Understanding RFID Tracking: The Future of Asset Management


Effective management and location of key assets is a significant challenge for many enterprises.  Time invested in locating vital equipment can result in costly delays, missed customer commitments, and inefficiently used labor. Traditionally, businesses have tried to solve this issue by managing assets using serial numbers and spreadsheets or tracking equipment with barcode labels. However, both these methods involve a considerable amount of manual labor. One strategy to rapidly enhance asset management is by harnessing the power of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to automatically track those assets.

The Power of RFID Technology

RFID asset tracking system leverages electromagnetic fields to transmit data from an RFID tag to a reader. Regardless of whether you're dealing with office equipment in a multi-story building, wheelchairs and IV pumps in a large hospital, tools and equipment in a factory, or pumping equipment in distant oil fields, RFID can offer accurate, real-time tracking data for both fixed and mobile assets.

The Two Types of RFID Tags: Active and Passive

The choice of RFID tag depends on your objectives and the type of functionalities you're seeking. There are two general categories of RFID tags: active and passive.

Passive RFID Tags

These tags form one half of the RFID tag categories. They are typically smaller and more cost-effective than active tags, although their read ranges are shorter. Passive RFID tags do not have their own power source and are powered by the energy transmitted from RFID readers/antennas. The signal sent by the reader and antenna is used to activate the tag and reflect the energy back to the reader.

The flexibility and affordability of passive RFID tags make it possible to attach or embed them into a wider range of objects compared to active tags. UHF (ultra-high frequency) passive tags are commonly used for item-level tracking of pharmaceuticals and consumer goods.

Active RFID Tags

Active RFID tags form the other half of the RFID tag categories. They are typically larger and more expensive than passive tags, offering longer read ranges that can extend up to 100m in some cases. However, active tags usually have a more limited lifespan compared to passive tags.

Active RFID tags consist of two types: beacons and transponders. Transponders help conserve battery life by only "waking up" when they receive a radio signal from an RFID reader, while beacons emit a signal at pre-set intervals.

Active RFID tags have a built-in power source (usually a battery) and their own transmitter. These are mostly UHF solutions. Active tags can often support sensors that measure and transmit conditions like temperature, light, and humidity, making them popular in harsher environments. They are typically used to track larger assets like vehicles and cargo containers.

Despite earlier versions of the technology being limited in the types of environments they could be used in, there are now a variety of tags available that can be used in wet environments or on metal assets, and even tags that can survive exposure to extreme temperatures, chemical contaminants, and other harsh environments.

Selecting the right RFID tag will ultimately depend on your environment, data requirements, and size of the item(s) you’re tagging.

The Impact of RFID on Asset Tracking

With an RFID reader integrated into a mobile computer, staff can easily scan one or more asset tags without having to physically see the tags. With traditional barcode labelling, employees would have to point a barcode scanner directly at the tag to get an accurate scan. In some applications, this would require crawling under desks, behind server racks, or climbing ladders to scan hard-to-reach assets. With RFID, the reader can be several feet away and still get an accurate scan.

One employee could easily scan several dozen assets in a room in just a few seconds. RFID tags with larger onboard memory capacity can even store additional information about the asset. For applications in remote areas where connectivity to a backend application or database might be challenging, the tag itself can store information about maintenance activities or sensor data that can be read and written to by a field technician using a mobile computer.

Barcode labels can be used for asset tracking and do provide a more efficient alternative to manually searching for serial numbers — but an RFID asset tracking system can offer multiple advantages over barcoding. These include:

- Reading multiple tags at once, without requiring line-of-sight between the tags and scanner.

- One employee could inventory an entire room full of equipment in a matter of minutes.

- Critical service information can be stored on the assets themselves, enabling more accurate asset lifecycle management.

- RFID tags can be integrated with sensors and GPS technology to provide asset condition data, in addition to location information.

- By integrating the solution with a wireless LAN, assets can be identified and located remotely in seconds.

- Inventory tracking times can be reduced from days down to hours.

- Asset security can be improved by generating real-time alerts and alarms if assets are moved into unauthorized locations or taken out of a building.

- Enhanced productivity because assets can be located almost instantaneously, and most asset management tasks can be made more efficient using RFID.

Tracking large numbers of assets doesn’t have to be a logistical nightmare. Automated tracking with RFID will provide a complete view of your asset fleet without the costly and time-consuming efforts involved in manually managing equipment.

For more information on FactorySense’s RFID asset tracking system, check out our end-to-end RFID solutions.

This post was last updated on

January 18, 2024
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