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Thursday, December 2, 2021

What is RFID Asset Tracking & How Does it Work?

RFID, an acronym for Radio-Frequency Identification, is an efficient method of tracking assets. It uses RFID tags that are embedded into the item of interest. RFID tags can either be active or passive.

Active RFID tags are used for tracking assets over a wide read range. They have a battery and produce signals that can be picked by an RFID reader approximately 300 feet. On the other hand, passive RFID tags lack a battery and the antennae must be energized by external RF energy from the reader.

But what exactly is RFID asset tracking and how does it work? Let’s get into an in-depth analysis of RFID asset tracking.

What is RFID Asset Tracking?

RFID is a wireless technology used to identify and track tagged objects within the range of an RFID reader/scanner. Assets will be embedded with an RFID tag that contains all the asset’s identification details. 

When you scan the RFID tags with an RFID reader, it will identify the item and transmit the data necessary for tracking.

The data transmitted will vary depending on the needs of the user. Some of the common parameters transmitted to the RFID central system include serial numbers, location, time of the scan, the temperature of tagged assets, and much more.

RFID Asset Tracking History

RFID technology has been used for over 20 years to track inventory, improve asset monitoring, and prevent loss of items. The technology is especially helpful in large warehouses or production plants with multiple product types.

Today, businesses are integrating RFID tags into items during the fabrication process so that the label becomes an integral part of each item. This solution provides more accurate data regarding location and time, which is useful in institutions such as hospitals and parking lots. 

How does RFID Asset Tracking Work?

RFID asset tracking uses radio waves that are transmitted out of the reader’s antenna. These electromagnetic waves excite the RFID tag which then passes information to the reader.  

The information passed is usually in the form of UHF analog signals using frequencies from several hundred kHz up to 2.5 GHz. It consists of unique identification information that is then used as an index into a central RFID.

More recently it’s become known as a viable solution for homes and small businesses because it’s easy to set up an RFID-powered security system that allows tracking tagged assets within the range of readers. Here are some ways how people are using RFID tags around their home or office:

  1. Keep Track of Pets. RFID Tags can be attached to your pet’s collar with a friendly warning not to get lost! Ask your vet about an ID implant if you prefer the peace of mind guaranteed by this option.
  2. Protect Your Belongings. Using a wireless alarm system, you can easily track tagged items at home or in the office. For example, you can attach RFID to expensive electronics so that an alarm can alert it whenever a thief carries the item out of the house
  3. Track Keys. You can attach an RFID tag to your keys before leaving the house so that you can easily identify their location using a hand-held RFID reader.  
  4. Limit Kids’ Screen Time. Parents can limit their children’s access to electronic devices with RFID blockers. Simply attach blockers to TV remotes or game consoles so they won’t work beyond set time limits.
  5. Keep Your House Safe. There are RFID-enabled alarm systems that allow you to monitor all entrances and windows. You can even set up cameras to be triggered by certain events such as entry or exit from specific areas of your home.

Types of RFID Tags for Asset Tracking

All RFID tags are made up of three parts: 

  • An antenna that emits radio waves, 
  • An electronic circuit that is activated when it receives energy, and 
  • Data embedded into the chip’s memory.

The information stored in the chip varies. However, most tags have a specific number that can be used to identify their owner or location. The various type of RFID tags that you can choose from include:

  1. Active RFID Tags

Active RFID tags have a power supply onboard, typically in the form of an integrated battery that must be periodically recharged or replaced. They are also more expensive than passive tags but give you a longer read range. They can be used to track vehicles, fleets, and individual objects.

2. Semi-passive RFID Tags

The semi-passive comprise an integrated circuit, battery, and antenna. However, these tags do not have an onboard transmitter – a feature that differentiates them from active tags. As such, the tags have a more limited read range compared to the active ones, and you must ensure that it close to the reader. The inclusion of a battery enables you to add more features than you can with a passive tag. 

3. Passive RFID Tags

Passive RFID tags have no internal power supply. They are powered by electromagnetic waves coming from the reader. Due to their lack of a battery, these tags are more durable than active and semi-active ones. They are also relatively cheaper, which makes them a favorite for individuals tracking large volumes of goods. However, their read range is limited to a maximum of 30 cm.  

Types of RFID Readers for Asset Tracking

RFID tag readers come in a variety of types and specifications depending on their uses. Some readers may look like USB flash drives while others appear as a small handheld device with an LCD screen. Here are some common types of RFID readers you can find online:

  • Hand-Held RFID Reader. This type is small and convenient to carry around wherever you go. They are typically used for reading ID documents at airports or other entry points, tracking vehicles on your premises via GPS, or simply identifying tags attached to objects in your home.
  • Fixed RFID Readers. If your application requires a more high-tech solution with a high storage capacity, look no further than linear imagers. These readers allow users to control tag read operations and store information using their built-in LCD screens. These devices can be programmed to perform specific tasks for a variety of applications.
  • USB reader. These devices are normally used for computers and laptops as they can be plugged directly into any free port. They connect to your computer using the Universal Serial Bus (USB) standard so they can communicate with different operating systems natively without requiring third-party drivers. There are also external RFID readers that have their power supply, antennas, and displays attached to them so you don’t need to plug them into your computer every time you want to read tags.

These types of RFID readers vary in both affordability and performance depending on their intended uses. Higher-end linear imagers with barcode detection capabilities cost more than regular handheld or USB readers but they also perform better under extreme conditions.

RFID Asset Tracking Pros & Cons

As with any technology, there are benefits and drawbacks you should weigh before deciding if RFID asset tracking is right for your company’s needs:

Benefits of RFID Asset Tracking

  • Accurate Tracking. RFID tags are attached directly to individual items. As such, it offers a degree of certainty on the location and state of the item.  
  • Decreased Losses/ Improved Security. By using RFID tags, you will significantly reduce the chances of misplacement or theft of your assets. As such, you will minimize the cost of replacement and enhance accountability. 
  • Alleviate Some Health and Safety Concerns. Tags provide an extra level of information on hazardous materials or substances that could cause problems for employees near them during lunch breaks or other areas where materials are not being handled.
  • Streamline Internal Monitoring Efforts.With a centralized system, your managers can see at a glance how many items have been received, issued, and returned – helping keep operations moving quickly and efficiently.

Cons of RFID Asset Tracking

It’s important to know the drawbacks of any system before you commit to using it in full force for your company or business unit’s needs. Some cons to consider include:

  • High Cost Per Tag Compared To Barcodes.The costs of tags vary based on required volume and distinctiveness (unique identifiers). Even though they’re more expensive than barcodes upfront, their accuracy throughout the facility pays off over time by avoiding excess spending due to lost inventory.
  • Requires Maintenance of Software and Hardware Systems. Tags do not work on their own! They are part of a complete system that includes RFID readers, tags, sensors, and other related technology that must be monitored for proper operation to ensure reliability.
  • Some Workers Might Reject the Use of Tags. Since the actual tag is attached directly to an item in some cases (such as with pets), there can be pushback from employees who may feel it interferes with their personal space or right to privacy – leading to more negative employee relations overall.
  • Potential for Interference or Collision. RFID tags can interfere with each other by emitting signals that cause problems in nearby systems, especially when attempting to identify multiple items at once (such as nearby offices using the same technology).

You should also note that RFID tags have a relatively shorter life span than barcodes. This is particularly the case with active and semi-passive tags. These tags use batteries that may require replacement frequently. These features make it hard to maintain an RFID tag when compared to barcodes.

Unlike barcodes, RFID tags can withstand harsh environmental conditions such as wet surfaces and high temperatures. As such, you can be sure that the barcodes will limit your operations to enclosed spaces.

If your operations are largely outdoor, then RFID tags are your best bet. Barcodes will be destroyed by water, and you may lose all your data!

Limitations of RFID Asset Tracking

While RFID asset tracking provides many benefits over time, it is not the end-all solution to all inventory management issues. Some limitations worth mentioning include:

  • Tags Can Be Detected by Other Reader Devices In the Area.While it’s true that tags provide a reliable technique of managing individual items throughout an entire facility, their transmitting abilities can lead to detection by other systems within your office space – which could cause interference and problems.
  • May Have Limited Ability When Used Around Liquids or Chemicals. Liquids or chemicals that are present around tagged items may interfere with RFID signals, thus affecting the reliability of the system. This means that certain materials should be considered carefully when tagging items to track.
  • Tags Must Be Attached Directly to The Item Being Tracked. One of the biggest limitations of RFID tracking is that tags must be properly attached to items to consistently work – which can become a challenge for larger or less uniform items such as a machine or vehicle.

RFID vs. Barcode Tracking: Which Is Right for Your Business?

While there are some obvious differences between RFID and barcode technology, it’s important to remember that the best solution for tracking your inventory involves far more than just choosing one specific type of system.

As outlined above, RFID asset tracking has its benefits and disadvantages. As such, you should consider all factors before you settle for one.

For example, tracking large volumes of items in a room will require an RFID tag. While you can still use barcodes for this application, it will be cumbersome to implement, considering they require a direct line of sight to read them.

Additionally, you should consider the environment of operation. RFID tags do not work well with liquid and metallic items. As such, you may want to consider barcodes in such cases. However, you can also get customized RFID tags that barely come into contact with these surfaces. In such a case, you can consider buying an RFID tag to tap on the benefits without compromising on efficacy.

Whichever method you choose, ensure that it serves you well. The bottom line is to ensure that you achieve top-notch inventory services for improved service delivery.

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