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Asset tracking and the benefits of using an RFID tracking system

The management and location of assets can be difficult and time-consuming for businesses if the process isn’t methodical, automated and easy to implement and manage. The wasted time spent searching for job-critical equipment chews into time on the job site and can slow down the progress of project by a considerable margin.

Historically companies have managed assets with a combination of serial numbers, barcodes and spreadsheets that rely on human interaction to locate, identify and then enter data into a tracking system. This method is time-consuming, costly and prone to human error. An automated RFID tracking system is more accurate, faster and reduces the amount of human interaction needed to track assets, leaving your workforce open to complete more important tasks.

What is an RFID Asset Tracking System?

Now that we know an RFID tracking system can save businesses time, money and give greater efficiency, let’s take a look at what an RFID asset tracking system actually is, what it does and how it can help business.

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification and is a way to send data using electromagnetic fields from an RFID tag to an RFID reader. RFID tags, labels, stickers or chipstags, labels, stickers or chips are placed onto equipment, tools or other assets you wish to track and an RFID reader picks up their location (the distance tags can be tracked from will depend on whether or not they’re passive or active, but more on that later) and relays this information.

If you’ve ever driven through an electronic toll facility, used a smart travel card or had access to a building with a security card, you’ve used RFID. The concept of tracking assets is exactly the same but instead of tracking cars or people, businesses are tracking tools, equipment, electronic devices, pallets, goods and everything in between that needs tracking.

What industries are using RFID for asset tracking?

There is a large amount of flexibility when it comes to tracking items via RFID so many different industries utilise this technology. The list is almost endless, but to give you an idea of the types of industries that are using RFID and what they’re tracking, we’ve outlined some of the more common and not so common uses and industries below.

RFID tracking in the health industry
Hospitals and health/medical providers often use RFID to track patients (dementia patients particularly), expensive medical equipment and items such as wheelchairs, patient beds and other critical equipment. An RFID tracking system enables a hospital to quickly and efficiently track where items are located so they’re able to provide a better service to their patients.

RFID tracking in manufacturing
There are many touch points in a manufacturing process so being able to track items throughout the entire manufacturing process enables manufacturers to not only identify and locate certain items no matter where they are in the development process but to identify potential bottlenecks and areas that require improvement.

RFID tracking in warehouses
The benefits for RFID tracking in a warehouse situation are fairly intuitive to see. Being able to locate and identify single items in a building where potentially thousands or even hundreds of thousands of items are located is a boon for any business that has a warehousing element.

RFID tracking in prisons
Whilst more common in the United States, we’re seeing more and more Australian correctional facilities start to think about using RFID to track personnel and prisoners so they’re easily able to track (in real-time) the location of each. This increases safety and can help prevent disturbances.

Tracking pipelines using RFID and drone technology
An interesting report coming out of the RFID Journal talks about researchers from California Polytechnic State University attaching an RFID reader to a drone to track RFID tags attached to steel drills and utility pipes. This is an innovative and interesting way to utilise RFID technology and we look forward to seeing how these ideas progress.

What’s the difference between ‘passive’ and ‘active’ RFID tags?

When you start looking into RFID technology you will discover there’s two main types of RFID tags / stickers / labels that get used in industry known as ‘passive’ and ‘active’ tags. There are two major differences in these types of tags. Let’s break down the main uses and characteristics of each.

Passive RFID tags
Passive RFID tags have three main differences when compared to active RFID tags’ and these are:-

  1. They’re cheaper than active tags
  2. They don’t have their own power source
  3. Have a shorter tracking distance ability

Passive RFID tags are a cost effective option depending on your requirements however when it comes to asset tracking, we see more active tags being used.

Active RFID tags
Most RFID asset tracking systems will incorporate active tags into the overall approach of the system. Active tags are:-

  • Slightly more expensive than passive tags
  • Have a longer read range
  • Typically incorporate their own battery or power source
  • Can support sensors that transmit information about temperature, light, and humidity

As you can see the benefits of using active RFID tags in an asset management solution are clear. Longer read ranges and the ability to transmit different types of data gives companies a broader range of options.

How RFID can automate asset tracking

Traditional asset tracking by using barcode, engraved codes or serial numbers would mean that an employee would first have to locate the barcode (sometimes difficult if covered in mud, dirt, under desks, behind heavy equipment or in a hard to reach area) then scan the barcode or physically input the serial number. This is a time consuming and ineffective way to track items in your company.

With a portable RFID reader that’s built into a tablet or mobile computing device, staff can scan several items at once without having to locate or even see the RFID tag. This means that a staff member can walk into a room and scan several items accurately within a couple of seconds and have the data available.

 The major benefits of incorporating RFID into your tracking of assets are:- 

  • Read many tags at once without requiring a line of sight to the item or tag
  • One staff member can scan a room full of inventory within minutes
  • RFID tags can be integrated into an overall system that provide data about asset condition (temperature, humidity, etc)
  • RFID can provide the location of items
  • Inventory and stocktake time can be reduced considerably

Tracking large numbers of items by hand doesn't make sense in this day and age. RFID opens the door to automation, efficiency and time-saving across a huge range of industries and business types.

 If you’re interesting in talking with us about RFID solutions please call us on 1800 077 375