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Asset Tracking with RFID: Tips for Developers

RFID WIP Tracking Process Flow

RFID and RTLS asset tracking projects have been implemented by hundreds of manufacturing companies, particularly those with complex assembly processes across multiple facilities, such as manufacturers in Aerospace, Defense, Automotive and Industrial Machinery.

Common RFID-enabled processes include Work-in-Process Tracking, Equipment Tracking, Tool Tracking and Materials Management. Since every company and facility is unique, each deployment has its own unique characteristics -- and is likely to evolve over time.

A few recommendations:

Don't Start From Scratch: The best way to do this is to use pre-packaged workflows and applications wherever possible. Using configurable applications enables you to tailor the software to your existing business process, saving considerable time and effort.

Future-proof your RFID deployment: Remember that your needs will evolve. So ensure that you are using easily modified code and that it is well documented. Every RFID deployment I've been associated with has started small and grown over time. Human nature is such that people realize benefits they hadn't thought of earlier, or figure out new ways to increase efficiency. Good libraries and well-documented code will make your life (and your organizations) much easier.

Build the Foundation for Ongoing Development: Take into account that over time you are likely to use new devices, introduce new processes, add new locations, etc. For example, devices come in all kinds of modalities: GPS systems, Wi-Fi, RTLS, bar codes, RFID readers, etc. Your RFID strategy should allow for the inclusion of a variety of these devices. Moreover, since pilots may grow into enterprise deployments, scalable and configurable strategies are critical. If you avoid serious forethought to this, you'll find yourself reworking your RFID solution for each individual site.

Don't Forget the Data: In measuring every asset movement, day in and day out, RFID data can quickly get out of control. For some manufacturers, data can accumulate by tens of thousands of data points each day. Make sure you also devise a workable data warehousing strategy that analyzes data coming out of the process, and give some thought as to how you will keep your RFID system separate but still integrated with back-end systems. Keeping your RFID execution process independent of those back-end systems will free enterprise systems from data overload, while providing real-time process alerts and exception-handling on the shop floor, service bay and dock door.

For example:

  • Integration with ERP systems can trigger inventory replenishment when low stock is detected.
  • Integration with MES systems can track products and component parts through each stage of the assembly process, alerting production staff when errors are detected.
  • Integration with WMS systems can help ensure inventory rules are followed to prevent expired goods & salvage.
  • Integration with MRO systems can be set up to verify parts and equipment against service orders.
  • And integration with business activity monitoring dashboards can be used to update dashboards to reflect physical inventory levels, orders shipped, manufacturing efficiency.

The good news is that RFID and RTLS asset tracking solutions have matured over the past few years, simplifying the cost and time of deployment. Employing a solid, well-thought out strategy shouldn't involve reinventing the wheel. OATSystems' Asset Tracking deployment guide provides best practices, process flows and integration options to help get you started.

Learn more:
Aerospace & Defense
Consumer Products
Industrial Machinery & Components

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