If You Have a Need for Speed, Bet on RFID

If You Have a Need for Speed, Bet on RFID

Speed is the name of the game when it comes to inventory and asset management, and RFID delivers the data faster than any other technology.

RFID is everywhere. Those plastic tags you’ve seen in retail stores; the small square metallic stickers on packaged goods; even your pet’s ID chip – those are all RFID tags. They store information about the item they’re attached to, and they deliver that information to an RFID reader’s screen.

Don’t bar codes manage information the same way? Not exactly. The key difference is in the way an RFID tag communicates with the reader. Bar code readers must “see” each bar code to collect the data. There has to be a clear sight line between the bar code and the reader. RFID readers, in contrast, don’t “see” the tag. They “hear” it, via radio waves sent by the tag. RF = radio frequency, ID = identification.

RFID readers can “hear” the signals from all the RFID tags in an area, all at the same time. Bar code readers, because they rely on “seeing,” can record only one bar code at a time. This video shows a bar code reader and an RFID reader in a head-to-head race.

 

Spoiler alert: The bar code reader is not going to be invited to the Kentucky Derby.

RFID technology has an application for every business sector.

Every business has a need for speed, because time is money. The less time it takes to collect information about assets, the more time you have to spend on your organization’s primary mission. RFID streamlines your workflow, improves inventory accountability, and monitors assets. Turbocharge your business with RFID.

 

Photo © Dan Thornburg  / PhotoDune

Video © National Office Systems, Inc.

3 Ways You Could Be Missing Out on RFID’s Benefits

3 Ways You Could Be Missing Out on RFID’s Benefits

The benefits of digital asset management (DAM), including RFID, are a hot topic these days. RFID applications are available for any sort of business. But owners and managers of organizations in the service sectors, from finance and law to healthcare and education, may think RFID is just an inventory tool for the retail and logistics sectors.

If you think your enterprise couldn’t benefit from RFID, think again.

  1. Asset Tracking – Ever notice how there are never enough chairs in the conference room? Furniture, laptops, and other work tools have a way of wandering from their assigned locations. RFID tags keep tabs on the location of these peripatetic items, as well as providing information on their age and condition. Office and facility managers can easily identify aging furnishings that need repairs or replacement, and pinpoint the location of every physical asset. Plus when inventory time comes, the RFID system can deliver a document listing the assigned value of each item currently in the facility, making financial reporting quicker and simpler. What is does it cost your business to update capital inventory records by hand?
  2. Personnel Tracking – In busy public settings like hospitals or schools, knowing the location of key personnel can save time, or even save a life. RFID-enabled personnel badges keep track of people’s movements and current whereabouts so no time is wasted when someone is urgently needed. RFID personnel badges work with an institution’s security system to manage access to restricted areas and maintain safety. And in emergency situations, an RFID system can tell first responders who is inside and where they are. What is the dollar value of RFID-managed security and safety?
  3. Document Tracking – We always advocate converting paper documents to digital documents via a well-planned imaging program; imaged documents are secure, shareable with teams, and save the real estate costs of large file rooms. But in many offices there are documents that need to be retained as paper even if they have been imaged. Paper files are easy to lose or misplace (one of the advantages of imaging), but with the addition of small, inconspicuous RFID tags, the location of a file can be tracked throughout an office. Doorway RFID readers monitor the movement of files from one room to another, and files can be located with a quick look at the tracking record. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates an average of 25 extra hours to recreate a lost document; how much would that cost your business?

Keep in mind that RFID, unlike bar codes, doesn’t require direct sight lines to record and track business assets carrying RFID tags. Once items or personnel are assigned their unique RFID tag, doorway readers track their movements automatically as they pass from one room to another. And inventory updates can be as simple as walking into a room and pressing a button on an RFID reader. You’ll instantly collect data on all the capital assets the room contains; no need to look through cabinets and underneath furniture to read bar code IDs. RFID is a timesaver, and like its other benefits, that translates into money.

RFID systems come in many shapes and sizes, and can be scaled up or down to suit your organization’s needs. When you start adding up the costs of lost documents, lost equipment, and lost time, it’s clear that you shouldn’t miss out on the benefits of RFID.

Photo © virojt / AdobeStock

Law and Order: Police Evidence Rooms Learn from Warehouse Tech

Law and Order: Police Evidence Rooms Learn from Warehouse Tech

Police work is primarily focused outside the police station, in the community, and that’s as it should be. There’s a satisfaction, even a glamor, to being out on the streets keeping the community safe and secure. This outward focus sometimes means that the station itself – the place of dull paperwork and desk jobs – suffers from a lack of public attention and administrative funding. Support facilities like evidence storage and property rooms may lag behind other state-of-the-art policing technology, and that can mean the efforts of front-line police work may be rendered fruitless when a case goes to trial with missing or inadmissible evidence.

Public safety expert Kathy Marks, writing in Law and Order Magazine, interviewed current and former police officers regarding the need for better evidence storage and property room technology. A good inventory system was their Number One recommendation, a system that could identify and track every item connected to a case. Missing evidence or a broken chain of custody will derail an otherwise strong criminal case.

Just as important, the interviewees reported, was a system that could schedule the return, destruction, or retention of each item. Even when a police department has a carefully maintained intake inventory system, a backlog of outdated, unneeded evidence and property take up valuable – and scarce – storage space. Overcrowded storage inevitably leads to the damage or loss of some items, increasing the challenge of making a case.

The outward-facing side of police work has for some time employed technology to make the job safer and more efficient, with everything from smart duty lockers to mobile laptop and tablet charging stations. Now the administrative side is getting its own tech applications, particularly for managing the inventories of the evidence and property rooms. Commonly used in warehousing and logistics, bar coding and RFID technologies are proving especially useful in public safety settings. Easy-to-generate bar codes identify individual items, and RFID tags provide locational tracking information as well as identification. Coupled with space-saving high-density mobile shelving for property, and secure transfer and storage lockers for evidence, these automated inventory systems maintain a clear chain of custody and keep the storage footprint manageable.

Written policies and procedures are also an important part of a well-run evidence and property rooms. Marks’ interview subjects emphasized that managing property and evidence isn’t for everyone. People with a warehouse inventory background or military quartermaster experience tend to excel in the management of police evidence and property rooms.

Good management of property and evidence storage plays a vital role in law and order. With the right combination of personnel and technology, this undervalued sector of public safety can be a big contributor to the criminal justice system.

 

Photo © Photographee.eu / AdobeStock

RFID: Why It’s Not the Same as a Bar Code

RFID: Why It’s Not the Same as a Bar Code

Everyone knows what a bar code is – we can’t forget the commercial showing bank customers with bar codes on their foreheads – but the workflow and inventory management benefits of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology aren’t as well known. Like bar codes, RFID tags contain information about the item they’re attached to. No doubt you have seen those large plastic tags clipped on apparel in retail stores, and seen them removed by cashiers at the time of purchase – those are RFID tags, and they help the store manage inventory. But RFID tags also come in much smaller versions, like the one pictured here, and they can be affixed to everything from shipping boxes to artworks, tools, furniture, weapons, and even office file folders or individual documents. They’re inconspicuous, easy to apply, and last for 50 years.

The technological difference between RFID and bar codes is this: Like books or newspapers, bar codes are printed in ink, and must be visually read by an electronic scanner. RFID tags, by contrast, are essentially tiny radio transmitters, bouncing a signal back to an RFID reader just the way your favorite radio station relays a signal to your car radio. The RFID signal contains unique identifying information about the item the tag is attached to.

On the surface, RFID may not seem to offer any advantages over bar codes. Nevertheless, Walmart, Macy’s, and other retailers turned to RFID for a very good reason: Labor costs. Their inventory management systems were based on bar codes, and the bar code scanner had to “see” the bar code. Because it couldn’t see around corners or through walls, every item in a stockroom or warehouse had to be manually turned toward the reader – a time-consuming labor-intensive process. And labor is expensive.

The radio signals of an RFID tag, however, can be “grabbed” by an RFID reader without the reader ever having to see the tag. As long as the reader is in proximity to the tag (same room or same building), it receives the information from the RFID tag via radio waves, without any need to handle the inventory. In effect, the RFID reader can see around corners, or through a stack of boxes, or into a filing cabinet. The labor of inventory management becomes as simple as walking into a room.

RFID is a game-changer for any organization that needs to keep track of inventory or assets:

  • Facility managers know where every desk and chair is located without doing a room-to-room count.
  • Automobile manufacturers streamline workflows by tracking parts as vehicles move through the assembly line.
  • Museum curators are certain of which storeroom contains a particular collection, without having to open drawers or rummage through shelves.
  • Warehouse managers know exactly what a new shipment contains without having to open the boxes.
  • Paralegals locate critical documents in a law office without having to search through multiple files.

Bar code technology is far from obsolete, however. Bar codes are a proven solution for an array of situations in which labor costs are not such a big part of the inventory management calculus. But for many organizations, RFID offers productivity benefits that boost the bottom line.

As every manager and owner knows, inventory and asset management is vital to any successful enterprise. RFID will streamline your workflow and improve inventory accountability. Consult with an expert in inventory management and storage who can tell you if RFID or bar coding, or both, could be the right solution for your business.

 

Photo © metamorworks / AdobeStock

Built For First Responders: The Station Design Awards

Built For First Responders: The Station Design Awards

The Oscars and the Emmys may be better known, but the Station Design Awards, honoring outstanding fire station design, have a much more direct effect on communities across America. When fire stations are designed to support first responders’ wellbeing, communities benefit from better firefighting and EMT service. And when stations are designed to encourage interaction with the community, everyone benefits from better fire prevention awareness and involvement.

Fire stations present some unique design challenges, including:

  • equipment contaminated by hazardous materials encountered in fires
  • engines’ carbon monoxide exhaust intruding into fire station living areas
  • common areas that allow for multiple activities without noise or space conflicts
  • secure storage for bulky “turnout” protective gear, uniforms, and personal items
  • sleeping areas that promote good sleep habits for high-functioning first responders

Last year’s award winners came from all parts of the U.S., from Washington State to Texas to Ohio to South Carolina. The judges looked particularly at zone designs (separating contaminated “hot” zones from the “cold” zone of living areas); sleeping areas that balanced isolation against privacy needs; and fire station building security. In stations where interactions with the public are common, and even encouraged, any access to administrative and living areas still has to be controlled. Equipment, turnout gear, and firefighters’ personal property must be stored safely in cages and lockers.

Writing in Firehouse.com, Janet Wilmoth reviewed station design trends reported by architects involved in station design. In addition to green design and LEED certification, these design professionals are seeing more indoor recreation spaces – which help reduce stress and build camaraderie – and the addition of community rooms and small walk-in clinics which improve outreach to the neighborhoods served by these fire stations.

This year’s Station Design Awards will be announced in November. Best of luck to all the entrants, along with thanks to first responders everywhere for their service.

 

Photo © MonkeyBusiness / AdobeStock

Police Body Cameras are a Small Part of the Picture

Police Body Cameras are a Small Part of the Picture

Tazer is so well known for electric stun guns that its name, like Google’s, has morphed into a verb. (Just google “tazing.”) Yet it sees its future in the growth market of body cameras, and it’s changing its name from Tazer to Axon, its proprietary brand of body camera. With its new name, the former Tazer is signaling its move to dominate the body cam market. And with the name change, it’s making a hard-to-beat offer: body cameras and data storage free for a year.

The offer of free storage, even for just a year, is significant. The enormous volume of video data collected by body cams has created a storage headache for many police departments. No one attended the police academy expecting to be a data manager, and yet that’s what many public safety administrators are becoming. Industry experts estimate 10,000 hours of body cam video are generated each week just in the big cities of America. It’s a tremendous organizational and storage chore.

Police departments recognized the value of body cams as soon as the small cameras came on the market. Realizing that media storage would be an issue for police departments, Tazer quickly began offering its customers cloud-based storage for body cam videos. Public safety budgets soon included funds for cameras, but most departments hadn’t really considered the cost of storage, which quickly ballooned as the cameras were put into the field. Tazer (now Axon) established its first-year-free program so police departments could have some budgetary breathing room to prepare for the video storage requirements.

And in any discussion of police body cams, storage is really the challenge. Writing in the Associated Press, Rick Callahan points to a number of cities whose police have had to abandon body cam programs due to storage costs. Medium-size police departments, Callahan states, have the biggest storage challenges. They have too much data to store internally, and too little to qualify for large-scale discounts from cloud-storage vendors.

Even those police departments who manage their video data on internal servers find that their physical storage needs have increased. Backup drives and high-capacity data tapes take up space, and as Federal and state governments increase the length of time that video evidence must be retained, the amount of backup media continues to grow. Best-practices recommendations call for multiple backups stored in multiple locations, adding to the overall storage challenge.

For the police agencies in the U.S. who have not yet implemented a body cam program, as well as those who may be drowning in video data, now is the time to examine storage options. Data management experts advocate storing data on a variety of media – cloud servers, drives, and tape – all of which occupy physical space. An experienced storage consultant can offer a variety of choices for managing the physical media in a cost-effective, space-efficient manner.

Even with the challenge of data storage, body cams are swiftly becoming the norm. Police and the public agree that everyone benefits from a video record of events. The picture is clear: Body cams are here to stay.

 

Photo © aijohn784/Fotolia.com