Radio frequency identification, or RFID, is a nifty technology with a multitude of applications in commerce and everyday life. First used in World War II by the British to track enemy aircraft, RFID has since integrated itself into our world in ways most people aren’t even aware of.
For example, every time you drive through an automatic highway toll booth without having to wait for change, you can thank RFID. If you scan a badge to gain entry to your workplace or some other restricted area, chances are you’re using RFID. If you’ve ever exited a retail store to the unwanted sound of a loud security beep, that’s also RFID.
In today’s business world, companies in almost every industry use RFID to conduct important aspects of their operations. Common RFID applications include inventory and personnel tracking, supply chain management and counterfeit product prevention. However, if there’s one area where RFID truly stands out, it’s in the field of asset management. Whether at an inventory yard or job site, RFID makes it easy to identify the location and status of assets ranging from small tools and equipment to huge earth movers, fleet vehicles and everything in between.
To understand what makes RFID one of the modern world’s most efficient and cost-effective tracking technologies, let’s start with the basics.
What is RFID?
RFID is an established technology that uses radio waves to read and transmit encoded data stored on RFID tags or smart labels. RFID tags contain an integrated circuit and an antenna, which work together to transmit the stored data to an RFID reader. The reader converts the radio waves to a more usable form of data and sends it to a computer system. There it is stored in a database that resides on the company’s internal servers or in a cloud service
Initially, reading and transmitting the encoded data required a specialized RFID reader. These days, companies can also use RFID apps loaded onto smartphones and mobile tablets to perform this part of the process. Regardless of which type of device is used to scan and transmit the data, the information ends up in a software system that allows companies to organize, review and analyze the data to make better business decisions.
The biggest benefit of RFID, which has yet to be fully tapped by the retail industry, is the ability to scan multiple items at the same time. Imagine walking up to the checkout counter at a grocery store with a full cart and having the cashier ring up the price of every item with one RFID scan!
Real-Time Asset Tracking with RFID
For construction and other large industrial companies, completing successful projects on schedule requires the ability to collect real-time data related to where and how assets are deployed in the field. This is especially true for companies that engage in massive projects that can take months or years to complete, work on multiple projects at the same time, or have assets that are constantly moving from one location to another. Given its low cost and ease of use, it’s no surprise that RFID tracking has become the go-to technology for companies looking to lower costs and optimize asset utilization.
RFID trackers come in three different types: passive, semi-passive and active.
Passive RFIDs require human intervention to capture and transmit the data. The RFID tag doesn’t have its own power source, so field personnel must scan the label or tag with a reader and relay the data to the home office. Semi-passive and active RFID tags both use internal batteries to send radio waves to the reader. However, semi-passive tags require the reader to supply the battery power to broadcast the data, whereas active RFID tags contain their own internal batteries.
Passive tracking is often used for updating equipment information when it moves to a new location. Semi-passive and active RFID tracking are generally used when companies want to track assets that move frequently and/or need to read the asset tags from greater distances. For example, companies will often set up RFID “gateways” at the entrance to yards and job sites to automatically track vehicles and equipment as they enter and exit the gate. Because they require more hardware, semi-active and active RFID trackers cost more than passive types.
Deploying RFID requires some initial setup work, which consists of placing a unique RFID tag on every asset that needs to be tracked. However, once the tags are in place, scanning can be quickly and easily performed with an RFID reader or installed gate system. In addition to ease of installation, RFID also offers multiple scanning options for collecting the data. Using a handheld RFID reader, yard workers can scan the RFID tags from up to 100 feet away. Installing fixed-mount RFID stations next to jobsite or yard gates provides a highly efficient method for automatically tracking vehicles and equipment as they pass through the gates.
The Many Advantages of RFID
In the past, asset tracking was historical rather than real time. By the time hand-written inventories reached the home office, the information was often already outdated, especially for assets that moved frequently. Having 24/7 access to real-time asset data enables managers to do things that were once beyond the realm of possibility:
- Make decisions based on accurate, up-to-date inventories. RFID lets you know exactly what you have in your warehouse, job sites and yards at any given time. Instead of wondering whether you have sufficient equipment for an upcoming project, you know what you have, where it is, and when it will be available.
- Create local area inventories. Sometimes you need a quick assessment of assets within a very specific area. Using Tenna’s convenient RFID “Find It” feature, field workers can identify all nearby assets that have an RFID Tag. Workers can also use group, site or other filtered criteria to determine whether an RFID-tagged asset is supposed to be in that area, is missing from its designated location, or if it is in the wrong location.
- Solve problems immediately. Suppose a superintendent calls and needs to know if a certain generator is still on site. Instead of wasting expensive labor time conducting a manual onsite search, a few clicks of the mouse in your Tenna system can identify the exaction location of the generator and its status. You can instantly locate the nearest one and determine how long it will take get there.
- Access up-to-date asset movement. With manual tracking, the data becomes obsolete as soon as an asset moves to a different location. Tenna’s RFID Gateway keeps you current with all movement of tagged assets in and out of yards, storage locations, job site, headquarters, warehouses and even satellite offices. This requires an uninterrupted line of sight from the gateway to the RFID tags being scanned, and it works best within a 30-foot scanning range. But for companies that need to track asset movement in real time, RFID Gateways offer a cost-effective solution.
By knowing where your assets are at all times and how they are being used (or not used) you can:
- Reduce equipment and labor downtime by making sure the right equipment is at the right job at the right time
- Improve asset allocation planning for upcoming projects
- Reduce operational costs by deploying assets more effectively
- Make important management decisions based on accurate, real-time data
If you’re wondering whether RFID is the right application for your organization – or if a different product mix might work better for your asset tracking needs – call us at 833-50TENNA, send a message to [email protected], or chat with us through our website. Our team will be happy to answer any questions you may have about the advantages of RFID asset tracking.
Digital asset tracking is growing by leaps and bounds as more companies in the construction, oil and gas and other industrial industries learn about the business management benefits of this powerful technology. These days, management in most industrial companies has a basic understanding of what asset tracking technology is and what it can do. Yet, many companies that could (and should) be using asset tracking are still in the dark when it comes to understanding how asset tracking works and what kind of return on investment the technology produces. When companies interested in learning about our asset tracking system contact Tenna for the first time, we hear the following questions more than any others.
General Asset Tracking
How does digital asset tracking work?
Asset tracking uses high-tech tracking devices to monitor the location, status and performance of company assets ranging from large equipment and fleet vehicles to smaller tools and equipment and more. This information is then transmitted to a sophisticated software system, usually cloud-based, that allows managers to easily review and analyze the data to make better asset management decisions. Asset tracking enables companies to get more out of their assets by providing 24/7 visibility into when, where and how the company uses them.
Does digital asset management require buying new software and/or hardware?
In the early days of asset management technology, this was often the case. These days, the answer is a resounding “no.” Today’s sophisticated asset management solutions offer turnkey solutions that include all the hardware and software needed to get the full return on investment from the system. If an asset tracking system can’t do everything you need on one integrated platform that doesn’t require third-party add-ons, look for one that can.
Is it better to have the asset tracking data on our own internal system or in the cloud?
Cloud-based asset tracking, where the vendor hosts and manages the software, offers many advantages over managing the data on your own server system. It reduces IT costs by eliminating the problems associated with owning and operating your own server, which includes everything from installation and ongoing maintenance to troubleshooting, upgrades and system security. Cloud-based solutions also make it easier to share data throughout the company. You don’t have to worry about performing daily backups to prevent loss of data because the vendor does that for you. Most important, working in the cloud is no different than working on a program installed on desktop PCs. Users won’t notice any difference.
How long does it take to install and train people to use an asset tracking system?
That depends. If you decide to host the system on your own hardware, it can take weeks or even months to install an asset tracking system and work out all the bugs. You then have to invest the time to train personnel on the software.
If you take the cloud-based approach there is no software to install. You simply log into the software using the vendor’s secure web portal, take a short training course, and you’re ready to go. At Tenna, our 30-minute training session is usually enough for field and office personnel to learn the basic skills required to use the system.
What’s the typical return on investment?
ROI depends on many different factors, including the size and type of your company as well as the current state of your asset management process. In general, companies typically see quick and significant improvements in two key areas: reductions in operational cost and more efficient asset utilization. From reducing maintenance, labor and equipment replacement costs to bidding for and winning more jobs through improved customer service, asset management software quickly pays for itself while driving more dollars to your bottom line.
Asset Tracking Security
How secure are the devices used to track equipment and vehicles?
Digital asset management offers many features to make your data safe and secure, including the tracking devices themselves. Most asset tracking systems offer the ability to encrypt and password-protect the data on the devices. They also allow you to remotely delete data from laptops, tablets or other mobile devices that get lost or stolen.
At the same time, no technology is 100% safe from determined hackers. For example, technology-savvy criminals can use GPS “signal jammers” to disable GPS tracking devices in order to commit theft. However, using encryption and password protection features will provide a high level of data security with most asset trackers.
How secure is the software that stores the data?
That depends on the security systems and procedures employed by your service provider. At Tenna, we use a variety of security procedures to protect your data. For example, we host your data on Amazon Web Services, while utilizing HTTPS-level browser protection and hashed passwords for all users. We protect our back-end database with secure passwords and very limited access. We perform daily back-ups of all data, employ virus scanning on all laptops used at Tenna, and lock down all access to Tenna through our firewall. As a result of these and other security measures, we are A+ rated by QUALYS SSL LABS, which verifies proper use of Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol.
Note: for you IT folks who want the details non-techies don’t understand, we’ll be posting a blog soon that covers our security measures in more depth.
Is my data safer stored on my own servers or in the cloud?
Storing your asset tracking data in the cloud tends to be safer for several reasons. Because asset management vendors specialize in developing and managing software, they have more IT resources and expertise than most companies. They use the latest data security techniques to protect their systems against hackers, and they use multiple servers to ensure your data is properly backed up. Unless you have a sophisticated IT team that has the discipline to take the proper steps to prevent data breaches and back up the data every day, you’re better off going with the cloud.
What is the biggest security mistake companies make when tracking assets?
Failure to follow basic Internet security protocols. These include having secure passwords, changing those passwords on a regular basis, encrypting and backing up the data, and limiting access to your most sensitive data. Every company should have written data security procedures and make sure they are followed without exception.
What should I do to improve the security of my asset tracking system?
Take a disciplined approach to IoT security. Stay up to date on data security best practices. Constantly communicate with employees about the importance of data security and how to protect it. For example, never share user passwords, even among fellow employees. Make it a policy to change passwords on a regular basis. Remove former employees from the system as soon as they leave the company so they no longer have access.
At Tenna, we protect the safety and integrity of our customers’ data as rigorously as we protect our own. Use our system correctly, employ good cybersecurity procedures, and at the end of the day you can have confidence in knowing that your data is as safe and secure as today’s technology can make it.
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In today’s highly competitive markets, companies that lead the way are those with the technology, tools and systems that turn raw data into actionable information. This is especially true for industries driving the world’s infrastructure.
One day several months ago, I was visiting an equipment manager at a New England construction company. After we toured his yard he looked me in the eye and said, “We know what we have, we just don’t know where it is.”