If you’re wondering if RFID has any applications for your business, the recent RFID Journal Awards might be an eye-opener. RFID has moved far beyond its original use as an inventory management tool. The array of various business sectors receiving awards ranges from hospitals to mines. A few of the award winners are reviewed here:
- Healthcare: Winning in the Healthcare category, Sakura City Hospital is indeed a city, with more than 2,600 beds and over 187,000 assets. Those assets are tracked with RFID, reducing loss and waste, and ensuring the availability of equipment and medicines.
- Manufacturing: This year’s winner in the Manufacturing category is using RFID to produce COVID-19 test kits with fewer personnel. With manpower at a premium, diagnostic-test manufacturer Danaher-Cepheid is helping save lives by maintaining high levels of production during the pandemic staffing crisis.
- Implementation: This category awards innovative uses of RFID. Mining ranks in the top 25 most dangerous jobs; locating miners in a disaster reduces the chance of injury or death. Turkish industrial conglomerate Eczacibasi has implemented an active RFID system to monitor the location of miners and equipment with pinpoint accuracy.
- Retail: RFID has been well-known in the retail world for several decades, but it has really come into its own in creating operational efficiencies. This year’s Retail award went to Havan Labs, a premiere retailer in Brazil. With more than 200,000 items, Havan Labs’ store inventories used to take 15 employees working over 5 nights. After implementing RFID throughout its operations, inventories take 1 employee, and 1 hour.
Even more important, RFID’s real-time data has enabled Havan Labs to reduce its in-store stock by 30 percent. Storage space has been converted to retail space, increasing sales without the risk of out-of-stocks.
Congratulations to all the winners and to all the businesses who have discovered the benefits of RFID for themselves. The above industry sectors are only the tip of the RFID iceberg – automobile parts, legal documents, antiquities, rental cars, historical archives, Army boot manufacturers…the list of RFID applications goes on and on. There’s an application for your organization, too. Who knows, it might win you an award.
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Counterfeits are big business. A global analysis estimated lost sales of $1.82 trillion in 2020. And it’s not just the sales lost to counterfeits. Jobs are lost. Even lives are lost. And brand trust – intangible and invaluable – is damaged, perhaps forever.
Fake products aren’t confined to luxury goods like handbags and watches. They include:
- Pharmaceuticals – Whether they are ineffective sugar pills, or contain dangerous toxins, counterfeit medications have been estimated to kill as many as 1 million people annually.
- Art and Antiquities – Reputable museums and private collectors paid a grand total of $80 million for counterfeit works from one New York forger, as documented in the film “Made You Look.”
- Consumer goods – From consumer electronics to vintage wines, fake labels and fake contents cost the U.S. $600 billion per year.
- Manufacturing components – Falsely labeled components and materials were reported to cost the automotive industry alone $3 billion per year.
Adding insult to injury, counterfeits destroy brand trust. A Harris Poll of 2018 found that if Americans learned that they had purchased a fake product, 73% would stop buying from the company that sold it.
Technology comes to the rescue in the form of RFID. RFID assigns a unique identifier to every element of a product. It starts at the very beginning of the manufacturing process and continues through product completion, shipping, warehousing, and retail sale. The authenticity of each finished product can be certified. Its RFID-managed and controlled “history” is unimpeachable. Your brand’s reputation is enhanced though the use of anti-counterfeit technology, and customers trust your brand more than ever.
RFID has many benefits, from inventory management to operational security and more. But perhaps none is more valuable, in the long run, than protecting your brand.
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NFTs are the hot ticket for the digitally-savvy investor. A Non-Fungible Token (NFT) is essentially a certificate of authenticity for a digital file, ensuring that the owner of the digital file possesses the genuine asset. The technology behind NFTs and their underlying blockchain systems may be confusing to the average layperson, but the concept of asset management, buying and selling, is something we can all understand.
NFTs hold the potential for leveraging the monetary value of almost any digital file, from artworks to archived documents. Digital assets, like physical assets, have value for any enterprise. Like physical assets, digital assets are managed and maintained for the benefit of the enterprise (digital asset management or DAM). NFTs intersect with DAM when the monetary value of a digital file is determined, and an NFT is issued for it.
Digital art has been prominently featured in the NFT market, but UC Berkeley recently sold an NFT of some digitized documents for $55,000. The university owned imaged files of some Nobel Prize-related research documents. An NFT was created of these imaged documents, and it was auctioned to the highest bidder. Berkeley received a lump sum, plus a 10% royalty of any subsequent sales of the NTF.
What does this mean for other organizations’ digital assets? Every business, non-profit, and governmental body has documents that could be valuable to collectors, historians, or researchers:
- Vintage logo artwork
- Historic contracts with signatures
- Founding documents
- Historic correspondence or writings
- Archived photographs of significant events
Selling NFTs of some of these digital assets could yield significant funds for an organization. Keep in mind that an NFT can be structured in many ways – a royalty structure such as UC Berkeley did, or perhaps an ownership reversion under certain conditions. And there can be multiple NFTs of a single digital document, under a limited-edition structure.
But before you can profit from the sale of your digital assets, your paper documents have to be converted to digital files. That’s where document imaging comes into play. A well-designed and professionally executed imaging program gives you all the benefits of document conversion – security, accessibility, reduced storage space – along with the potential for additional income. Image your documents, and mine the value of your digital assets.
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Museum designers have been working hard to change the musty, dusty reputation of museums, and RFID is helping with innovative applications. No longer is the hands-off “Night at the Museum” look the standard for U.S. museums. To attract new patrons, museums are bringing advanced technology to bear, including VR and RFID.
RFID in particular has been easy to adapt for new creative purposes. Many museums already use RFID to manage their collections, affixing unobtrusive RFID tags to art and artifacts. Doorway readers record when items are moved, whether from storage to exhibit, or from one room to another. Curators can check inventories as simply as walking into a room with an RFID scanner. Tags can be programmed to store a variety of data about the object: name, age, and collection information; restoration status; climatic requirements; maintenance schedule; and much more.
But beyond inventory management, RFID offers opportunities for interactive, immersive experiences for museum patrons. Some creative RFID applications:
- Washington, D.C.’s International Spy Museum uses RFID-enabled badges to let visitors take on a spy’s persona. Visitors test their espionage skills as the spy of their choice, and receive an online “debriefing” after their visit.
- Touring exhibit “The Science of Survival” allows visitors to make lifestyle choices in various sectors of the exhibit (transport, building, food and drink), collecting their answers via RFID entry badges. The results are compiled to forecast the future environmental impact of those choices in the year 2050.
- At the O2 in London, visitors at the British Music Experience “collect” their favorite items on museum-issued RFID cards. In-depth information about their favorites is then sent to them in a follow-up email.
- Visitors to the Horsens Prison Museum in Denmark can choose a specific guard or inmate to learn about – for example, a prisoner who escaped by digging a 59-foot tunnel. Visitors’ RFID badges activate videos and images related to each visitor’s particular subject, for a customized experience.
From museum managers’ point of view, RFID ‘s enhanced visitor experience helps to define and reinforce the museum’s brand, build visitor loyalty, and create publicity opportunities. From the museum patrons’ perspective, RFID creates a visitor experience that is far more personalized and immersive than the old-school museum walk-through. It’s fascinating, it’s imaginative, and most important, it’s just plain fun!
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No one can doubt the value of museums and libraries. These institutions are the repositories of our collective cultural memories, preserving history via written word and artifact, helping us find our way forward by knowing where we came from. And our U.S. collecting institutions – libraries, museums, archives, historical societies, and scientific collections – have created truly remarkable assemblages, according to the recently released results of the Heritage Health Information Survey:
- The U.S. is home to more than 31,000 collecting institutions.
- More than 13 billion items, from artworks to arrowheads, are preserved in these institutions.
- Of those 13 billion items, many are in the form of individual paper documents, enough to fill 347 Olympic-size swimming pools.
Given these astonishing numbers, it’s no surprise that proper storage is vital for these collecting institutions. Museums and archives in particular put much of their effort into the conservation of their unique collections. They need storage that not only accommodates all the unusual sizes and shapes of artifacts, but preserves objects from further deterioration. Humidity and chemically-incompatible surfaces are damaging to any ancient artifact, and those Olympic pools of paper documents are especially prone to insect damage as well.
Luckily, storage providers have already anticipated the needs of collecting institutions, designing an array of space-saving, customizable, and protective systems. Adjustable shelving and partitioned drawers and bins fit artifacts both large and small. Flat files are well-suited to paper documents and unframed photos and paintings, while vertical racks hold framed artworks. These museum-friendly storage systems have non-reactive finishes and are sturdy enough for the heavy weight of stone sculptures or military ordinance.
Museums are chronically challenged to find enough exhibit space for their treasures, but a well-designed storage system can transform storage space into additional exhibit space. A high-density mobile storage system can save up to 50% of floor space, and a vertical storage carousel or a multi-level shelving system saves up to 80% of floor space.
Keeping track of all those objects can be a challenge, too. A written tracking system is time-consuming and often inaccurate. A bar code system is better, but it becomes ineffective if bar codes are obscured or damaged. An RFID system, with inconspicuous RFID tags that communicate with an RFID inventory reader, allows museum managers to track an object as it moves from storage to conservation room to exhibit room.
The work of U.S. collecting institutions is too important to trust to outmoded storage methods. With the help of an experienced storage consultant, conservators can look after their collections properly, now and in the future, as their collections grow far beyond the current numbers.
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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.
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