errors. In all RFID asset tagging systems each tag has its own unique ID, ensuring that each unique ID has only been utilised once is one key element of data checking. The other is the consistency of the additional data being programmed to the tag. Both can be checked by viewing small amounts of data or running larger amounts through an access database or more refined software. The important thing is that errors are spotted early and the process corrected, along with the incorrectly programmed tags. Want some examples of how to check the programming data contact:

The RFID Tagging Process

As with any repetitive high-volume task the process is everything. Any errors are amplified, and processing shortfalls will have a much greater aggregate effect than they may seem to have in isolation.

Getting the initial process correct, documenting it, and ensuring that the cascading of that process map through your workforce correctly is paramount to the success of the project.

Getting to the correct process is a challenge, there are many factors, some related to the human element, some to the specifics of the RFID system and some with the assets themselves. Your core aims are:

  1. Organise tags and equipment ahead of time

  2. Organise your workforce

  3. Create a robust process that maximises productivity

  4. Train your team on that process

  5. Ensure that quality processes are clearly defined and actioned throughout

  6. Be prepared to refine the process where required, retaining a flawed process is expensive and risky

  7. There is NOT a balance between production and quality, quality comes first, productivity second

  8. There is a clear synergy between productivity and cost. Allowing a low-productivity tagging process to prevail will inevitably increase costs commensurate with the adequacy of the process

RFID Tagging Solutions

The options for an RFID tagging solution are somewhat limited. As a relatively new industry, at least in terms of uses being found for RFID, there a few commercial tagging options available. Your current options are:

  1. Utilise your own staff to complete the tagging process

  2. Utilise temporary / agency staff

  3. Employ a commercial tagging company

Utilising your own teams can be a positive, but also a negative. You should take into account a number of factors

  • Are your staff invested in the successful completion of the project, sometimes RFID can be seen as a way of reducing staffing. This leads to a potential for internal conflict around the implementation of the system. That environment is not ideal if your internal staff are responsible for the labour element of the project.

  • What level of redundancy do your teams have now with regard to their workload. Taking staff away from their daily tasks is a potential threat to the smooth running of your normal operation.

  • Can your internal staff dedicate themselves to the RFID tagging without interruption. It is imperative for productivity that interruptions are minimal, a complete focus on the work in hand is safer in terms of quality and better for productivity.

Utilising temporary staff is an option, it will be important to increase the levels of management of those teams, also to increase the QC measures. You should take these factors into account:

  • As discussed an RFID asset management system is a database, it’s imperative that temporary staff are managed carefully to ensure their work is of a high standard

  • Motivation for productivity is ‘generally’ lower with temporary staff

  • Managing labour is more difficult with temporary staff, sickness and no-shows may have a detrimental effect on your timescales

  • Costs are often high, more so when productivity levels are also low

Utilising a commercial tagging company has the benefit of outsourcing the entire project to a skilled and experienced team. You should take these factors into account:

  1. A commercial tagging company needs to make the project viable in terms of profit margins, they do this by being considerably more efficient. You should ensure that the pricing reflects this, often a per-item cost is the best option.

  2. You should ensure that the company proposing the service have experience in the field, and are resourced to complete the project as agreed

  3. You should review their quality control measures carefully

RFID Tagging Systems Summary

Your company should only be doing this once, if the system works, it’s robust and future-proofed (as much as it can be), and you’ll be good to go for the foreseeable future after this installation.

Right now it’s new, you have no experience in RFID implementation, but if you follow the steps laid out above and on specifically on the RFID implementation checklist, most, if not all eventualities will be covered.

Plan carefully, account for staff not performing and for elements of the process to go wrong and require correcting. Management time and quality control time need allocating at a realistic level, everything needs managing and monitoring at all times.

Set the goals, track the progress carefully, implement corrective action where required.

It’s all in the planning, well actually a lot’s in the planning but the implementation’s got to be perfect too!

If you’d like more assistance with your project, please contact

Good luck!

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