With its unmatched speed and accuracy, RFID technology is unbeatable for collecting data to manage physical assets. Users and tech developers are constantly coming up with new applications and best practices. Each year at its annual conference, RFID Journal honors organizations who have showed exemplary uses of RFID in their operations. Congratulations to this year’s Annual Award winners, including:
Retail: Carter’s, a U.S. based children’s clothing manufacturer, uses RFID to improve its inventory management and increase omnichannel sales.
Manufacturing: Global technology and engineering company Emerson is managing process-hardware assets with an RFID/IOT system that includes a predictive maintenance feature.
Healthcare: England’s University Hospital Plymouth adopted RFID to track more than 40,000 medical devices and sterile equipment units as they are deployed around the hospital.
Logistics/Supply Chain: BAE Systems, a manufacturer of defense, aerospace, and security systems, has expanded its RFID asset management to track the movement of assets entering and exiting warehouses, as well as managing containers and storage space.
A Special Achievement Award was presented to Dr. James Shuler, U.S. Department of Energy, and Dr. Yung Liu, Argonne National Laboratory, who collaborated on the development of an RFID system for tracking nuclear waste. In addition to their innovative system, they have devoted much time to educating organizations about the value of RFID in such applications.
Forward-thinking individuals and businesses like these award winners make RFID technology more useful for everyone. As advocates of RFID ourselves, we at NOS salute their innovative applications.
Are you an RFID innovator? This award could be yours next year!
To prove the bold claim in our headline, we’d have to prove a negative (which is impossible), but the very real probability exists that RFID has saved lives.
RFID is well known as a true labor-saving device. Manual inventories used to take days. RFID inventories take minutes. A single click of a handheld RFID reader identifies the contents of an entire room of furniture, equipment, books, parts, etc. Time-wasting manual check-out logs are replaced by doorway-mounted RFID readers that automatically track the movements of assets, from people to documents.
But saving time is only half of the RFID equation. The other half is accuracy.
An inaccurate inventory is a danger. Consider what an inaccurate manual inventory costs your business:
- Working capital is tied up: Businesses overbuy when their inventory is imprecise.
- Sales and customers are lost: Faulty inventories lead to stock-outs and disappointed customers.
- Write-offs are common: When inventory expires or goes missing, or when small incremental errors add up over time, the write-offs put a big dent in the balance sheet.
- Labor is wasted: Finding and fixing inventory errors requires many hours of additional labor.
Unreliable inventory data can put your business in a precarious financial position. However, the accuracy of RFID shields you from asset management disasters.
And sometimes it can even mean the difference between death:
- Using RFID, a hospital is able to maintain an adequate supply of a life-saving drug, and locate essential equipment and personnel the moment they are needed.
- A fire chief deploys real-time RFID to track the movements of each firefighter in a burning building, pulling them out of danger zones or sending in a rescue squad.
- In a chemical plant leak, RFID is used for headcounts at mustering points to ensure workers have been safely evacuated.
It’s possible that the hospital wouldn’t have run out of medicine, or the medical equipment would have been close at hand, or the firefighters or chemical plant workers would have exited safely. But guesswork and luck are no way to manage an operation, whether it’s the life of patients, workers, or your business.
Don’t fall victim to an inaccurate inventory. RFID will take your asset management from “maybe” to “for sure.” And that’s something we can prove.
Photo © Tropical studio / AdobeStock
Food producers are careful to include a conservative sell-by date on the products they sell. Everyone benefits; consumers aren’t disappointed or harmed by spoiled foods, and producers ensure their products live up to their brand.
The sell-by date isn’t confined to groceries, however. Every business has assets that eventually hit a critical date. Locating those assets and taking action by those dates can be labor-intensive and costly.
Labor-intensive and costly, that is, unless your business uses RFID for asset management. RFID technology is much more than a fancy inventory identification system. RFID chips can be programmed to contain all kinds of data about an object: when it was made, when it was put into service, when it needs maintenance, what kind of service it needs, when it should be replaced, and much more.
When queried, RFID software can generate a report about upcoming critical dates, sorted by asset type, or location, or required action. Imagine the amount of time and money saved by automatically tracking an asset’s location and critical dates.
This benefit applies in dozens of industry sectors. A few examples:
- Food service – suppliers add RFID tags to boxes of perishables, so distributors and restaurants stay on top of freshness deadlines. Chipotle Restaurants is testing this technique in their Chicago restaurants’ supply chain.
- Pharmaceuticals – RFID tags prevent the use of expired drugs. Pennsylvania’s Reading Hospital is tracking Covid vaccine expiration dates and times with RFID technology, to prevent waste of the vital and costly medication.
- Business electronic devices – RFID tags attached to laptops, mobile phones, tablets, and copiers are routinely queried by the IT department to determine when they are due for maintenance. An additional query signals each device’s location, on site or off. The U.S. Army is using RFID to track the whereabouts of their office electronic devices and provide routine updates and maintenance.
Almost every business asset has a “sell-by” date of some kind. Furnishings eventually have to be replaced. Outdated computers have to be disposed of. Obsolete law books, old patient files, tax returns from the time of the dinosaurs – whatever they are, they have to go sooner or later. Know where they are, and know when their time is up, with RFID.
Photo © Iriana Shiyan / AdobeStock
RFID technology excels at safety and security applications. First responders around the country use RFID-based personnel and equipment tracking systems. Secure facilities as varied as life-sciences research buildings and movie editing rooms use RFID-controlled locks to manage access. For public safety and military armories, firearms security is a top priority, with RFID badges controlling access to storage rooms and weapons lockers.
Now firearms manufacturers are bringing another RFID application to market. After years of research and testing, several U.S. and European gunmakers have incorporated RFID chips into handguns to reduce unauthorized usage.
One survey found that fewer than 2% of guns used in crimes were purchased from retail sources; some were given to criminals by “straw buyers,” but most were obtained illegally. The new RFID-enabled handguns require the user to unlock the gun with a matching RFID device – a wristband or a fob – before firing the gun. Some manufacturers go so far as to include a fingerprint match as well as an RFID match before the gun will unlock. Users can leave the weapon unlocked as long as they keep the RFID matching device within the chip’s short range.
This innovation presents an opportunity for law enforcement and military facilities to maintain even better control of their weapons inventory. Many of these facilities already have RFID inventory systems in place to issue guns to personnel. These systems do an excellent job of quickly and accurately recording the check-out and check-in of weaponry.
However, hundreds of handguns are stolen each year from police vehicles and from military armories, and a number of them wind up in the wrong hands. With the new RFID chip-matching system, those stolen guns are unusable without the RFID unlocking device.
Of course, the safety system is not fool-proof. It breaks down if a criminal possesses both the gun and the RFID unlocking device. To prevent this, RFID unlocking devices must be stored separately in weapons storage facilities, with controlled access to prevent them from being pilfered along with the matching weapons. Police officers are unlikely to leave RFID wearables or key fobs in their vehicles, but public safety departments must institute policies to ensure this.
RFID is a powerful tool in private sector operations, from manufacturing and supply chain to retail and professional practice management. With this gun-locking innovation, it provides an additional layer of security to police and military operations, and an additional layer of safety to the public.
Photo © moodboard / AdobeStock
The craft beer business is booming. Small regional brewers and local micro-breweries supply unique local beers to nearby bars and restaurants, accounting for nearly 24% of beer consumption in 2020. Post-covid, many bars and restaurants have been short-staffed and patrons have stayed away rather than endure long waits for service. In response, some creative pub owners have turned to RFID technology to help get beer into patrons’ glasses.
The use of RFID in self-serve beer pubs is not entirely new, but it’s expanding rapidly as a way to help with hospitality staffing challenges. Patrons are issued an RFID wristband that records their driver’s license information and payment card, and the self-serve “beer wall” records their purchases. The benefits include:
- Reduced liability – The system places automatic limits on patrons’ consumption and prevents underage self-service.
- Better marketing management – Buying habits are tracked based on age group, day of the week, etc., to match popular products with outreach efforts.
- Improved inventory management – Real-time inventory reports help avoid shortages and lost sales.
It should be noted that these RFID benefits are not limited to the hospitality industry. Inventory management has been a strength of RFID for decades, but inventive users keep coming up with new ways to use RFID as an operational solution:
- Life Sciences – Researchers identify and track samples throughout the testing process, preventing errors that could skew results.
- Healthcare – Equipment and drug inventories are continuously monitored, and personnel are tracked throughout hospital complexes, ensuring adequate numbers of staff and materials.
- Administrative Offices – Paper documents are tracked as they move from desk to desk, avoiding misplacement or erroneous deliveries.
At its most basic, RFID may be thought of as an inventory management tool, but as these applications show, it is really much more. It frees employees to focus on their primary tasks as it automatically tracks and counts operational items of all kinds. It saves the hours that would otherwise go to correcting errors. And it will even dispense a beer for you at the end of a long workday. Cheers to that!
Photo © WavebreakmediaMicro / AdobeStock