A broad explanation of RFID asset tracking, what is it, what does it achieve, what is the RFID element about and what are the challenges. What is RFID asset tracking Any physical asset is exactly that, AN ASSET,therefore it makes sense to track those assets for a number of reasons:
To ensure loss is minimised
To ensure maximum use is made of your assets
To manage repair / maintenance of assets
To manage PAT testing schedules
To manage asset flow through your off-site projects
In some instances managing one asset in turn manages other assets, logistics is a good example of this, by managing transportation boxes / cages / dollies etc you manage the assets or more likely commodities within them
Saving money, by understanding your assets better your make better use of them and save money against waste and loss
RFID is part of many asset management systems and forms the link between the asset itself and the database that stores the required information for that asset. But the system itself, the asset management system, is a process and system which allows you to maximise the usage of your assets. What does asset management achieve? The results you would expect to get from an asset management system are dependent upon the system you choose. That will depend on exactly what you wish to achieve. There are many options available, and many price brackets for those options. To a large extent the value of the asset to be tracked and managed will dictate the level of system that you would purchase. You should however bear in mind that the initial cost of an asset is not the only cost, a lifetime cost and replacement cost calculation needs to be made. Example: If you replace certain assets frequently, perhaps there’s a reason for that which can be ‘managed out’ through successful tracking. For instance, power tools are a very steal-able asset, but if you go deeper the batteries that power cordless tools are even more steal-able, as they usually decline in effectiveness over time. So managing an asset of that type will often increase it’s life span, or stop it being stolen and you having to replace it. Sad I know but having worked on tagging assets with a major power tool manufacturer I’m aware of the problem through conversations with clients. So a reasonably low asset can multiply in cost through loss, however that loss occurs, which would create a better value proposition for spending more on the management of each individual asset. There’s a very wide range of system available today, some of which are of course very low level and potentially not of much value. There’s also very high quality systems incorporating the latest technology in RFID and data management and analysis. The system you need will depend on what your objectives are, the assets you have and the kind of process you would like to use to manage those assets. Low achievement systems: A low achievement system would manage assets to a point, it would require manual input for tracking and achieve little more than a database of assets. As with any database the quality of information going in dictates the quality of information coming out. The more manual the system the more errors and weaknesses it will have. High achievement system: A very strong asset tracking / management system will do the work for you. Using readers and UHF RFID capability assets will be auto-tracked through building, sites or exit / entry doors. The database element will achieve insights into all things asset related, providing the information you need to manage assets perfectly, thus creating maximum value from each individual asset. What is the RFID element of an Asset Tracking System? RFID is a way of transferring information from a ‘tag’ placed on an asset to a reader, which in turn communicates with the database managing those assets. In the simplest terms an RFID tag is the same as a barcode but without the need for such close proximity to read it, and the ability to read multiple items quickly and correctly. There are a number of types of RFID tag using slightly different technology within them to communicate with a reader. An RFID tag will usually contain an aerial and a microchip. Some will contain a battery but most will not. All RFID uses radio frequency to communicate, some operate on High Frequency some on Ultra High Frequency. The main difference is the distance the signal can travel, UHF travels further than HF as a rule of thumb. There are also both powered and passive RFID tags, put simply, powered tags have a battery and can send a signal further, passive has no battery and generates charge from the radio signal it receives from the reader, its signal is not as strong and therefore doesn’t travel as far. Many systems on the market today, most systems, will use RFID instead of a barcode, though this is not a necessity is has a number of key benefits.
Firstly the ability to read multiple items quickly and simply. A recent retail application of RFID showed a more accurate read was achieved than a manual barcode scan process.
Secondly, the speed of the data capture with the RFID system was less than 5% of the time taken in a manual process.
Example use case: Picture a large warehouse full of inventory, any kind of inventory. Almost every organisation running such a place would require a monthly, perhaps quarterly or possibly just an annual check of that inventory. The cost of doing that is high, the accuracy in a manual process is low. So you have a high cost low accuracy process, which basically means an expensive waste of time. By using an RFID based, probably a UHF passive system, the process is entirely different. The read accuracy should be 99%+, the speed of the process should equate to less than a couple of percent of a manual process. The end result is an very accurate, very quick stock take, which has great value both in terms of time saved and stock management. But, and it’s a big but, you shouldn’t need to do that at all! The fact you have an RFID based asset tracking / management system operational means you should have a live asset database that’s accurate, wouldn’t that be a revelation. What are the challenges? This is where our service comes in, The Tagging Team Ltd, specialise in the implementation element of RFID Asset Tracking, we apply the tags. The challenges are broader that that though. To successfully integrate a system you will require a hardware infrastructure to read the tags and transfer the data to the database. That database may well react / communicate / integrate with some of your existing management systems, that’s part of the installation challenge. The better the system you buy the more flexible both the infrastructure and the integrations are likely to be. Back to the tagging element of the process. There are challenges here too, particularly getting it right first time. We’ve seen many instances of poor tagging implementation rendering the system close to useless, we’re back to the rubbish in rubbish out scenario. It’s advisable to seek expert help on the tagging element of any RFID implementation, those experts will know how to do it, what the risks are, how to manage quality and how to complete on schedule with the highest possible productivity. Using agency staff should not be considered as a sensible option, again we’ve seen the results of this approach on many occasions, indeed we have fixed the problems caused by this approach on many occasions. We would also recommend that internal staff are not ideally placed to provide the tagging element of the work, we have seen similar results to agency staff from internal staff, for various reasons. Using a commercial RFID tagging company will provide a set budget for the installation of tags, often a price per asset tagged option is available, giving you absolute vision of the unit cost. Additionally, and more importantly, quality is guaranteed, not that errors will never be made, they will be, but a commercial tagging company will have systems in place to highlight those errors, repairing them would be part of the service. These checks can and should be both data checks and physical checks. If you plan to operate your own RFID tagging project we’d suggest you register here, we’ll send you a project plan template which should ensure nothing is missed in the process planning and implementation. Summary RFID asset tracking is a method to quickly and efficiently monitor assets of almost any type. It protects from losses, manages the use of your assets, maximises returns on assets, increases overall efficiency and ultimately saves both time and money. Maximum efficiency is achieved through intense management of any tagged assets, creating all the obvious benefits that surround that result. The RFID element of the system is the conduit from the asset itself to the database that manages the asset data. A number of RFID system types can be utilised with different benefits and costs to each. The key challenges revolve around implementation, from tagging your assets to setting up a reader infrastructure and integrating with your current systems.