Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 WRAP UP!

Just a few days left in 2010. Most of us have all been busy trying to get that last project in the can to wrap up the year. I try and pull that work forward into the September, November time frame so I can concentrate on my next year plans, review trends for the coming year, align with the best of bread tools and position our efforts into markets that are heating up.

A lunch date here and a phone call there and I keep my finger on the pulse of what the market is doing and draft my plans accordingly. Here are my Top Five markets that effect Logistics and RFID tools for automated location for the coming year:

1) From a manufacturing stand point:

a) The Auto Industry is back!

i) Just maybe not as strong as the North American (US) Work force would like to see. We see a big upswing in investment in overseas facilities and projects. New competition entering the market from China and India following the success the Korean Cars have experienced here in the US this is a business plan to follow. GM and Chrysler are leaning heavily on none US based product and are now bringing to market Cars that are really world class in function not just words. Ford has done a wonderful job of rebuilding their product line and business model by starting at (can I use an over worked phrase) Job 1; Build a car people want to buy and drive - what a concept?

b) Heavy manufacturing:

i) Wow with commodity prices hitting records every few days this was an easy guess! The people that make the large Mining Equipment like Caterpillar, Komatsu, John Deere, and Volvo just to name a few, have a sellers’ market to feed right now. Massive cuts in 2009 have left them a bit short handed but built up the cash reserves. Now they just have to learn how to do more with less, and automate some processes to Value Stream operations. Setting on cash will let them buy up market share, they just need to make sure and save some of that cash for core improvements.

2) Agriculture is a coming market:

a) The bread Basket of the United States has changed over the years and we now have technology breaking out all over from GPS guided equipment to soil sampling at application time to adjust fertilizer to the actual soil requirements as you drive. Saving money on over application and reducing over use reduces fuel cost as well. Cost of Chemicals and the resulting theft of them is becoming a problem as well. The World Ag market is right there with the US and the growing needs of the world are demanding more.

3) Health Care:

a) Well the world population worldwide still grows and here in the US the Baby Boomers are all aging nicely. Regulation and health care cost have continued to rise at an alarming rate. All this has forced cutbacks, staff overloading and increasing patient base stressing this system.

4) Education:

a) This and Market Five are closely tied. Here in the United States we worry about or children in school and their safety but these pale in comparison to what some children experience around the world. School Lunch programs, medical response, resource scheduling, and testing all are becoming hard to control and trace.

5) Public Security and safety:

a) Public transportation has never been largely used in the United Sates as much as it has been deployed around the world. Large metropolitan areas in the US have some busses, trains, and subways but once you leave the city we depend on the automobile for our transportation needs. We are seeing move people moving to public transportation to save cost in the US, and Air Travel is growing quickly as well.

b) This is not repeated for the most part worldwide as public transportation is a core part of the daily life.

c) With massive amounts of people relying on or moving to public transportation, accidents, weather issues, and just the uneasy state of the world today is stressing the system to find new answers to Support and service of this vitally depended on system.

What does all of this have to do with RFIND? Opportunity, the use of RFID tools to track and trace Equipment, services, People, and Items to save time, money, and increase efficiencies. RFID is the tool of choice for streamlining systems and processes without manual input. Deployed properly it will return its total investment in well under a year and pay off additional dividends for years to come adding to you bottom line and operations.

Check with your RFID Consultant today for how these tools can help you in 2011.

Monday, December 20, 2010

RFID not just for Location any longer.

Over the years my efforts in Kanban, Six Sigma, value Stream mapping and Process control mixed with automated technology improvements where they fit and add value return Accuracy and Efficiency has giving me some insight as to what RFID can really do.

With defined processes and recording control of process flow will give you an accurate view of produced products and consumed material. And RFID / RTLS work wonders in these environments.

It also gives you a window as to what is being delivered to the customer with a verifiable production history for Customer follow up, satisfaction, and quality control.

Also you now have a window to your inbound supply chain that allows you to foresee delivery problems and adjust production and start on line to address issues before they become a problem, maximizing production uptime and production flow.

These attributes give in many cases almost instant ROI. But I am starting to see the real value of this wonderful tool. I will coin the phrase here and I am sure you will see it in the future RFED, the acronym for Radio Frequency Event Detection.

Laying out a production facility for manufacturing, parts storage and delivery, line side delivery, machine line control and much more require miles of Can Bus and serial wiring back to the control systems Logic unit, PLC’s and computers.

Take this Machining Center retro-fit and rebuild. An 11 station machining center all connected by delivery conveyers, tracked pallets, automated fixtures and clamping systems. This large system covered close to a football field size footprint (Roughly 150 meters by 75 meters). In this system was 35 Pallets/fixtures, and over 300 meters of conveyers and tracks. With hundreds of presence detection switches, door switches, access control switches, movement switching, and more. The close to one mile of wiring with multi channels required was a cost constraint to the project budget and the time to complete was a problem as well as the systems if a mission critical system to production.

Here Comes RFED! Working with a select RFID Vendor we made some minor changes to their product and monitor all the above mentioned devices and relay all that information back to the correct control unit without wires. Saving close to $250,000 US dollars in labor and wiring, and trimming six weeks out of the deployment time, makes this deploy and instant ROI and add millions of dollars to the bottom line in lost time along.

RFID / RTLS and now RFED,

Let me know when you need that Next Technology Solution. It just may be available today if you just think outside the box. Byron

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

WiFi RTLS and your Business will it work for you?

Just another day in the office, and the same question came up in a conference call today. What do I have to put in place to get my business ready for RTLS deployments?

This is a hospital style environment that again is trying to stretch their WiFi network deployment dollars to include RTLS. The allure here to use existing infrastructure to support location tools is a noble one, and has valid cost advantages, but in retrospect this is not always the end result. Additional WiFi infrastructure is in most cases required, and if not that, additional location beacons or devices need to be used in tuff to locate areas.

This is not to say WiFi does not work, or that it is not a great cost effective tool. We base WiFi location systems value off of the extensive research and customer statements that point out the overall success rate of total WiFi RTLS / Location solutions is much lower than the WiFi industry vendors would like us to believe. Yes I have used WiFi, and deployed it in these environments but our customers know going in that we are using the technology for this because: XYZ, and if requirements increase or areas are troublesome then: ABC will have to be installed or added on.

WiFi has been around a long time in the RFID world, it is a technology designed for communication that has been asked to be a location system as well because, well in theory it can. ZigBee fits this description as well, and some other technologies but that is the core of the issue. I used a framing hammer the other day to put up trim in the bathroom, not because it was the right tool but it was what I had and I was too lazy to drive from the office back home for the correct tool. Bottom Line the trim is up but it has a few more marks in it then it needed, and it took and light hand with hammer and longer to do. In the end the results are poor compared to if I would have used the correct tool.

Let’s not forget the reason the location tools are needed. If you ask the customer what they want it for you receive some varying answers, and in many cases receive vague answers. Customers have the concept but not solid answers as to how they want to use it. This is where the vendor must do a good analysis of the process stream and flow, mapping this out as to where the value of the location information can be used and how. Without this data being placed in a good software tool you have a limited value prop for you deployment. Given most RFID hardware vendors have software that works with their hardware only you have another problem. Proper Software platforms must be able to handle any tool you throw at it. Take our hospital we discussed today, they will have pharmacies sending items with bar-codes, or passive RFID tags. WiFi tags may work in some departments but not secure enough for tight control of secure floors or restricted patients environments. Will all of this fit into the system that controls your location system? In almost every case the answer to this is no.

Bottom line here again; do site analysis of the processes first, find out what they need to track and how that information needs to be handled and presented, select the software that fits these requirements, then you can look at the location technology that fits the requirements of the covered areas.

With these simple few step processes you will have a complete synchronous flowing system that goes in quickly and performs from day one with limited retuning and adjustments. As well this is reducing required upgrades and retrofits later on in the use of the system. Byron

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Agricultural and RFID

The Agricultural industry today has become one of the most productive industries in the world.

Along with this we are seeing a huge upswing in process efficiencies through technology. RFID, GPS, and process control is becoming common place in tracking equipment and supplies. Theft of course is problem that has always been there but with the cost of chemicals, fertilizer, Fuel, and Seed has been on a constant increase over the years it is becoming a crucial component. Just like your trip to the drug store for cold medicine, agricultural faces the same drug war problem with chemicals, and fuel sources.

This problem is not just a problem for the farmer as the suppliers of these crucial assets find that tanks costing $5000.00 or more are disappearing at an alarming rate. We RFID technology we can monitor storage lots, allow access to areas remotely, and protect unauthorized access as well. With the proper tools we can show drop off point at customer sites and fields and make sure the product or asset stays there and if it moves; locate it and retrieve it.

Theft is not the only reason agricultural is turning to location technology. Accurate time stamping, and process control leads to efficiencies in the filling, and handling of equipment and assets. Streamlining the process and cutting waste is the result, adding hours to the day’s work schedule in lost asset searching, storage and deliver of items to the point of use.

Farming is a fast paced business operating on some of the slimmest margins in the world, the manufacturing world of lean logistics and process control tools and becoming the tools of choice for adding dollars to the bottom-line in agricultural.

Blessed be those that feed the world. Byron

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How Much Accuracy do you really need?

One of the common questions we get asked all the time is can I know where every things is down to every square foot of space. Well the easy answer is sure you can just give me tons of money. Not being a terrible greedy individual I usually ask the preverbal two year olds question “WHY”?

To be honest if a company’s process control is so bad you cannot locate items anywhere in your facility you have more problems than just one foot accuracy is going to give you. RFID is a wonderful tool for when things get lost but it is not a replacement for broken processes. RFID will enhance good processes and automate them making them better and more reliable and reduce errors. As a hardware and software agnostic consultant we strive to make sure the requirements are based on solid business processes first before we recommend placing technology on top of it.

Bottom Line if you really need to have sub One Meter resolution or slot to slot accuracy first step back and ask yourself “WHY”? LED beacons can be used to give you that final right part confirmation when you’re close and save you countless dollars on systems but nothing fixes broken core processes.

If you have location problems ask the experts that can give you that value stream map and work at a process level not sell you a technology tool that is pitched to solve all your problems.


How Much Accuracy do you really need?

One of the common questions we get asked all the time is can I know where every things is down to every square foot of space. Well the easy answer is sure you can just give me tons of money. Not being a terrible greedy individual I usually ask the preverbal two year olds question “WHY”?

To be honest if a company’s process control is so bad you cannot locate items anywhere in your facility you have more problems than just one foot accuracy is going to give you. RFID is a wonderful tool for when things get lost but it is not a replacement for broken processes. RFID will enhance good processes and automate them making them better and more reliable and reduce errors. As a hardware and software agnostic consultant we strive to make sure the requirements are based on solid business processes first before we recommend placing technology on top of it.

Bottom Line if you really need to have sub One Meter resolution or slot to slot accuracy first step back and ask yourself “WHY”? LED beacons can be used to give you that final right part confirmation when you’re close and save you countless dollars on systems but nothing fixes broken core processes.

If you have location problems ask the experts that can give you that value stream map and work at a process level not sell you a technology tool that is pitched to solve all your problems.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

RFID is to costly right?

I totally agree ROI is King. To go in and replace bar-code one to one it will be a tuff sale, but we have done it with cost justification and for less money than upgrading the bar-code system was going to cost. In a complete new deployment we have done many cost studies on these deployments where by the time you put in the supporting power and network, scanners, and tools for the bar-code solution RFID comes out much cheaper and in many cases from day one. Add in the automation factor and less man power requirements (also less possible error) and you have a big win situation.

Unfortunately you have to select the correct solution form the many out there. Too many people jumped in RFID thinking it was a sure winner and you have a lot of confusion. You have to take an agnostic approach to RFID. Kind of like selecting the correct hammer for the right job, they all will work and drive a nail but a roofing hammer is so much better on shingles than a framing hammer and that framing hammer is a disaster when used on fine trim.

When we are value stream mapping a supply chain we look at everything; manual processes to video monitoring and GPS. RFID is part of that mix, the problem is most sales people have only one or two solutions to offer and guess what they try to sell?

The global business model has changed and so has the way we need to track and trace things. Using the same tools year after year and expecting better returns or results may just border on insanity.

RFID is a tool and that is it used correctly it is wonderful, chose wisely.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The RFID Market today

I have been tracking a lot of Linked In Post, and trade publications over the last few months and the same questions come up time and again. Who is the best supplier, or what is the best solution?

Problem is there are hundreds of answers to these questions with just as many answers. What has happened is everyone has envisioned the demand for automated location tools and raised untold amounts of venture capital to fund just about any type of RFID tool one can imagine. WiFi, UWB, Passive and Active, all using Radio Frequency to communicate they fall under the RFID moniker.

Ok is this bad? Inherently no, but it has added much confusion to the market place. We have so many products crowding the market that overlap each other it makes deciding the correct technology to use almost impossible. This has driven competition and tighter margins along with the merger of many companies or the dissolving of others. This is not much different than the Dot Com bust just the RFID industry is for the most part privately funded. Just as the RFID market was starting its upswing we experience one of the world’s largest economic meltdowns affecting just about every economy.

So we have a lot of RFID Vendors competing in a cool to say the least market. End result is a buyer’s market with every vendor trying to get any and every sale they can without regard to if their product it is a good fit for or not.

Just my observation but a Buyer’s Market or not it is too easy to select the wrong solution. Research what you intend to do and retain good counsel. Keep the playing field level and let the correct tool make its ROI generating ability apparent. Good vendors are out there so let them help but insist on doing a Proof of Concept or Pilot run to assure you of your selection (Remember these do cost some money and after the down turn and limited market you may have to fund all or part of the pilot).

When you have all the facts and see the product work in your environment then you can be assured of the solution. You may have to spend some money but the long term savings and performance will more than return the investment.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

This question comes up all the time. Does RFID solutions solve my problem and the second question; how much does it cost.

Ok Bottom line;

“Yes” (with a qualifier) kind of and probably

More than you want to pay!

Most People look and sell RFID as a total Solution;

RFID is a location tool plain and simple. RFID gives you automated location and movement data and records that into a database and may display it on a graphical interface.

Software is the process control part of the solution and does the magic of th, bringing that timely business driven information to the people that need it to make sound business decisions.

RFID is a Location Tool that must be used for its value as a location tool.

Solutions come from a blend of tools, Software, and integrations, and processes that give the desired results.

The Kind of here is yes; RFID can and is used as a standalone location and monitoring tool and is extremely valuable in these deployments but the ongoing value and ROI is limited to this niche alone.

Software and Integration to current systems is the real value, yes this is where the cost really start racking up but the Return on Investment can be beyond belief.

So to end this Blog;

RFID is a Tool not a total solution, consider this early on and be happy in the end.

Happy RFID Byron

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The State Of RFID / RTLS today

RTLS, this is becoming a hotly contested subject on many blogs and posting boards. Linked In has had a very good dialog going over the last couple of weeks on the merits of Wi-Fi RTLS systems. In these Linked In Posts there is two distinct sides; those that sell Wi-Fi systems says they work and have the installs to prove it.
Price wise Wi-Fi makes sense being that you can use your existing Wireless infrastructure to do location task as well.

In most cases I find RFID and RTLS systems are over sold and under deliver. Why you ask? It is simple, RFID passive or active, Wi-Fi, UWB, ZigBee, Sonic, and any combination of these used as RTLS or Point Location systems they are not a system they are a tool.

Yes a tool! An automated location tool, it is the software, integration, dashboards, and interfaces that pull this all together and make the location information the RFID tool supplies useful. Time and again we get involved in systems that do what they are supposed to do locate. Many times these systems are sold on what they can offer not what they supply. When the system is up and running the customer is left with location information and little else. Sure I can find stuff faster but in business today going to another system and jumping screens or systems is just not acceptable. They want answers, data that says order a replacement, consume inventory, fill the order, control work in process, and a host of other decisions that our distributed global supply chain and manufacturing requires.

RFID, in any form must be sold and integrated into the business as a seamless end to end process not a standalone tool to be of value. Hire a good integration RFID consultant and project manager with a solid past in Logistics value stream mapping and process control to do your location needs and supply chain modeling. Yes it cost more upfront but the value will be in a system that works.

Have fun and go Locate Something.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Quick! Give me a Price on What????????

Over the last couple of weeks I have been tracking down leads from some of the companies I do development for. Looking at the customer’s request and seeing if the Vendors product correctly fits the requirements is just part of my presales consultant work. I stress to these vendors I work with too never sell into an environment they do not really fit, or oversell their capabilities.

What I have noticed, and this is directed to you customers; 90% of the request regardless of the vendor they inquire to all ask for pricing up front.
They go something like this:
“ I need a price on tracking 300 assets, most are mobile and the move between two facilities.”

Ok great but without details as to the assets we are talking about, the facilities, the infrastructure in them, Environment, processes, tracking requirements, and much much more you are dead in the water.
Bottom Line:

RFID is not a commodity product. I want to stress this, all though most electronics in the world today have been commoditized RFID still requires knowledge, experience, and finesse to deploy and make work properly. You cannot buy RFID tags off the shelf, get a reader and make it work. There are hundreds of tags on the market today and most are very good, but each has its own unique operational parameters once you get past the passive EPC Gen1 / Gen 2 formats they must be deployed correctly and tuned properly.

Please Customers do some homework, lay out your process maps, and send a requirements sheet with your quote request. Maps, drawings, and floor plans will help also. Good projects take good planning and as I have said before; shopping Tag and Hardware price is not the correct way to deploy an RFID project. If you’re not sure where to start hire us (Blackburn Global), we can do the value stream mapping, lean logistics, Project plan, and pick the correct solution or recommend someone who can.

RFID should never be an expense! Deployed with common sense and due diligence it will always be an investment returning dollars to the bottom line year after year.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The “RFID Education Quotient”

After just spending two hours on a webinar discussing RFID deployments from one of the largest RFID specific publication in the industry the same questions always come up and we view another rendition of how vendor ABC has a similar product and how great it worked for customer XYZ!

What we observe is most of these webinars are based on passive technology and its penetration in the market due to EPC standards and the lower cost of passive tag technology. I am not saying this is a bad thing, it just seems that passive and other associated technology are being pressed to fit spheres they really do not perform well in because of the perceived low cost aura.

Over the years we have observed Passive Technology and others like WiFi, UWB, Blue Tooth, and ZigBee, having been deployed in many projects that they fit very well. Our issue is many times they are placed in environments that they do not perform well or do not meet the customers’ goals and process requirements.
Why does this happen? Because the customer is under the impression that it will be much cheaper to use the existing WiFi infrastructure or the “presented” technology itself is just much cheaper on the surface. Granted any time you can take a technology that has been deployed and designed for one purpose it is advantageous to see if it will carry over and cover other requirements. The problem is one tool may be used for other purposes’ and function (yes I have driven nails with a Crescent wrench) but it never does the job as well and never meets the performance requirements needed of a properly designed tool for the task!

That is where I feel the “RFID Education Quotient” is going to be a requirement in the coming wave of “Smart” RFID deployments. I wish I could report that every RFID (Active & Passive), WiFi, ZigBee, UWB, Sonic, and the other styles of hardware vendors in the world today would be up front and back away from deployments they really know they do not fit. Unfortunately that is not the case, and the amount of companies in the space today creates a huge overlap of competing products. What this leads to is customer confusion and in many cases multiple projects done over and over again trying to solve an initial problem. Patterns like this have kept RFID from being the boom product many felt it was going to be and has made it more of an evolutionary product.

What we do at Blackburn Global and others like us, is educate the end user. We let them know all the options based on; in our case thirty plus years of RFID experience, hundreds of RFID deployment experience / involvement under our belts, and working knowledge of hundreds of industry leading products. We remain agnostic to the Hardware and Software side (Software and integration is a key component that many miss as well) selecting the correct products to meet the end customers requirements and environments. We give the Customer the “RFID Education Quotient” to make the correct solution choices and offer them the project management skills to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Bottom Line:
RFID Solutions are an investment that gives returns year after year. Properly deployed RFID would never be an expense; it will always give a return on your investment. Customers should invest upfront and early in the process to the education of staff or hire unbiased consultants, and then invest some money on testing a couple of selections in a real world with on-site pilots or proof of concept deployments. This investment will give that “Educated”, fact based data driven assessment that will return many times over in the end results.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

GPS for RFID and RTLS Use

This is a question we get a lot from trucking companies and Logistics providers:

“We have GPS on all are trucks already why can't I just use GPS to track my assets?”

Answers: Well GPS may seem like it makes sense. Yes Global Positioning Systems (GPS) is a version of RTLS technology. It is a great system to track vehicles as they travel around the globe. But, when you are trying to do this with maybe thousands of tags in a smaller fixed location space like a storage yard or in the maintenance shop or warehouse is where you will have problems.

GPS does a wonderful job, I would not travel anywhere today without it. I never carry maps any longer, I just plug into my GPS where I want to go and I’m off. GPS has come a long way over the last few years, being very affordable for the consumer to mount one in every vehicle. But in tunnels, heavy tree cover, and parking garages we find out quite quickly they do not find the satellites very well. This is where we find the weak link for RTLS or RFID uses.

Around the world there is literally billions of square meters of floor space under roof. Navatar satellites operating far above the earth are not designed to transmit in a way to penetrate buildings and heavy overhead structure.
Outdoor applications find GPS coming up short as well. GPS can locate itself, but to transfer that information back they must have cell phone access or some other communication process. Lots of software and monthly fees are the end result, plus the cost of the hardware is much higher for each asset. At best with GPS you will have 30 to 100 foot location zones and updated maybe every five to ten minutes at best.

Good RTLS and RFID systems can be deployed much more cost effectively, and give you close to two meter accuracy without costing you an arm and a leg. Add in a good software backend connected to you current systems and you have an end to end ROI generating system.

Now don’t get me wrong we work with a couple of the top GPS solutions on the market today. Once the asset is mobile and on the road GPS gives you that part of the total visibility package. Remember some of my other posting, “Balance and blending solutions together are what give you the correct solution”. Pressing one solution to fit everything just does not work, this approach may appear less costly but it will cost you more money in the end and perform somewhere far below your requirements or expectations.

Use GPS in your car and on the road, let the RFID tags handle the other stuff.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

What is the "Best" RFID product out there?

Working on a new article with one of our trade publications I was asked again "What do you think the Best RFID is?"

This same basic questions is always asked of my team, it does not matter if we are engaged by the Vendor to help them pick the “Best Solution” for this operation or the end-user customer, they want the “Best Solution”.

OK so now I am compelled to write another Blog entry as this is a recurring theme.

“The Best RTLS/RFID Solution” Depends on many factors:
1. The environment you are tracking in.
2. Your budget.
3. Assets you are trying to track.
4. Business need or ROI time line.
5. Your current infrastructure.
6. Business processes also play a huge roll in selecting the correct solution.

We specialize in helping customers select the correct solution for their environment keeping a very close eye on the total cost of deployment not just the cost of the tags. The Key is to balance the current business processes, software, tracking patterns, and processing to the system selected. Operating agnostically to the technology and associated with hundreds of vendors and solution suites both in hardware and software our services save both the customer and vendor thousands of $$$$ in, cost, deployment time, and frustration with our thirty plus years of Logistics, supply chain automation and RFID deployments.

Remember there is no best solution for RFID/RTLS but there is a best solution for your needs. Passive tagging, WiFi, ZigBee, Bar-Code may be the lowest cost solution upfront, but the business requirements for performance and granularity may require heavy infrastructure upgrades or employee involvement in your environment that could take years to recover if ever. Time wise a little more upfront on the RFID solution may save months of deployment time, and in some cases millions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades. Time is money in today’s competitive world and infrastructure upgrades take both time and cold hard cash.

Remember “The Best RFID/RTLS Solution” sometimes needs to be blended together for a perfect fit and that requires experience and knowledge of the complete cross section of the RFID and Lean Logistic market. It is very hard to get one solution to fit every need so pick a vendor that knows how to offer not only their solution but options when it does not fit 100%.

As a matter of fact 40% of our business is driven by customers that call us after the fact and say we spent all this money on this or that solution and it’s just not want we thought we asked for. 40% of our business is from the vendor side asking us to do the pre-sales consulting helping design and blend the correct system together for their customer. The other 20% is devoted to Business Development for companies Around the Globe, Speaking at conferences, and writing articles answering these questions from people that don’t engage us or other services like us upfront.

Chose wisely my friends and colleagues, automated location is just a few days away.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Education is key to good RFID deployments.

I am one of those people that have been involved in RFID technology for a long time. Most people feel it is a new technology but my first introduction and deployments date back to the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. So thirty years and hundreds of deployments later I find it is a simple technology that once you understand the physics that control its performance envelope you can deploy very successfully with tremendous results.

I have written many articles and spoke at numerous conferences on the subject of the cost of supporting infrastructure and labor to install. Without a doubt this is where most of the time and money is going to be spent in a RFID deployment. Many times a “cheap” tag or solution is selected to save cost upfront only to cost much more on the supporting backend then if they had selected a higher priced product up front. This is where the education part comes in and the customer has to understand the total cost of deployment, not just the tool someone is trying to sell them.

Addressing the software side, let’s face it, “RFID is a Tool”; a location, passage, presence, activation, or a host of other functions can be placed on the triggering capabilities of RFID. So the customer and vendor needs to spend some time value streaming the process map to know what needs to be recorded and what information needs to be passed forward. We use a large cross section of software providers that have a proven track record in these and specific environments. You really need an RFID vendor with Open API’s and industry standard access to data to be cost effective if you want to connect to backend ERP/WMS systems.

Bottom Line is we get involved in hundreds of RFID deployment worldwide every year. Like and good consultant or deployment specialist we test and retest from the time we start to finish. Remaining agnostic to technology and software we make sure we select the correct solution for the customers’ needs. One tool will never fit every need and customers need to understand this. When they are talking to a vendor one question they need to ask is how many different solution and configurations they can provide. A company selling one product format should be honest and let customers know what their product can and cannot do and help educate the customer to the options.

Have fun and go locate something.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Tips for RTLS/RFID Battery Life

Tips for RTLS/RFID Battery LifePhysics cannot be changed; from the moment a battery comes off the production line it starts its life cycle degrading to a dead state where no more power is available. In my observations even the newest high tech rechargeable batteries never seem to match their fresh off the production line capacity after a few discharge / charge cycles. The newest battery designs offer high power and great performance, but when they get to a midpoint in voltage they drain quickly and die abruptly. What is the number one question asked by customers; “How long do the batteries last?” Now the standard answer given to that question by, I would say ninety percent of RFID/ RFID RTLS vendors is two to five years. Wow what a spread, three years, the max life is 250 percent higher than the minimum. Problem is as customers we only hear the five year projection and then wonder why our batteries are dying so soon. Now this is not exactly the vendors fault, you see today’s business climate and operational demands require ROI in Months not Years. This business model puts pressure on the price side of any deployment and focuses more on short term return on investment rather than on the total cost of ownership over as little as a two year period. When you take these figures out over five and ten years the results can be disastrous. (I have real world deployment cost comparisons available if you would like them.) So what happens; the vendor (at the request of the customer) designs the system with the minimum number of tags, locators, and readers required just to cover the read area. Naturally Power Levels on tags, locators, and readers are set as conservatively as possible to save power and extend battery life as well to meet customer expatiations. (Side Note: I just was at another customer last week where this was the problem. After adding a few locators and turning up the transmitting power to a level that would get over the interference and cover the distance of placement the deployment is working flawlessly. Meeting afterwards with the customer describing the issues and resolution action taken the first question asked was; “If you turned up the power how long will the batteries last now? My answer; not as long as they would have in the non-functioning configuration.) So with that out of the way what do you need to do to make that battery last. 1. More tags, locators, and readers, must be added to a deployment to keep communication power levels low enough to stretch battery life. 2. Chose tags to meet your expectations. The smallest tag you can find also means it has less room for the battery system. In most cases regarding batteries, size is directly related to capacity. 3. Tag cost is way down the list when compared to business needs and performance requirements. Lowest cost tag price equates in most cases to not having the newest battery technology onboard, giving you high performance batteries and battery management systems. 4. Balance the business process. In other words only do tag location when it is required by your business. In most tags the “communication scheme” is adjustable. The more talking a tag or locator does the faster the battery drain. 5. Have a Plan, batteries do die. Some vendors offer warranties up to five years (if you pay the maintenance contract) that even cover the battery; others offer a one year warranty that covers everything at no additional cost. Any good vendor should offer a systematic plan for the inevitable battery demise and replacement of these batteries or tag in non-replaceable battery models. 6. Work with a good vendor which will think outside of the box. There are a lot of them in the market and when they run into situations outside of their normal deployments they call me and I blend in other technology to cover the gaps. Over just the last couple years we have used; solar, parasitic power and many other options to extend or eliminate the battery power parameters. Chose wisely and go locate something.