Speed, Read Range and Accuracy: Why RFID Is Key to Managing Assets
Asset-management technology based on radio frequency identification is being utilized in a wide range of industries and scenarios, providing cost savings and data accuracy.
First utilized by the Allies during World War II to identify enemy aircraft, radio frequency identification (RFID) has evolved into a powerful management technology that has since been adopted by a vast majority of asset-heavy industries. Encouraged by the advancements of the Internet of Things (IoT), RFID can now be found in healthcare facilities, warehouses, retail stores and manufacturing plants.
In organizations that rely heavily on the use of their assets, effective management of inventory and stock control is essential. Without it, businesses risk losing a large portion of their revenue. Take the construction industry, for example, which spends more than $1 billion each year replacing lost or stolen assets. There are also the 24 million articles of luggage that airlines lost in 2016.
But that's where the deployment of RFID technology for asset management can help. In fact, its accessibility, features and cheap running costs have propelled the easy-to-use technology to the forefront of a $36.3 billion asset-tracking market.
How Does RFID Asset Management Work?
Whether managing a warehouse's supply chain operation or accurately counting the number of spare parts in a manufacturing production line, RFID helps to deliver a seamless approach to the way businesses manage their assets. RFID asset management requires four key elements, including both hardware and software, to work together. They are RFID tags, antennas, readers (handheld or static) and computerized database software.
The process begins with an RFID reader, which kickstarts an automated chain reaction. The reader transmits data from an RFID tag via an antenna to a computer, where a sophisticated software database will store the data and provide feedback.
Although the process of how an RFID system works seems relatively straightforward, there are varying factors that need to be considered. Most specifically, you'll need to determine which RFID tags you need.
Types of RFID Tags
Before choosing an RFID system to manage your assets, it's important to understand the different types of technology and how they are best used. One important factor to consider is what type of RFID tag you need. Each tag has different capabilities that can either hinder or improve your asset-management operations. There are two main types of RFID tags to choose from: passive and active.
Passive RFID tags have no internal power source. They offer a smaller read range than active RFID tags (typically from 3 feet) and a longer life expectancy than active tags. They're cheap, accessible, small and lightweight, and are great for inventory management. Active tags are battery-powered and offer a greater read range than passive RFID tags (typically from 50 feet up to 300 feet with ultrahigh frequency). They're usually more expensive than passive RFID tags and are great for supply chain management and vehicle-tracking systems.
Along with passive and active RFID tags, there is a third option: semi-passive tags. Such tags act as a hybrid and serve the purpose of a passivetag with the inclusion of a power source. This makes semi-passive tags ideal for managing assets used for environment and condition monitoring, such as temperature-controlled transit.
The Benefits of Using RFID to Manage Your Assets
From small brick-and-mortar retail stores to large logistics enterprises, the use of RFID cannot be understated. An early adopter of RFID asset-management technology was American retailer Walmart in 2014, which spent nearly $500 million on its RFID program. Since then, other retailers and asset-heavy consumer organizations have followed suit. One of these is U.K. clothes retailer River Island, which increased its stock accuracy via RFID from 70 percent to 98 percent across of its stores.
But, no matter what type or size, all businesses that have embraced RFID expect the same results from an asset-management system: the ability to reduce excessive costs and spending, increase the visibility of assets, improve workplace efficiency and decrease the use of error-prone manual methods. Although the workings of an RFID system may vary depending on a business's requirements, the benefits gained are very much the same. Three essential benefits of RFID asset management include:
Greater Data Accuracy
Although subjective to the type of assets that need managing, an RFID system trumps similar tracking technologies when it comes to achieving accuracy. For example, whereas barcodes need to be manually scanned one at a time, increasing the risk of human error, an RFID reader can locate and scan data from multiple tags at once.
Increased Speed of Data Collection
One advantage of being able to collect data from multiple tags at once is the increased speed at which data is transferred into a database system—so much so that RFID allows you to collect the data of 40 tags in the same amount of time it takes to manually scan a single barcode. This is also helped by not having to be in the line of sight of RFID tags when using a reader.
Reduced Replacement Costs of Lost or Stolen Assets
A major contributor to the loss of revenue and excessive spending is having to replace lost, stolen or misplaced assets. Not only does the construction industry fall afoul of this, but the American automotive industry loses $750 million a year by replacing lost reusable packaging. By using multiple RFID readers and antennas, you can build a real-time location system (RTLS) and track the exact whereabouts of your RFID tags. This also helps to reduce wasted hours spent tracking down equipment in the workplace.
Factors to Consider When Choosing RFID Technology
Thanks to its cost-saving and data-accuracy benefits, RFID-based asset-management technology is being utilized in a wide range of industries and scenarios, from tracking educational assets in schools to helping monitor the delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the fight against COVID-19. But when it comes to deciding which RFID system is best for your own business requirements, there are many factors to consider.
These include the types of assets you need to manage (whether they are tangible, fixed, small or large), how many assets you intend to track, the budget you have to deploy an RFID system, the read range of your RFID tags, the environmental condition of your assets, and what software you need to collect and analyze data.
Although eight billion RFID tags were purchased in 2017 alone, there are also other alternative systems that are able to enhance the management of business assets. These include barcode and QR code labelling, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons, GPS tracking and Near Field Communication (NFC).
Source: RFID Journal