For labs that depend on speed and accuracy to scan large inventories, RFID represents a drastic improvement over most conventional labeling methods. Originally conceived during World War II, RFID technology has been used in a variety of industries, from anti-theft detection and scannable room keys to the tracking of nuclear material by the US government.
Specialized RFID labels for every application
In the lab, RFID labels provide many advantages, including the ability to track samples simultaneously, from a distance, without the need for a direct line-of-sight. They accomplish this by using a specialized passive RFID inlays consisting of an integrated circuit (chip) and antenna embedded in the label that emits a radio signal in response to the reader that then processes all of the sample’s relevant information. In doing so, these labels save time and increase tracking accuracy, particularly for large batches of samples, especially when moving them around is not an option. This eliminates unwanted freeze-thaw cycles and preserves the sample’s integrity.
Barcodes, the previous gold standard, are relatively adaptable; one of the main advantages they used to have over RFID is that they could be printed on any label. At LabTAG, we previously specialized in providing only deep-freeze RFID labels, primarily used for low-temperature freezer storage (as low as -80°C). Fortunately, with LabTAG’s newly acquired technology, inlays can now be inserted into almost any label in its inventory, making it more accessible than ever for academic and commercial labs.
Inserting an RFID inlay into the label doesn’t preclude you from printing (or writing) on its face stock. This means that the samples can be encoded by two types of data, RFID and barcodes, giving optimal flexibility to the user when deciding how and when to scan samples for easy and accurate traceability. Using RFID and human-readable text along with barcodes to identify specimens adds an extra layer of protection against handling errors, thereby minimizing potential labeling mistakes. These inlays can be inserted into most types of labels, including those made from chemical-resistant, cryogenic, or autoclave-resistant materials. These specialized labels are necessary for most labs, from histology and pathology labs that require chemical-resistant labels for histochemistry to in vitro fertilization and cell biology labs that depend on cryogenic storage to maintain cells over long periods.
Several products of note in the pipeline include:
- RFID NitroTAG®: One of our most widely used labels, they fully withstand cryogenic conditions (storage at -196°C in liquid nitrogen), come in a variety of different sizes to fit any tube or vial, and can stick to wet surfaces. Customized RFID NitroTAG labels can even be read while in contact with liquid nitrogen.
- RFID Cryo-WrapTAG™: These labels are necessary when samples stored cryogenically also require protection against exposure to chemicals, such as alcohols. They self-laminate when wrapped around the circumference of a tube, providing the printout with an extra layer of protection against spraying and wiping with alcohols, as well as abrasion and mechanical damage.
- RFID XyliTUFF™: These labels are highly recommended when performing histochemical staining or any other application that requires harsh solvents. They withstand long-term immersion and can be read in various chemicals, including (but not limited to) xylene and newer clearing agents and deparaffinizing substitutes. We recommend the Unitech Handheld UHF RFID Reader for mobility, reach, and ease of use.
- RFID Steri-ThermoTAG™: These autoclave-resistant labels are perfect for various sterilization protocols, including in high-pressure steam autoclaves, dry heat ovens, gamma irradiators, and ethylene oxide gas sterilizers.
Note that the size, material, and configuration of the labels can always be customized. This is because, at LabTAG, we have invested in state-of-the-art technology and equipment that allows us to provide RFID solutions not available anywhere else.
Why select customized RFID labels
Customized RFID labels afford several features, such as:
- The ability to scan multiple tags simultaneously from a distance, without a direct line-of-sight required
- Higher data storage capacity (up to 32 hexadecimal characters)
- Higher level of security (data can be locked and password protected)
- Rewritable (up to 100,000 times if the permalock feature is not active)
With customizable RFID solutions, there is also no need to choose between RFID or barcodes; you can get the best of both worlds. Barcode labels with RFID inlays retain the two best advantages of barcodes: their adaptability, especially when using them with automated systems, and the grading standards that exist to ensure the barcodes are read accurately and consistently. Printing with barcodes and RFID adds another layer of security and makes it possible to identify the sample accurately should one identification method fail to scan correctly.
Additionally, using both types of data encryption does not necessarily require two printers; the Zebra ZD621R thermal-transfer printer can encode RFID chips and print 1D or 2D barcodes. Similarly, RFID codes and barcodes can be generated using only one software, like BarTender Pro or ZebraDesigner 3 Pro.
Choosing the best laboratory solution
Ultimately, the choice to utilize customized RFID depends on the needs of your lab. Implementing an effective system requires several considerations, including software integration with LIMS and other inventory management systems as well as the utilization of specialized scanners (again, we recommend the Unitech Handheld UHF RFID Reader for most applications). Setting up a dedicated reagent management system with RFID technology might also require specialized tracking software that lets you get the most out of your labels. As such, a manufacturer that can customize the process is now essential when designing an RFID-based solution. They can help not only select the most appropriate type of label for the application (e.g. cryogenic labels for cold storage versus autoclave labels for high-heat applications), but they can help outfit the solution to your lab’s specific application, including coupling your custom label with RFID tracking software and the right RFID reader. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they can provide you with samples to test it beforehand, so you know what you’re getting suits your lab’s needs perfectly.
LabTAG by GA International is a leading manufacturer of high-performance specialty labels and a supplier of identification solutions used in research and medical labs as well as healthcare institutions.