Tech Talk: Why Supply Chain Professionals Are Using Passive RFID for Stronger Visibility and ROI

Forklift carrying returnable containers through Surgere portals.

What is Passive RFID and When Should It Be Used?

Passive Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) utilizes UHF radio waves to securely acquire and transmit data between a reader and tag to identify, categorize, and track assets. There are two main classes of RFID: Passive and Active. Passive RFID tags do not require an internal power source and instead utilize the energy transmitted from a reader to be interrogated and provide a subsequent response. Active RFID requires a tag with an internal battery source that is constantly emitting a frequency or broadcasting a signal.

Passive RFID tag technology is available in a multitude of form factors, all of which include a chip (memory) and antenna embedded into a tag, which is then placed on an asset. Another device, often called a “reader”, activates the Passive RFID tag, which broadcasts the information stored on the tag’s chip to the reader. The acquired data and transactional information can then be displayed within a software application in real time. In short, Passive RFID captures high-fidelity data through autonomous data acquisition with no battery or tag maintenance.

Surgere utilizes various types of sensor-based IoT technologies to achieve an unprecedented degree of data accuracy that drives insights for our clients within our solution suite. Specific IoT technologies, including Passive RFID, GPS, Bluetooth, and others, are selected according to the business case to assure the technology meets the defined business requirements and complies with environmental factors and constraints.

Surgere often selects Passive RFID for IoT solutions for various factors including scalability, cost-effectiveness, accuracy, form factor, and read volume per transaction. Additionally, the durability and limited maintenance required often make Passive RFID Surgere’s IoT technology of choice.

Surgere has identified Passive RFID as the optimal IoT technology solution for managing returnable packaging assets throughout facilities and supply chain networks.

Scalable and Cost-Effective for Returnable Packaging Fleets

Passive RFID is best suited for returnable container management due to the scalability and price points of RFID Tags. Passive RFID tags are significantly less expensive than Bluetooth and Active RFID tags, which allows for the solution to scale to large returnable packaging fleets. Although the cost is only dollars and cents difference per tag, it scales quickly due to the large size of container fleets, typically millions of assets. The ROI from Passive RFID tags is much greater, while the initial investment is much less.

The form factor of Passive RFID tags is more ideal for managing returnable packaging assets as well. Asset identifiers that require an internal power source, like Bluetooth and Active RFID tags, are clunkier in size and shape presenting challenges in outfitting some returnable assets. The thin makeup of Passive RFID tags mitigates worries of finding the right place to affix a tag on a returnable asset.

Consistent read performance is another strength of Passive RFID. Think of small totes on a pallet. There can be up to 144 totes on one pallet. In the event two pallets are being loaded simultaneously, 288 totes move through dock door portals at one time. Passive RFID can read all 288 RFID tags as they pass through the portal quickly and consistently with limited interference and missed reads. Bluetooth devices cannot communicate that many transactions at one time. With a limited number of channels to communicate through, large volumes of tags in one area will result in missed reads and inconsistent performance.

Circular Value Chains Excel with Passive RFID

Passive RFID provides granularity within locations and real-time inventory visibility to tagged assets. Transactions which occur automatically using the serialized approach show status information such as in transit, loaded in yard, and the current location of the asset within the supply chain in real-time. In addition, visibility to the velocity at which material is moving supports organizational goals of creating a circular value chain.

Passive RFID provides chain of custody visibility and traceability whether assets are moving between trading partners or within a facility. Other IoT technologies are best used for visibility inside a facility only.

Bluetooth and Active RFID tags have other types of environments they work best in. For example, Bluetooth works exceptionally well for localization needs. Constant signals make it easy to pinpoint an asset within a warehouse. At Surgere, we’ve paired up the right hardware, software, and tags to locate assets accurately within 2-feet.

Gain Visibility and Earn ROI with Passive RFID

Passive RFID has been successfully deployed various times to achieve true end-to-end visibility. One Surgere client used Passive RFID to gain insight into an estimated 40% of returnable containers lost every year across their network. Another client saw a reported $48,000 in savings at one plant in just the first two weeks of Passive RFID implementation.

Speed, volume, and scale help determine which technologies work best for your visibility needs. To learn more about which technology solution may fit your needs best, contact one of our technology experts at

Discover your potential ROI with a Passive RFID Returnable Container Management program with Surgere’s value calculator.


Brian joined the Surgere team in 2019. He leads solution design and engineering efforts for over 100 strategic clients.He provides strategic recommendations for clients on how to leverage Surgere systems to solve business challenges. Brian has deep expertise in applying IoT technology to client cases across multiple industries, specifically through utilizing data to determine actionable insights.

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Brian Ruhaak Biography 2021_03_22
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