RFID has sometimes been misunderstood but its benefits are very real says TouchPath international CEO David Myers (www.touchpath.com)
The ability to deploy RFID* effectively should not be underestimated: in that sense it is not a forgiving technology. However when implemented well RFID can have a major impact on company performance. Here we assess RFID for users looking at adopting or expanding their use of this sometimes misunderstood but always powerful technology. *radio frequency identification
A lack of understanding?
Wider RFID adoption has been slow for a number of reasons, including the need to re-engineer processes to allow it to function fully and a lack of understanding of the changes in handling and storage needed to ensure the accuracy of RFID reads. For example a warehouse worker can point the beam of a barcode scanner to a single box on a shelf to scan – but with RFID all tags surrounding the intended target are also picked up.
Specific RFID frequencies and technologies are better suited to some projects than others: as a result there is a risk of the wrong type of RFID technology being selected to perform a specific business task. Also, companies have benefited from other technologies as alternatives to RFID including fixed barcode scanners, cellular, Wi-Fi and GPS.
Widely used in industry
RFID has been successfully adopted in the automotive industry where it is used to track manufacturing processes to determine the status of assemblies. RFID is used in a wide variety of manufacturing and other industries, for example to track the movement of car and rail traffic, healthcare personnel and equipment, and in farming, livestock.
In warehousing and shipping using RFID to check shipment accuracy has been of major benefit as shipment inventory content is then known and exceptions can be identified. And in manufacturing RFID is widely used to track Work in Progress from the raw materials, labour and machine costs incurred for products at different stages of production.
RFID is not for everyone: some warehouses are not set up to ensure accurate RFID implementation and some materials can make RFID reads more difficult, although specialised tags and readers can be used to counter the second problem. But knowing whether an RFID reader (which reads everything in its read range) picked up unintended data or missed a tag can be more difficult than a barcode reader where scan success is verified by audio or light.
RFID and barcode scanning co-existence
The fact is that both technologies have a role to play. Far from being mutually exclusive they are complementary and indeed can be used simultaneously to broaden the user company’s ID capabilities. In our view all organisations should be using some form of AutoID which today is very cost-effective, quick and simple to implement.
Robotics, IoT and the role of AutoID
Any form of AutoID is vital to robotics and IoT (the internet of things): identifying larger numbers of items is impossible without it. And as block chain data becomes assigned to individual items, so assigning unique, unforgeable identifiers to those items will also require new forms of AutoID.
RFID for asset tracking
Asset tracking is one of the best applications of RFID; check-in and check-out processes can be automated in this way. Inventory-by-location RFID can also be very effective: for example TouchPath used RFID to implement a tool-tracking real time location system (RTLS) in a 60 acre manufacturing facility with the ability to locate equipment to within a range of one metre.
RFID tags with updateable, readable user data areas are set to revolutionise environments with item/asset inspection, expiration and usage tracking needs. Storing inspection, expiration and maintenance dates on RFID tags allows in-field inspections when access to computer systems is limited. Tags can be updated as the equipment is re-certified, serviced or inspected then returned to service in the field. Mobile RFID equipment comes into its own in those environments where barcode labels cannot be printed or applied. User data areas in RFID tags can also be used to store IoT and block chain data.