RFID asset tracking can save help businesses maximise the utilisation of their assets, prevent theft, and speed up manufacturing processes. Inventories, work in progress, tools or equipment can all be tracked in real time, and RFID can be used both within the facility and on the road to track deliveries or vehicles.
To get the most out of RFID, start by looking for the areas where the most improvement can be made. Prioritising those areas will get the best return on investment. For some businesses that will mean tracking high value assets such as vehicle fleet or laptops.
Tracking vehicles, for instance, not only prevents theft, but can also help increase utilisation by looking at traffic patterns and delivery routes in order to spot potential improvements. Businesses which have expensive portable equipment, such as specialised cameras or scanners, may find staff spend a lot of time looking for them; tagging can save staff time and ensure customers' needs are met in a more timely way.
Why Use Asset Tracking
Some assets are easy to mislay; manufacturers can lose up to a third of their pallet stock every year, while brewers' kegs are often stolen or mislaid and can be expensive to replace. Tracking such assets can help to reduce replacement costs.
In a complex manufacturing or assembly operation, tracking work in progress can help detect bottlenecks and ensure compliance in regulated industries. It's easy to see exactly where in the process each batch or unit is located and estimate time to completion, and in the case of a fault, product recalls can be more precisely targeted.
RFID data may also need to be shared with suppliers or customers; that can yield savings for both parties, but only if the data is in a form that can easily be shared. For instance, RFID tracking can help manage deliveries to retail outlets, but that may involve standardising the handover process. Customers will therefore need to be involved as stakeholders when you are designing the system.
How to Implement RFID For Your Asset Tracking Needs
Once you've identified where to start, you need to map out the relevant assets' progress through your workflow. You will need to identify which staff are directly involved in the process as well as anyone else who might need to know where the assets are located. You may need to think about how many steps up and down the chain production staff need to be able to see.
For instance, staff who are finishing a product or doing quality inspections may need to be able to see basic components inventories. Businesses in regulated industries may need to think about traceability and other compliance issues when specifying who has oversight of asset movement. If you don't understand the workflow properly you may capture the wrong data, or send it to the wrong staff.
For on-site applications, you'll then need to assess the site to make sure you can use RFID effectively. Watch out for interference from other RF sources such as cordless phones as well as possible blockage from metal shelving, and track the workflow through your facility to ensure there are no blind spots.
There is a huge choice of hardware available and specifying it correctly is key to achieve a good return on investment. Passive tags and read-only tags are cheap, but limited in use; active tags can broadcast information over a greater distance, since they are powered by batteries, but they are more expensive. Read/write tags may be useful in some circumstances, since you can add notes to the tag, but they will be more expensive than read-only tags. RFID readers also vary in their capabilities; some are smart but expensive, while others are cheap but offer limited functionality.
While you may find it best to work with a single RFID consultant or supplier, common standards now enable multi-sourcing. It is certainly wise to check the estimates you are given against the market and ensure you are not paying over the odds.
Tips on Setting Up a Succesful Operation
RFID systems can be managed as stand-alone operations, but the best payback usually comes from integrating RFID data with enterprise management software. That can help use the RFID data in more sophisticated reporting, giving senior management better visibility of processes and enabling them to take better decisions. Mapping the workflow and thinking about stakeholders will help greatly when it comes to integration with the EMS.
As with any other investment in information and systems, training is crucial to success. All stakeholders from the fork lift driver or production line operative up to the facility manager need to be aware of how the system works, what actions they need to carry out, and what information they can get from it to help them in their work. Good RFID consultants should be able to assist with the relevant training as well as with installation of the system.
Knowing exactly where your assets are located through RFID tracking can help improve asset utilisation. That, in turn, should improve return on the capital investment in those assets - as long as the right decisions have been taken on where and how to employ the system.