New Markets Embrace RFID
A successful RFID (radio frequency identification) implementation in the emergency services industry has opened up the market for one AIDC (automatic identification and data collection) integrator.
RFID (radio frequency identification) interest is growing; however, shipments have not increased to the levels suppliers anticipated. According to a recent report from Venture Development Corp. (VDC), global shipments of RFID systems (including transponders, readers, software, and services) reached approximately $965 million in 2002. That means the RFID market experienced roughly 8% compounded annual growth since 2000. VDC expects the market to reach $2.7 billion by 2007.
One integrator driving RFID technology in an untapped market is R. Moroz Limited (RML) (Markham, Ontario), an AIDC (automatic identification and data collection) solutions provider. RML implemented an RFID solution in a government department responsible for providing emergency services. The department distributes emergency services equipment such as hoses, generators, pumps, and radios. It needed a way to track each piece of equipment. The customer also wanted to monitor usage for maintenance reasons.
Frequency Tests Help Close The Sale
The customer was using a manual, paper-based asset tracking system prior to RML's involvement in December of 2002. This method proved to be inefficient, inaccurate, and slow. "Filling out paper forms was not a priority in many situations. Oftentimes they would be only partially filled out," says Bob Moroz, president of RML. For instance, if there was a fire, a worker may sign out the 50 hoses taken out of inventory but forget to mark down the generator. This inaccurate paper trail made it impossible to track and maintain the equipment.
"Before we came into the picture, the department had already researched RFID and bar code technologies. It decided RFID would be a better fit because of the harsh environmental factors this equipment faced on a routine basis. However, they weren't certain if they needed a low-frequency, high-frequency, or UHF [ultrahigh-frequency] solution," says Moroz. Over a four-month period, RML educated the customer on the three RFID frequencies and then performed on-site tests. The testing stage proved a low-frequency solution was a better choice than a high-frequency solution. "The equipment they were identifying was made of different materials [plastic, rubber, metal]. Metal affects communication, especially at higher frequency communications. So a low-frequency solution was used to avoid that problem," says Moroz.
RML implemented low-frequency tags and installed Series 2000 fixed RFID tag readers with audio tuning from Texas Instruments (TI) (Dallas). The fixed readers are mounted in the shipping area, so the tags are read as the equipment leaves the building. The department also needed portable readers; so Bancolini Technologies (Bologna, Italy) B31s were implemented. During the integration, RML faced the challenge of selecting the correct tags for the various types of equipment. "For instance, to identify a generator we needed a tag that was not affected by metal and can be read from a few feet away," says Moroz. For this situation, RML chose the mount-on-metal transponder for the generators.
RFID Improves Verification, Inventory Tracking
Since implementing RFID to track equipment, the department has improved inventory counting and verification 99%. Before, the customer only accounted for 75% of its inventory. Using the paper-based system, 10% to 20% of the equipment dispatched was not recorded at the time it left the building. For RML, this successful installation sparked interest from other emergency services departments, such as police and fire departments. RML is planning to install similar systems in these locations to track equipment and personnel.