Status Reports: Technology

Cover Assets With Low-Cost RFID Tags

Managing the comings and goings of assets could be a big headache, but more logistics companies today are giving RFID (radio frequency identification) technology a second look in helping them keep track of their expensive assets.

RFID technology has been around for quite some time, but its high cost and complicated implementation were enough to keep companies’ interest level low.

Things are a lot different today. “There is a lot more demand today for RFID in tracking assets because the technology is easier to implement, whether you are a user or a vendor,” notes Bert Moore, director of communications for Pittsburgh-based AIM (Association for Automated Identification & Mobility). AIM is the international trade association representing automatic identification and mobility technology solution providers.

“The technology is not quite plug-and-play because there is a bit of tweaking necessary, but the ROI is easier to see these days with RFID’s lower costs and better-understood benefits,” says Moore.

Some applications might surprise many. Moore reports that yard management is a major application utilizing active RFID tags. “But RFID is also used to access control to and from the yard. So beyond managing in the yard, companies are managing what comes in and what goes out.”

With high fuel prices on a roller-coaster trajectory, companies view their fuel pumps as a major asset. Moore explains that RFID tags on a truck or tractor can allow authorized personnel to use the fuel pump. “The tags can also record the amount of fuel pumped to a particular vehicle.”

Issuing RFID employee identification cards to drivers can help companies efficiently match the right driver with the right piece of equipment. The cards can also provide access control to employees.

“The cards can record a variety of employee activities so companies know what billable activities employees are involved with at any given time; so you are looking at employee time as an asset.” reports Moore.

How about your tires? Some tire manufacturers are embedding RFID tags in their industrial and commercial tires, definitely assets because of their high cost. “We hear reports about truckers pulling into a truck stop only to return to discover their tires had been swapped or stolen,” says Moore. RFID tags can be used to prove ownership of any given tire.

An example of an over-the-road application has RFID tags communicating with GPS to report a tractor, trailer or chassis and container are still all together in a particular place, adds Moore. Interest in using RFID with security seals is growing.

“In the old days, you couldn’t immediately be certain whether a seal had been removed and another put on in its place, whereas an RFID seal can give you that information. Some seals also contain GPS so you can know where in the world your container is and if it has been breached even if it’s on the ocean in transit from China to the U.S.,” notes Moore.

Cost Comes Down

Maintenance plays a big role in asset protection. Moore reports that RFID tags are being used to collect data relative to a vehicle’s maintenance history. “You can have all the service history right there for any of the components on a particular piece of equipment.”

Another application is linking RFID tags to sensors on equipment, such as the motor, to record hours of operation. “If there are maintenance issues that are not being recorded by the onboard computer, an RFID tag linked to a sensor can remedy that.”

One application gaining in popularity is tracking tools at maintenance facilities. “These tools are very expensive,” Moore says. “You can use an RFID tag on the tool itself or the employee’s RFID badge to help you track any tools that are checked out.”

These applications have been around for quite some time, but companies are beginning to realize the economic benefits now, especially as costs have decreased. Another reason companies were not implementing RFID was due to the proprietary nature of the technology in the 1980s and the fact that RFID companies tended to come and go, explains Moore.

“You could buy a reader and a tag from one company but you couldn’t use other companies’ tags. Today it’s common for technology to be licensed to many distributors and manufacturers,” he says.

Companies can now integrate a wide range of data, explains Moore. Usually the technology is available in packaged programs or integrators can develop packages specific to a company’s requirements. So cost and implementation are becoming a lot more attractive.

“For instance, the same RFID tag can be used for yard management, access control, fuel pump access, and other applications so companies have control over where their assets are and how they are performing,” says Moore.

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