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.