One of the fastest growing segments of the digital printing industry, in which RFID technology is incorporated with printed documents, is label printing. Smart labels and electronic surveillance labels are being used for applications in which simple, optically read barcoding may not be suitable.
Digitally printed smart labels contain RFID transponders which are use to automatically capture data. The standard construction of a smart label consists of a pressure sensitive facestock, an inlay, which contains the radio frequency identification transponder, and a liner. The inlay is laminated between the facestock and the liner. The transponder contains an antenna and microchip.
The data from the smart label is accessed when the transponder in the label passes near the reader. Radio waves from the reader are received by the antenna in the RFID and the data on the microchip is transferred back to the reader and is then passed on to a computer or printer. As the product moves from one stage to the next, its movements can be monitored and data can be updated when necessary. The smart label can identify a product, track in real-time, and authenticate a product.
Smart labels are used on all types of applications including supply chain management, production control, work-in-process, baggage identification and tracking, express delivery services, reusable container tracking, and security systems. Several types of equipment are used for encoding RFID inlays:
- Equipment is available that is capable of encoding a separate RFID inlay and then bonding it to the substrate after the label has been printed. A variety of label substrates can be used. This process eliminates the need for inserting transponders into blank label stock before the label stock is printed. Since the printing process can damage stock containing transponders, the process eliminates this potential problem by allowing the printing to be completed first. This creates a printing system that is on-demand. There are no requirements for the use of special papers because the equipment is capable of printing on almost any label stock.
- Some types of equipment are capable of encoding data on very thin UHF RFID transponders that are inserted into smart labels. The equipment immediately verifies the proper encoding. The equipment can then print text, graphics, or barcodes on the smart label to complete the application. The smart labels can be used for a number of warehousing, inventory, and supply chain tracking applications.
- There are also compact digital desktop printers specifically designed for RFID printing. The printers can read, write, and print labels that have an embedded RFID transponder.
Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) Labels
EAS labels are used as antitheft devices. The label is used with EAS monitoring equipment for detection of the removal of items without authorization. The EAS systems are used in retail stores, data centers, and libraries. When applied to products, the EAS label is capable of activating an alarm as it passes through an electronic surveillance detector, such as those found in retail store exits. When the product is purchased, the label is made inactive by the use of a deactivation device at the checkout station. Once the label is deactivated it is referred to as a dead label. Labels that have not been deactivated are referred to as live labels.
RFID is only one of the technologies used for EAS labels. Other common types are AM (Acousto Magnetic) and EM (Electro Magnetic). Each of the EAS systems has its own unique detection equipment that must be used in order for the system to operate properly.
Because of the antitheft protection they provide, EAS labels and EAS systems allow more freedom for retail stores to display items that would usually be locked in display cases. This allows the consumer to examine the product closely before purchasing.