RFID (radio-frequency identification) is wireless, non-contact use of radio-frequency electromagnetic fields to transfer data, and it may be the most useful technology many people may not be aware of.
The first patent for RFID, as it is referred to today, was issued in 1983, but the technology’s history stretches back further—and gets more interesting. Derived from a cold-war era anti-espionage tool invented by Leon Theremin in 1945, the simple transmission of information over radio waves to the RFID technology we would recognize today evolved over the years, from Allied aircraft identification technology in WWII to New York Port Authority toll-collection methods in the mid 1970s. Finally, at the end of the 1970s, researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory began experimenting with semi-passive and passive RFID technologies. The rest is history.
Today, RFID tags are attached to everything from automobiles as they travel down the assembly line, to pets and livestock so they may be identified when lost, to packages as they are loaded onto trucks and then unloaded at their destinations. The size of a grain of rice, RFID tags can even be implanted in humans. Today, nearly every industry has found a use for this technology, but one of its most common and promising usages lies in an activity nearly everyone takes part in—inventory for asset management.
Where the barcode reigns supreme in most warehouses and on utility poles in the field, the RFID tag has some strong technological benefits that make it a good candidate for asset management. We have already sung the praises of the standard barcode, but now it is RFID’s turn in the spotlight.
Should you use RFID technology to tag your assets? We have put together a pros and cons list to help you decide.
Why use RFID?
RFID tags can be placed inside of items and under the surface of assets exposed to weather and vandalism, making them harder to detect and remove and hardier when out in the elements.
- Remote Access
Because they transmit their information via radio signals, RFID tags are read remotely. This attribute may reduce inventory and scanning costs, as assets need not be within arm’s length for the scan to work. The possibilities are endless and exciting. Walmart jumped on the RFID train years ago and never looked back.
Why might barcodes be better?
Currently, RFID technology is more expensive to implement than barcoding technology. This is likely to change over time, as the newer technology is more widely adopted and demand increases.
Metal interferes with an RFID tag’s ability to transmit its signal, making it an imperfect choice for embedding inside metallic objects—such as some utility poles. While alternative placements may work, affixing a barcode to the exterior of a pole is easy and works every time.
Barcodes must be scanned within inches of their surface. RFID tags transmit, making their range significantly greater, but just like reception on a wireless phone varies based on atmospheric conditions and other “noise” in the air or bandwidth, RFID is susceptible to interference. If an area being inventoried has bad reception in general, it is possible that spotty coverage will extend to RFID as well.
The choice is yours
Stay with the standard barcode technology when conducting inventories or go with the new technology on the block? Time will tell as RFID technology evolves and becomes cost-effective OR is replaced by something even better. The only sure thing is that conducting a thorough inventory of assets is a necessity for your business’s health and bottom line.