How RFID Works

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.

How Asset Tracking Can Help with Regularly Scheduled Maintenance

When working hard to complete projects on schedule and within budget, preventive maintenance of your fleet equipment and vehicles can easily get overlooked or delayed. Yet, few things are more important for the growth of your business and your bottom line than taking good care of your capital-intensive assets.

Keeping your assets well-maintained improves safety on the road and at the job site, and helps complete jobs on time by reducing downtime for equipment and employees. Timely maintenance lowers fuel and operational costs because your assets work more efficiently. It also lowers repair costs (which average five times more than maintenance costs), while making it easier to comply with OSHA safety regulations. (more…)