RFID asset management – expectations vs reality

What is RFID?

The first technology was the Continuous Wave radio generation which was created in 1906 by Ernst F. W. Alexanderson. The second technology was the Radar device which is thought to have been developed in 1922 and was utilised extensively in World War II (Landt, 2001).

RFID history chart

The combination of these two devices resulted in the concept of RFID which was first academically proposed in theory by Harry Stockman in 1948. During this time, RFID was employed as a means to distinguish between enemy and allied aircraft in the war.

Unfortunately, as Stockman notes, technology had not progressed to the point that the complete potential of RFID technology could be realised (Stockman, 1948). So RFID is a technology that’s been around since at least the 1970s!

Until recently it’s been too expensive, and too limited, to be practical for many commercial applications. But now solutions are affordable, and they can solve many of the problems associated with barcodes. Such as having to be read at the line of sight, usually at distances below one meter.

The major trends aiding in the radio frequency technology adoption are automation, supply chain management, asset tracking, payments, and Near-Field Communication (NFC).

Some governments mandate for the use of RFID tags for tracking various industry products, such as defense, livestock, and data centers, are also proving to be important factors in the industry’s development.

Grand View Research

What is RFID asset management?

RFID asset management is now a well known solution for tracking valuable assets. But what is RFID really? RFID is an acronym for “radio frequency identification” and refers to a technology where digital data encoded in RFID tags or smart labels are captured by a reader via radio waves, and used in this case for RFID asset tracking and tools and equipment management.

RFID asset management is not a matter of one size fits all!

As with any successful project it is imperative to identify the ROI opportunities through thorough assessment of your requirements before implementing a solution.

Focusing on the efficiencies and cost savings goals will drive the success of your RFID asset management project and improve your asset management processes. A targeted pilot program will successfully prove the solution and often yields changes to project scope to achieve greater value from the RFID implementations.

The major benefits of using RFID tags is that they do not require line of sight to be registered, can be hidden inside assets, and will reduce audit and inventory counts time by 90%.

RFID is actually a bundle of technologies

  1. Hardware selection; fixed readers/antennas and hand-held readers
  2. RFID tags
  3. RFID reader software
  4. Asset register system for asset tracking

Reasons why RFID is now viable

  1. Tags are cheaper to purchase
  2. Readers are more powerful with longer read range
  3. Fixed and hand-held readers are cheaper to purchase
  4. RFID tags are less sensitive with respect to the surface placement

RFID asset tags or Barcode labels?

For a lower cost of implementation, Hardcat supports passive RFID tags. These tags are a worthy solution and generally more suitable for indoor positioning. The practical range of passive RFID tags is about 10 cm to several meters.

Asset tags, their technology and environments

There are two types of RFID tags, passive (no battery) and active (battery powered) that can transmit at larger distances. The asset tags and readers that you use will depend upon the environment, asset types and the outcome you require.

The type of readers and tags to be considered will be dependent on the location point i.e. height, width and surface to be mounted on, and the cost (passive tags are cheaper than active tags).

Passive tags don’t have a power source built-in and are powered from the signal carried by the RFID reader. While active tags have a built-in power source, and their behaviour can be compared to a beacon, can operate at a greater distance and at higher data rates. But they have a limited life (longevity of battery) and higher implementation costs.

Different types of asset tags and labels

Hardcat asset tagging types

Click for larger image

Barcode labels are generally used for low value items due to the low cost of the tags and limited tracking capabilities. While RFID tags are more expensive and require specialised tracking hardware, at specific points, it will make scanning of assets much easier.

There are many consideration to discuss before purchasing your asset tags/labels. Take a look at the different asset tagging types, their technology and environments they work best in.

RFID asset management; proof-of-concept

How precise must location data be?  Do you need to incorporate barcoded assets into your asset register as well? Start small and generate a proof-of-concept that can be expanded to more complex workflows.

Start with one challenge in your organisation or start with tracking high-value portable asset class/types that may deliver the greatest ROI on your efforts.

RFID technology limitations

It’s no surprise that asset tracking is one of the most common uses of RFID. Where organisations attach RFID tags to assets that are often of high value, portable, hard to reach or access. Just about every type of RFID system is used for assets, equipment tracking and infrastructure management.

However not all evironments are ideal for this technology and there is distance limitations. The distance your RFID solution can achieve is influenced by several factors, as is environments that may confuse RFID readers:

  • Frequency of the RFID system
  • Individual RFID reader
  • Antenna being used
  • Thickness and material the tag is attached to
  • Type of tag and how it is attached
  • The environment the system is being used in
  • RFID readers are not happy among liquids and metals, as both make it harder to get proper reads on the item
  • RFID readers may get confused when one or more readers are operational within a location, creating interference
  • RFID tag signals can collide when there are copious amounts of tags at one location

Accurate asset data and ROI

As with any successful project, it is important to identify the Return On Investment (ROI) opportunities, assess the requirements, plan the system and implement the solution. Focusing on the efficiencies and cost savings goals will drive the success of your RFID project and improve your RFID asset management processes.

RFID provides a saving of $10K per data center inventory.  Given 10 data centres and two inventories/audits per year, totalling 20 inventories per year, the expected ROI is $200K per year. Instead of justifying RFID, evaluate the business goals for accurate data, and justify those.

RFID asset management with fixed readers

RFID asset management; controlling container asset movements

RFID with fixed readers click here

RFID readers can be fixed as the example above displays; mounted to walls, ceilings, containers or doorways or hand-held for mobility. The type of readers and tags to be considered will be dependent on the location point i.e. height, width and surface to be mounted on, and the environment.

RFID asset management for security

Hardcat RFID and CCTV RFID asset management

RFID and CCTV click here

RFID triggering CCTV images is an important deterrent in areas without physical security. Fixed RFID readers installed at prominent entry and exit points (unmanned or manned locations) will automatically detect assets and people moving in and out of these doorways.

A CCTV image is triggered by the RFID fixed readers for people do not comply with the requirements of the organisation. Entering a location after normal working hours or having assets that are not assigned to them will trigger an alert, record their image sending directly to the security desk.

RFID asset management applications

Conducting an RFID asset management pilot

Conducting a pilot test will save your organisation thousands of dollars which may be spent on RFID tags not suitable for the asset(s) and/or environment they are working in. A pilot will allow you to choose the volumes and combination of hardware most suitable to achieve your business outcomes.

Having complete visibility of your assets allows you to make informed decisions relating to asset purchases, and can reduce your insurance premiums by more than 30%.

RFID asset management will support your organisation in improving the storing and retrieval of inventory, stock and spare parts. Will search and find assets quickly and automatically, capturing movements.

Tracking aspects other than location and movement, and integrating with enterprise systems, ensures that multiple functions and levels of management can be involved, and the results are measurable.

Hardcat recommends a site visit by one of our consultants to look at your environment as well as discuss your required asset tagging solution.

With RFID it is not a matter of one size fits all. The tags and readers that you use will depend upon the environment, asset types and the outcomes you require.

Hardcat has sourced the very best in RFID tags and readers so we can supply you with everything you need to start your RFID tracking solution.

Hardcat RFID asset management

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