Sky-Trax, Inc.

The Alternative to RFID’s Incomplete Success

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Courtesy of Sky-Trax, Inc.

For years, the material handling and logistics communities have looked toward RFID for solutions to track movable assets indoors. Countless millions of dollars and years of development invested in RFID have sometimes ended in disappointment and frustration. Unlike the fabled story of the Emperor who wore no clothes, RFID often adorns part of the solution, but falls short of delivering its full expected potential. It would seem that the Emperor may be missing his belt and suspenders.

RFID has always presented great customer appeal, with its promise of reliable and consistent data capture, and a wide variety of end-uses and operating environments. RFID projects have produced well documented results for unit load identification, carton and item identification, and more recently, Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS).  So long as customers research the technology, gain formal training, identify key engineering issues, and carefully procure or develop applications, actual results will fall in line with expectations. But RFID systems often represent major investments and somewhere along the project approval path, technical details regarding imperfect read rates, variability of environmental factors, and questionable data accuracy are smoothed over, and by project end, results do not match expectations.

Specifically, buyer’s remorse can be felt in critical moments post-installation, when small technical problems and hidden challenges are suddenly revealed. As a case in point, RF transponders that function well on pallet loads of paper products may be unreadable on steel drums. Radio waves traveling between the transceivers and tags can reflect or attenuate due to the nearby materials; for example, metal objects that heavily influence radio propagation directly influence tag readability.  Imperfect read rates result, and distort or degrade the data collection process.

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