A question I received all the time as an RFID engineer is – does sticking with one brand for all of your hardware have any benefit from an RF standpoint? To answer this, we are going to use my golf clubs - because it's what I had lying around the house and because it gets my point across.
Now you don't need to know anything about golf to follow my logic. Say you are buying golf equipment for the first time and you decide to buy Titleist irons. Purchasing your driver presents a decision – do you go with brand loyalty and get a Titleist driver, or do you go with something a little different, something that maybe fits your budget more like a Callaway driver? The question you need to ask yourself is which driver is going to help you play better golf? Well, in this case it isn’t going to matter. If you’ve never played golf before and had Tiger Woods’ clubs, you would still not hit the ball very well. As a new golfer, it doesn’t matter if you use the same brand driver, balls, shoes, and bag. You still have to tee it up and hit it.
So, how does this relate to selecting RFID equipment? First, finding one company that manufactures chips, inlays, labels, readers, and antennas is not possible because it doesn’t exist today. And if it does, I have yet to come across it. The keyword here manufacturers all those things. There are many companies that offer readers and hardware and labels and chips, etc., but they don’t product those items themselves. And when people are asking about brand loyalty offers an advantage for RF, they’re typically looking to see if there’s some electrical or RF advantage from using this brand’s antenna with the same brand’s chip.
Let’s look at one of the main chip manufacturers in the world today – Impinj. They also manufacture readers and antennas. So, is there an advantage to using an Impinj chip with an Impinj antenna? Now because I'm not an Impinj engineer, I'm not going to say there's no tactical advantage to using an Impinj chip with their readers and antennas. However, as a former RFID engineer, I do know that the physics is the same. The reader must transmit the signal. The antenna on the inlay must be tuned properly to receive that signal and generate the power toward the chip for the tag to respond. The physics is all the same regardless of what chip, inlay, reader, or antenna you’re using.
I think it's most important to focus on inlay selection in the RFID system because if that inlay is mistuned slightly, the power transmitted from the reader isn't going to be efficiently able to power that inlay response. Making sure you've selected an inlay that's tuned properly for the substrate it's is applied to will help efficiency in your RF system.
One more example – take a drill from DeWalt. If I used this drill with DeWalt branded screws, am I going to build my project better than if I used a different screw or if I used a Milwaukee drill? Now, without getting into the big debate of Milwaukee vs DeWalt, I think you understand my premise. The physics are the same with me screwing a DeWalt screw into a board or any other screw. The brand isn't going to have a big impact on the performance.
Instead of getting hung up on the brand name exclusively, it’s important to look at what the requirements are for the RFID system. Understanding gain is especially important when selecting your RFID hardware, i.e., reader and antenna. Gain identifies the interrogation zone of your RF system. So, a higher gain is going to allow you to read tags that are further away, and a shorter gain allows you to read a wider range of tags. Polarity, or the polarization of the antennas, is another important thing to consider. Refer to our video on polarity or check out our article specifically on this topic.
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