Managing and locating important assets is a key challenge for almost any business. Time spent searching for critical equipment can lead to expensive delays or down time, missed deadlines and customer commitments, and wasted labor.
Companies have traditionally addressed this problem by managing assets using serial numbers and spreadsheets, or tracking equipment with barcode labels. However, both of these methods require a significant amount of manual labor. One way to quickly improve asset management is by utilizing radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to automatically track those assets.
An RFID asset tracking system uses electromagnetic fields to transmit data from an RFID tag to a reader. Whether you are talking about office equipment in a multi-story building, wheelchairs and IV pumps in a large hospital, tools and equipment in a factory, or pumping equipment in far-flung oil fields, RFID can provide accurate, real-time tracking data for fixed and mobile assets.
There are two general categories of RFID tags: active and passive. Active tags have a built-in power source, and offer longer read distances, but a more limited lifespan. Passive tags are energized when they are in proximity to an RFID reader.
While early versions of the technology were limited in the types of environments they could be used, there are now a variety of tags available that can be used in wet environments or on metal assets, and even tags that can survive exposure to extreme temperatures, chemical contaminants, and other harsh environments.
RFID Automates Asset Tracking
With a portable RFID reader built into a mobile computer, staff can easily scan one or more asset tags without having to physically see the tags. With traditional barcode labeling, employees would have to point a barcode scanner directly at the tag in order to get an accurate scan. In some applications, that would require crawling under desks, behind racks of servers, or climbing ladders to scan hard-to-reach assets. With RFID, the reader can be several feet away and still get an accurate scan. One employee could easily scan several dozen assets in a room in just a few seconds.
RFID tags with larger on-board memory capacity can even store additional information about the asset. For applications in remote areas where connectivity to a back-end application or database might be challenging, the tag itself can store information about maintenance activities or sensor data that can be read and written to by a field technician using a mobile computer.
Barcode labels can be used for asset tracking, and do provide a more efficient alternative to manually searching for serial numbers — but a RFID asset tracking system can provide multiple advantages over barcoding. These include:
- Reading multiple tags at once, without requiring line-of-sight between the tags and scanner. One employee could inventory an entire room full of equipment in a matter of minutes.
- Critical service information can be stored on the assets themselves, enabling more accurate asset life cycle management.
- RFID tags can be integrated with sensors and GPS technology to provide asset condition data, in addition to location information.
- By integrating the solution with a wireless LAN, assets can be identified and located remotely in seconds.
- Inventory times can be reduced from days down to hours.
- Asset security can be improved by generating real-time alerts and alarms if assets are moved into unauthorized locations or taken out of a building.
- Enhanced productivity because assets can be located almost instantaneously, and most asset management tasks can be made more efficient using RFID.
Tracking large numbers of assets doesn’t have to be a logistical nightmare. Automated tracking with RFID will provide a complete view of your asset fleet without the costly and time-consuming efforts involved in manually managing equipment.