How to Manage Fixed Assets Using RFID
SageData is based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Can RFID improve the efficiency of Asset Management Procedures?
There are several ways that a new system can provide improved efficiency for the asset management process. The degree of improvement will depend upon the configuration. Configurations that should be considered would include: pen and clipboard, barcode, passive RFID with mobile readers, passive RFID with fixed readers, active RFID, and some combination of the above. We can perhaps take the pen and clipboard standard as the base reference, and examine all upgrades relative to that.
The All Barcode Solution
Moving to an all barcode solution with a mobile reader produce significant benefit. Asset identification is easy, fast and accurate. The operator knows exactly which assets have been processed and which have not. The system can be used to store notes providing a historical record for a given asset.
Passive RFID with Mobile Readers
Moving to the passive RFID system with a mobile reader provides some further benefits. The process of identifying assets is slightly faster, and potentially less intrusive. There may also be some benefit in identifying items which are not directly in line of sight, such as items which are already packed for transport.
But perhaps the biggest advantage is when there are many items to be confirmed. This can apply to file tracking, or when a large number of small items must be verified. In one recent situation we supplied a system which was able to verify several thousand items on a routine confirmation audit. This would have been slow with barcodes, was very rapid with RFID.
The disadvantages in moving from barcode to passive RFID include: cost of the tags, difficulty in placement of the tags (due to size), uncertainty of the readability of the tags due to surrounding materials, difficulty of marking small items such as mobile phones, cosmetic issues relating to status items (such as executive laptops), difficulty in reading tags, confusion in reading through walls, difficulty knowing which item has been read.
Passive RFID with fixed readers
Moving to fixed mount readers with passive RFID reduces the effort required to identify assets. Assets can be read continuously with no human intervention. Disadvantages in using fixed mount readers include most of those referenced for mobile readers but also include the cost of the reader, the difficulty in physically mounting the readers, the difficulty in providing and maintaining communication with the Reader (usually requiring a network drop), Reliability and the cost and management issues around maintenance.
Active RFID with static readers
Moving to the use of active RFID tags yields further significant benefits. The system is able to monitor assets over a large area without any human intervention. Disadvantages of active RFID include: the higher cost of the tax. The difficulty in mounting the tags, due to their large size, are defined life-cycle for the tags (typically five years), the difficulty of mounting readers and providing access to those readers (usually through the network).
So to answer the original question, yes it is possible for RFID to provide significant benefits, but it should be noted that these come at some cost. Reviewing the above it may become apparent to the reader that each solution has its own difficulties. The most efficient overall solution is therefore usually achieved by using a combination of different technologies. Barcodes can be used for very small devices that need to be tracked and for those where cosmetics is important. Passive RFID is used for the majority of items, with a mobile reader performing routine audits. Specific portals and key areas can be covered with static readers for passive RFID. The most expensive items, with timely knowledge critical are best managed using active RFID.
If you found this useful, you might also want to review:
- an introduction to barcode technology
- an introduction to RFID
- mobile data collectors
- consulting services: barcodes and their applications