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?
- Both use electromagnetic energy
- Neither need to be in the line-of-sight of assets being tracked
- Both enable readers to detect and identify objects
- Both can monitor and record sensor data
- 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
- Passive tags have an unlimited lifespan while active tags last between 1 - 3 years
- Passive tags are less expensive, ranging between $0.16 and $2.50 apiece while active tags can run between $30 and $80
- 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 asset tracking 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 RFID 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).