Asset Tracking 101

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Asset Tracking 101: A Primer of Processes and Technologies

Throughout the millennia, humans have found ways to keep tabs on their assets. The Aztecs used stringed beads to communicate information on military movements, taxes owed to the emperor, and especially chocolate supplies. Asset tracking has held such an esteemed place in human history that many of our oldest written documents are records of inventories and assets. These documents might be bland reading to most, but they do give us remarkable insight into the priorities of civilizations and what goods they most valued.

You even likely took part in some form of asset tracking as a youngster. Did you ever puzzle over an empty slot in your box of Crayola® crayons and wonder where the associated crayon could be? You were unknowingly participating in an asset management system — you just didn’t realize it yet. So, to say this is a 101 guide on asset tracking may not be completely accurate. So, let’s dive into asset tracking at the 200 and 300 levels, shall we?

The Modern Asset Tracking Landscape

Today, two of the most popular methods of asset tracking are RFID and Barcode labeling. Both methods rely on physically attached tags or labels which are then tracked/logged via a handheld scanner, or even an RFID drone or portal.

In this primer, Asset Tracking 101, we will help you to understand the function of asset tracking and the modern processes and technologies that make it effective in a variety of fields. We will also go into common terms and definitions used within the industry.

What Are The Different Types Of RFID Tags?

There are three types of Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags — active, semi-passive, and passive.

Active RFID tags require an internal battery that broadcasts its signals while semi-passive tags — sometimes referred to as "battery-assisted" — also have an internal battery but depend on the electromagnetic power drawn from readers to broadcast their signals. Passive tags do not have batteries and rely on readers as their power source.

What are the Main Similarities and Differences Between Active and Passive Tags?

Similarities

  1. Both use electromagnetic energy
  2. Neither need to be in the line-of-sight of assets being tracked
  3. Both enable readers to detect and identify objects
  4. Both can monitor and record sensor data

Differences

  1. Passive tags have a read range of 20 feet (handheld readers) to 40 feet (fixed readers), while active tags can have a read range as large as 750 feet. It should be noted, however, that longer read ranges can create an issue with signal interference and the unintended reading of other tagged assets in the area
  2. Passive tags have an unlimited lifespan while active tags last between 1 - 3 years
  3. Passive tags are less expensive, ranging between $0.16 and $2.50 apiece while active tags can run between $30 and $80
  4. Passive tags are used on a broader range of assets due to coming in a larger range of sizes — some are small enough to be put on bees or ants in research situations while active tags are typically larger

What are Barcode Labels

Barcode labels require the use of an optical scanner which decodes and interprets the label’s black bars, which represent a series of numbers. This data contains information such as manufacturer, product names, and information like price in the case of a retail setting.

While barcode labels are less expensive than RFID tags and can be printed in-house, there are disadvantages to using a barcode system and barcoding scanners, which include:

  • Short read range (about 10 inches)
  • Requires a direct line-of-sight to asset
  • Items must be scanned individually
  • Labels are easily damaged

What are the Differences Between RFID Vs Barcode Tracking?

  • An RFID system allows remote scanning, with larger read ranges
  • RFID allows simultaneous tag reads
  • RFID tags are more durable
  • Information on RFID tags can be updated, while barcode labels require replacement
  • RFID tags can hold more detailed data and are more secure

It’s important to note that there are advantages and disadvantages to any technological method of asset tracking, but all of them are infinitely more reliable and cost-effective than an employee with a pen and paper. Our technical experts can help you determine what solution would best fit your unique needs.

Why Should I Implement an Asset Tracking Program?

  • Organizations that accurately manage assets will achieve 20% cost savings per managed asset within nine months.
  • 64% of business conduct manual searches for inventory or assets at least once a day. It’s time to get a leg upon your competition.
  • 30% of organizations without asset tracking do not know what they own, where their assets are located, and who is using them.
  • 79% of employees will steal from their employers at least once, typically by exploiting a flaw in asset tracking methodologies (or lack thereof).

Asset Tracking Terms & Definitions

What Are Active Directory Users?
Active directory users are people defined within a network to assign security access.

What Are Active RFID Tags?
Active RFID tags use a battery that continuously broadcasts their own signal and have longer read ranges.

What are Assets?
As it pertains to asset tracking, "assets" are defined as any item of value, which can be tracked.

What is an Asset Check In/Out feature?
An asset check in/out feature is the assignment of ownership or responsibility of an asset to a person and tracking when the asset is returned.

What is Asset Data Import?
Asset Data Import is the process of adding data (assets) to an asset tracking application from an external source, such as a spreadsheet.

What is Asset Inventory?
Taking an asset inventory is the comprehensive identification of an organization's assets including but not limited to quantity, location, tag ID information, timestamp, any inventory movement, and possibly the current location.

What is an Asset Inventory Event?
An asset inventory event is the search for assets and their location to determine an asset's existence and location. When conducting an asset inventory, scan-events are logged and noted for the selected inventory. Multiple inventories may occur simultaneously. As an example, teams of people could inventory different buildings.

What is Asset Lifecycle/History?
Asset lifecycle / history is a list of actions and events for an asset from the time the asset enters a system to the time it is rendered obsolete and removed.

What is an Asset Search?
An asset search is identifying an asset by name, attribute, or by scanning an enrolled tag.

What are Asset List Views and Asset Tree Views?
List view: Assets are displayed in a grid.
Tree view: Assets are listed in a hierarchy such as: Building, floor, room, etc.

What are Barcode Tags?
Barcode tags are tags that use a series of lines or dots to communicate data to a barcode scanner.

How does EnaSys encode tags?
EnaSys uses GS1 specifications, GIAI-202, GIAI-96 to encode tags.

What is FIPS?
The Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) is a U.S. government computer security standard used to approve cryptographic modules.

What is HIPPA?
HIPPA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which sets the standard for protecting sensitive patient data.

What is an Orphan Tag?
An orphan tag is a tag that is scanned but is not listed in the asset tracking database.

What is a Parent/Child Asset Hierarchy?
Within an asset hierarchy, asset can be arranged in a Parent/Child relationship. Such as: City, Campus, Buildings, Floor, Room, Asset. The Parent/Child hierarchy of assets can have any depth and is not limited to specific asset-types.

What are Passive RFID Tags?
Passive RFID tags use no internal power source and are powered by electromagnetic energy transmitted from an RFID reader.

What is RAIN RFID?
RAIN RFID is a wireless technology that connects everyday Items to the internet.

What are some types of RFID Antennas?
Polarized: RFID Tag orientation matters and might not be read if the tag is turned 90 degrees.
Circular polarized: Can read tags turned between 0 and 360 degrees.
Near field: Read range is limited to a few inches.
Far field: Able to read tags at a maximum range based on environmental conditions.

What are some types of RFID Readers?
Fixed/Portal: Fixed portals do not move and track asset movements within a pinch-point or general location.
Handheld: Mobile scanners used for identifying and tracking assets. In some cases, software can determine location and assign a “Last Known Location” of an asset.

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