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Improve tracking, logistics with radio-frequency ID

In transportation, warehousing and logistics, few factors are more critical than accurate, efficient asset management and tracking.

Depending on dated, cumbersome or unreliable systems for keeping track of high-value items can result in unnecessarily slow processes and lost assets – both of which have a tangible effect on the bottom line.

Warehouses, transit centres and laydown yards are fast-paced, challenging environments. Containers and pallets full of individual items come in, go out, are stacked up and moved from one place to the next – all on what can amount to acres of floor or yard.

In such a complex, large-scale system, automated systems for asset tracking mean everything; manual processes just can’t keep up.

Imagine the cost of misplacing an entire container. It might sound far-fetched – containers are massive objects, after all – but when a yard contains 10,000 of them, it happens.

And when you’re dealing with high-value, specialized equipment, this can be incredibly costly – every man-hour spent looking for an asset is a man-hour that can’t be deployed on value-add activities.

Fortunately, there’s a way to ensure this does not happen: Modern asset management systems, featuring high-performance radio-frequency identification technology, or RFID.

There are three levels of automation for asset tracking:

Manual

A purely manual system where product is identified by eye is not automated at all and incredibly labour intensive.

It requires someone going out every time material comes in, goes out or moves and is prone to human error in both the data collection state and the data entry stage.

Barcode

Barcoded labels can be affixed to cartons, pallets or containers and scanned by a hand-held reader. In this type of system, data are pushed directly into a digital system.

However, barcode labels need to be there; unobscured by dirt, mud or grease; and each requires a clean line of sight to get a proper read – a difficult proposition in a crowded, busy facility. It also still requires a manual scan, leaving open the door for human errors.

RFID

Radio-frequency identification systems rely on a small tag containing critical information about an asset – its identity, obviously, but also lifecycle information – embedded in or affixed to the assets being tracked.

These tags can be scanned with no line of sight necessary, and critical information passed into the asset management system’s computer interface. Movements can be tracked without any human intervention.

Sophisticated yard managers and warehouse engineers are implementing automated asset tracking systems based on passive RFID technology, but automation doesn’t come without an investment of time and energy. Simply buying RFID technology doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have an RFID solution.

Employing a smart RFID asset-tracking solution requires using the technology hand-in-hand with industry knowledge to select, integrate and deploy the right system for the job or the one that makes the most sense for a particular case.

There are three areas in which RFID technology must be thoughtfully positioned to create a true business solution.

(1) Tag selection

Tags need to have an appropriate and reliable read-range and the right durability to last as long as they need to for a particular application.

Tags need to be compatible with the surface on which they are mounted. If a tag can’t stand up to the rigors of the environment in which it is placed, it’s not a suitable solution.

(2) Reader type and tag location

Type of reader – handheld, vehicle-mounted or stationary – and optimum tag location are dependent on the business process of each individual facility or yard. And no two are the same.

Evaluate your particular workflow to determine where and when you need to identify product movements. Define the process and then strategically deploy the RFID infrastructure to pick up the data at the points most valuable to your business process.

(3) Software

It is easy to get carried away with tag materials and reader maps, but the data will mean little if not appropriately transmitted, stored and analyzed.

Finding and customizing a software system that collects data from the readers, filters based on your parameters and presents the information you need in a way that is useful is a key piece of the process that shouldn’t be underestimated.

In transportation, logistics and warehousing, asset management means everything. A cookie-cutter RFID solution might seem like an inexpensive way to streamline your asset tracking processes, but if your vendor and integrator won’t work with you to customize their solution to your exact needs, you’re not getting your money’s worth.

By deploying the right RFID solution, you can streamline this mission-critical piece of the enterprise – and reap the benefits for years to come.

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