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RFID Helps Stop Power Tools From 'Walking Off' Job Sites

Robert Bosch Tool has begun selling tools with embedded RFID tags and asset-tracking software to help businesses protect tools from theft.
Radio-frequency identification tags aren't just for the supply chain. Robert Bosch Tool Corp. has begun selling tools with embedded RFID tags and asset-tracking software to help businesses protect tools from theft.

The company's Digital Power Tools division is tagging 66 tools--things like circular and reciprocator saws and hammer drills--that are typically sold to businesses for construction work. The RFID-tagged tools are part of a new anti-theft service from Bosch called Safe & Sound. Customers who opt for the service will have to pay a little more for their tools, but with the service "it's less likely the tools will grow feet and walk off the job site," said Gregg Mangialardi, RFID project lead in the accessories division at Robert Bosch, speaking last week at Intermec Technologies Corp.'s I-Comm user conference.

Job-site equipment theft cost the construction industry last year between $300 million and $1 billion, with 71,873 reports of theft in the United States and less than 10% of the stolen equipment recovered, according to the National Equipment Register Inc., which keeps a database of registered and stolen equipment.

At Bosch's Arkansas manufacturing facility, it takes about five minutes to tag each tool. The tool is brought to a workstation running tag-writing software from Blue Dot Inc. An operator inputs the tool's model number, order information, and serial number. The program prompts an Intermec IF4 RFID reader to encode each 915-MHz Intermec tag that's affixed to a tool with a unique identity.

The serial number on an RFID tag ties into a database record that contains purchase and service history, billing rates to specific construction projects, and information on who has used the tool. The electronic product code on the RFID tag is used to create an asset-tracking record with a photograph, specifications, and description of the tool.

At the construction job site, a manager that issues equipment to a worker will capture the tool's unique ID with the Intermec IP3 reader. Connected to the reader is the Intermec 700 Series mobile computer running Microsoft Windows for Pocket PC that enables the manager to transmit the captured information from the RFID tag to an asset-tracking database from ToolWatch Corp.

Customers who opt for the Safe and Sound service must purchase RFID readers and can expect to pay between 2% and 5% more for a tool with an embedded RFID tag, says John Doherty, Bosch Digital Power Tools product manager.

The service can be used with other tools, too. Customers can bring older Bosch tools to a service center, as well as tools from other manufacturers.

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