For centuries organizations have faced the challenge of locating and tracking inventory and assets by brute force. The activity of receiving, storing and issuing inventory items and tracking the use and location of capital assets has remained essentially unchanged. Whether by quill and scroll; pencil and clip board; or bar code scanner and database, the process is fundamentally the same: receive items, put them away, refer to some kind of list and then find them. Along the way items get misplaced, moved, lost, or forgotten. Some organizations have described their warehouse inventory process as moving products from one black hole to another.
Imagine the challenge of trying to find the exact location of one of thousands of containers in a large area where all of the containers essentially look alike. These containers may be as small as a pallet or as large as a trailer truck. While traditional technologies can help record when a container was received and where it was delivered, no system has been able to provide accurate real time location information to the managers of complex operations. No system, that is, until the introduction of Real Time Locating Systems (RTLS).
Real Time Locating Systems are fully automated systems that continually monitor the locations of assets and personnel. An RTLS solution typically utilizes battery-operated radio tags and a cellular locating system to detect the presence and location of the tags. The locating system is usually deployed as a matrix of locating devices that are installed at a spacing of anywhere from 50 to 1000 feet. These locating devices determine the locations of the radio tags.
The systems continually update the database with current tag locations as frequently as every several seconds or as infrequently as every few hours for items that seldom move. The frequency of tag location updates may have implications for the number of tags that can be deployed and the battery life of the tag. In typical applications systems can track thousands of tags simultaneously and the average tag battery life can be five or more years.
Developments in RFID technology continue to yield larger memory capacities, wider reading ranges, and faster processing. It is highly unlikely that the technology will ultimately replace barcode — even with the inevitable reduction in raw materials coupled with economies of scale, the integrated circuit in an RF tag will never be as cost-effective as a barcode label. However, RFID will continue to grow in its established niches where barcode or other optical technologies are not effective. If some standards commonality is achieved - whereby RFID equipment from different manufacturers can be used interchangeably - the market will very likely grow exponentially.