Chuck Thompson, the company’s vice
president of sales and marketing. Wi-Fi
tags can tell an access point when an
item leaves the building, but they aren’t
as precise as the combination of RFID
and optical RTLS.
“Generally, the more location
precision you require, the more
expensive the tag,” Thompson said.
Active RFID tags add an asset-management headache of their own:
How to replace their batteries after
two to five years.
Then there’s software to consider.
Miklovic said RFID-compatible
manufacturing asset management
systems and tracking software
tends to be from niche and midsized
vendors, though he expects the
market to consolidate. Tag and reader
hardware, despite the smorgasbord
of frequencies and standards, is more
settled. He recommends applying
due diligence to the application layer
and buying niche solutions with
full awareness that they could get
absorbed and become obsolete.
What’s more, enterprise resource
planning (ERP) suites lack robust
support because demand has yet
“The problem is it’s not hardware that
solves the problem,” Miklovic said. “It’s
the software and the information.”
So to improve business processes,
companies need to integrate their ERP
and production systems with their asset-
RFID tags are touted as “portable
databases,” and while much
information can remain on the tags, its
full value may not be realized without
data management efforts, such as a
new repository or integration with ERP.
Without it, RFID may not give adequate
visibility to assets, or another island of
automation will be created, according
It helps that most of today’s RFID
deployments are closed loop, where
standards can be controlled and
networks can be unified. Zimmerman
said it also makes the business case
more visible and easier to articulate.
J.B. Hunt honors safe drivers
J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc.
of Lowell, Ark., one of the largest
supply chain solutions providers in
North America, recently recognized
77 J.B. Hunt drivers who achieved
two, three and four million safe miles
driven within the past year. The drivers,
Information on the bin’s tag can be
updated to mark completion of steps
in the manufacturing process. Weight
sensors on the conveyor can determine
when items have been placed inside
Sorting through manufacturing
asset management technology
The next step is to determine which
RFID tags, readers and supporting
infrastructure will provide the necessary
locational and item data at the lowest
possible cost. The choices are
bewildering. Read ranges and data rates
generally increase with radio frequency
(from a low of 125 KHz to a high of 5. 8
GHz), Zimmerman said, and devices
vary in their ability to penetrate metals
Passive tags get their power from
the RFID reader’s electromagnetic
field, so they’re the cheapest, but they
also have the shortest range. Active
tags have their own battery-powered
transmitters and longer ranges but
The pricing that has made RFID
tags cost effective for high-value
items in the retail and pharmaceutical
industries has not produced a similar
tipping point in manufacturing,
according to Miklovic.
“We haven’t seen the price of the
cheap tags get cheap enough that you
can put them on everything,” he said,
adding that the most popular, 900-MHz
passive tags now go for as little as 10 to
15 cents. At the same time, active tags
don’t do enough for their $25 to $100
price to justify widespread deployment
inside factories and warehouses, though
they have taken hold in transportation
Bar codes will continue to make
sense for items that don’t require much
data and can be read easily by a scanner
with clear line of sight, experts said.
“If I’m just going to use a ‘nameplate’
and I just need some identifier, there
are lots of solutions where a bar
code is going to solve the problem,”
Other technologies offer some of
RFID’s benefits. Wi-Fi access points
and asset tags can eliminate the need
for dedicated RFID readers, and optical
real-time location systems (RTLS) can
track the locations of lift trucks and
containers to within inches.
Rush Tracking Systems, a
consultant and integrator, often
combines Wi-Fi with RFID. Passive
tags running at 840-960 MHz on the
ultra-high-frequency (UHF) band and
Wi-Fi together form the sweet spot
because of their proven standards, said
(Safe drivers continued on page 22)
the delivery schedule into an onboard
computer. The driver may also be given
a hard copy of the delivery schedule.
The driver then closes the door to the
cargo space and departs.
When the cargo space door is
closed, the transceiver receives cargo
unit identifying information from the
RFID tags carried by each cargo unit.
An initial inventory of units in the cargo
space is created in the computer’s
memory. On arrival at the first delivery
location, the driver stops, opens the
cargo access door, and removes
those units designated by the delivery
schedule at that location.
The driver may, at the same time,
receive from the customer additional
packages or cargo units, each bearing
an RFID tag for delivery elsewhere. The
vehicle operator places the incoming
cargo units in the cargo space and
closes the access door. The door closure
registers the new cargo inventory in
the memory of the on-board computer.
The computer then compares the new
inventory with the initial inventory and
identifies the differences between them.
A difference report reviews the
delivery schedule for that location. If
there is an inconsistency between the
two, an alarm alerts the driver of the
mistaken delivery so the error can be
corrected before the vehicle leaves.
(This article was reported by
Unibloc-Pump buys German firm
Unibloc-Pump Inc. of Marietta, Ga.,
has acquired the German manufacturer
R&H GmbH, the company said.
Founded in 1984, Unibloc-Pump
is a manufacturer of sanitary pumps,
strainers and valves.
“Our current challenge as a growing
company is to reach an increasingly
globalized market. This acquisition
sets us up for our next big step,” the
company said in a press release.
With the acquisition of R&H GmbH,
Unibloc-Pump – along with its sister
company Unibloc-Pump AG – will
become the European market leader for
road tanker pumps, the company said.
The combined companies will serve the
liquid foods, chemicals, acids, oil and
liquid waste markets, according to
Use of RFID depends on
From its inception, radio frequency
identification (RFID) has had a
questionable role in a world accustomed
to cheap, convenient bar codes. Despite
plummeting costs, the old advice
remains valid: Use RFID only on items
that justify the premium price.
Manufacturers are increasingly finding
the answer in RFID asset management.
By attaching RFID tags to such high-value assets as tank trailers, containers,
tools and raw materials, factory
managers can avoid waste, theft and
In more sophisticated applications,
they can streamline work in process
(WIP) and follow finished goods to the
loading dock and beyond. They can
even improve productivity by monitoring
the work habits of drivers.
Getting started with RFID
Where to begin? Successful
implementations put technology at the
service of business goals and not the
other way around.
“The key question is what decisions
are they looking to make that are above
and beyond what they can achieve with
existing identification technologies,”
said Tim Zimmerman, a principal
analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based
To find out, manufacturers must
scrutinize their business processes for
areas where an RFID tag, perhaps with
a temperature or vibration sensor, could
provide just the right information at the
right time to improve the process.
“Otherwise, it ends up being a
very expensive bar-code solution,”
Another early step is to identify
those assets that provide the most
“It depends on what their definition of
‘asset’ is,” said Dan Miklovic, a research
vice president at Gartner. “A slab of steel
in a steel factory is an asset.”
The asset might also be a large
pump in need of servicing, or a bin
moving along an assembly line. An
attached RFID tag can identify the
contents and confirm they are at the
correct station as they pass through
“portals” of fixed RFID readers or
are scanned with hand-held readers.