Infrastructure
Commentary
12/17/2004
10:39 AM
Gene Alvarez
Gene Alvarez
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RFID Helps Enterprises Increase Return On Assets Through Tracking

Beginning next year, more and more enterprises will look to RFID to get the most mileage and value out of assets that can't easily be tracked with bar codes. Over time, their efforts will yield operating-cost reductions and process improvements.

For enterprises seeking increased utilization and management of bar-code-challenged assets--tools, machinery, equipment, people--radio-frequency identification provides a new measure of control.

RFID tags can help in situations ranging from bulky rolls of paper that can lose their bar-code labels when stored in a high-humidity environment to heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning dampers that are installed with bar codes facing a concrete structure, rendering them unreadable or unreachable for maintenance tracking. Enterprises looking for a heightened level of control will begin RFID asset-management pilots in the 2005-2006 time frame.

By 2006-2007, enterprises will deploy RFID-tagged assets, creating operational cost reductions (e.g., reduction in missing assets) and operational improvements (e.g., reduced location times). We believe that by 2008-2009, enterprises will tag more than 70% of their assets and generate operating-cost reductions of 1% to 3%. These reductions will be realized through reduction of lost assets, improved tracking of asset maintenance, and protection of assets from theft, fraud, or injury.

Asset-management pilots will draw experience from successful RFID asset-tracking implementations such as the tracking of livestock, boxcars, and trucks.

Three tag-frequency ranges are of interest for asset-management applications: low frequency 135-KHz tags, high-frequency 13.56-MHz tags, and UHF 433-MHz tags.

Low-frequency 135-KHz tags are used in one of the largest RFID applications: livestock tracking. RFID lets cattle ranchers track livestock movements without having line-of-sight or perfect weather conditions, both of which are requirements for bar-code-based readings. Cattle are recorded as they move through gates, similar to the way cars are tracked as they move through electronic toll stations.

These same low-frequency tags are used to protect other classes of assets. For example, 135-KHz tags are in use for many card-key, access-control systems that let employees enter and exit facilities and protect automobiles from theft, as they are part of many automotive anti-theft and key-entry systems. They've also been used to track runners from start to finish in marathons and other races.

These low-frequency tags can be used for pallet-level tracking but can have slower read rates than the Electronic Product Code 900 UHF open-standards-based tags, which is why retailers and suppliers aren't using them for that application.

As we move up the scale in frequency, high-frequency 13.56-MHz tags are being tested in applications such as baggage tracking (e.g., Delta Airlines) and site maintenance (e.g., Frankfurt Airport).

In the case of baggage handling, the line-of-sight capabilities of bar codes do work. However, it can require more than one handler to locate the tags to scan and load baggage, which increases the overall time it takes to process baggage and increases use of human resources.

Site maintenance (e.g. power, telecommunications switching, and mining facilities) has a combination of lost tags and line-of-sight limitations. In this case, bar-code labels attached to installed components such as pumps, valves, or engines can lose their stickiness over time and fall off the item being tracked, or the components and the tag can become covered with dirt and dust, hindering location of the tags.

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