Technology is what drives our industries and RFID is leading the way with new and innovative uses. By embracing these new technologies and incorporating them into our processes we can maintain that competitive edge and continue to grow. By ignoring it, we’re simply allowing for the inevitability that the rest of the industry will leave us behind.
By now, most people have gone through the basics of RFID. At its core, it’s simply a license plate that can be read by a reader. Similar to a barcode, but without the need for line of sight. The most notable advantage to RFID is that multiple tags can be read simultaneously which can dramatically cut down the time to inventory everything.
But this article is titled “RFID Beyond Inventory”. So let’s take the next step and understand some of the many uses of RFID that are beyond simply scanning a bunch of tags.
- Access Control: The first thought that comes to mind with access control is simply unlocking a door. But with RFID, the solution doesn’t have to be limited to a door. An operator can use their RFID badge to identify themselves and automatically gain access to a piece of equipment or allow access to software on a computer. And unlike a simple on/off key, the right RFID solution can allow for configurable access based on individual operators. Some operators may be able to simply start a piece of equipment while other operators with a higher certification can perform more complex tasks.
- Automation: Before RFID was used for things like Inventory, it was used as a sensor for functions like process automation. This application exists today more than ever before. Similar to the access control solution above, automation applications are used in scenarios like diverting containers on conveyor belts or opening refrigerator doors as a forklift approaches. While older forms of RFID simply used the technology as a switch, the tools now have evolved to collect analytical data from these devices. So rather than simply opening a door, the data can now be available to know which forklift opened the door, when was the door open, how often the door is open or how many times a specific forklift has gone through this door. By collecting and storing the data the ability to make decisions about the process can become much more strategic.
- Process Tracking: Building on the concepts discussed with automation, process tracking allows you to eliminate a significant amount of data collection from the operator. One scenario for this involves a facility with multiple stations where work is moved from one step to the next. By utilizing RFID the technology will monitor and collect information regarding when the work arrives at a station, how long it stays there and when it moves on. By incorporating this capability with the right software, management can also determine who is/has been working on an order as well as perform location lookups and estimate scheduled completion.
- Time & Attendance: One significant benefit to RFID that is often overlooked is the ability to read multiple tags and tag types simultaneously. Based on what has already been discussed above it’s obvious that an RFID badge can be used to allow an employee to clock in and out. But with an existing RFID infrastructure in the facility, readers that are primarily setup to monitor product can also capture and record badge information. In other words, the RFID reader at a workstation that is designed to capture the work at that station can also record who is at that station, when they arrived, how long they’ve been there and when they left. While process tracking information can use this information for historical records regarding things like yield and quality control, when it comes to time & attendance the data can be used to determine who is/was at the correct workstation and for how long.
- Location Management: Beyond the basic inventory functions of RFID and knowing what’s within the given range of a reader is the ability to perform higher level location management. Much of this technology is performed by the software itself to allow management to understand not only what is where, but where has it been, how long has it been there and is it in the correct place. While the use of RFID eliminates the operator from having to perform a task, the software can provide administrative capabilities like alarming. And not just simple alarming if something leaves the room. Since the system is capturing results in real time and kept historically, alarming can be done on time or based on where something is coming from. One scenario may involve alarming on time if temperature controlled items are out of the cooler too long or have not been in the cooler long enough. Another may involve clean environments and alarming on contamination based on where something has been.
- Check In/Out: Bringing all the technology together allows for automated functionality in ways that can’t be accomplished individually. By placing RFID tags on items and people a complete RFID solution can perform check in/out functions by matching items to the person who’s accompanying it. This means that when an item leaves a room, the system will be able to identify the person it left the room with and record the item as checked out. Later, when the RFID reader discovers the item in the room again, it will be automatically checked back in. Continuing on what we’ve learned in the scenarios above, management can easily answer the administrative questions of who has/had what, when, and for how long.
- Safety: In the event of an emergency, knowing the location of the people becomes the top priority. A legacy, paper system of counting and/or calling out names consumes valuable time and can put countless people at risk. An RFID infrastructure with the capability to constantly record a person’s location could mean the difference between life and death. Not only can you get a real time accountability of evacuees, but you can also see on a visual floor plan everyone who’s still in danger and exactly where they’re located. This information is critical in the hands of the emergency crew.
These are just a few of the scenarios where RFID can improve your business. Each business is unique which allows the flexibility of RFID to solve countless challenges.
Keep in mind though, the RFID technology is only a piece of the solution. Process management is obviously a critical key to any implementation. If you don’t perform the basic tasks, like placing tags on items, the solution will ultimately fail. But just as important as the RFID hardware, is the software. While RFID performs its function as the data collection tool, the software is where the processes and rules are configured and the data is eventually output in the form of emails, text messages and reports.
When selecting an RFID partner, be sure to ask questions about the software. Can it be configured to fit my process? Will it work with a variety of hardware devices (readers, tags, printers, etc.)? Is it accessible over the web and/or on my smart phone?
If you’re ready to take the next step forward, feel free to contact us. Whether you’ve got an idea in mind or you just want to get some new ideas, the phone call and consultation are always free. The engineers at InformaTrac have decades of experience and are always looking for opportunities to discover new ways to implement RFID.