Chances are high that you use radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology every day—yet you probably don’t know how it works or that you’re using it. Do you wave a security card over a turnstile or in front of a door when you arrive at work? Do you zoom through toll booths with an electronic pass you paid for online? Have you ever set off alarms when exiting a department store, only to find the cashier forgot to remove the security tag? Each of these examples illustrates RFID technology in action. The real question records managers should ask is if they can and should use RFID technology to manage physical records.
Whether to invest in RFID is a valid question. After all, it’s not exactly a passing fad. It was patented in 1983, and the roots of the technology go back to 1945, where it served as an espionage tool for the Soviet Union. For years, RFID has been a niche technology used by industries with high-volume asset tracking needs. Companies could justify the high cost of RFID tags by the demand for high-speed automation–think global shipping companies and high-volume retail. But thanks to heavy investments by giants like Walmart, the cost of tags and tag readers has been reduced to a level that’s more accessible to smaller organizations. Because the costs are still higher than traditional barcode processing, you’ll need a compelling case to say yes to RFID. But never fear—you’re about to find out what RIFD can do for you.
If you already use traditional barcodes, you might be wondering why you should bother. Maybe your current processes work just fine for you. There’s no need to fix what isn’t broken, right? Nevertheless, consider these advantages of RFID technology over traditional barcode scanning.
- Range? You Have It: With the right combination of tags and readers, you could read from 8 to 20 feet away, which might save you from that climb on the records center ladder.
- No Line-of-Sight? No Problem: Since RFID does not use lights or lasers to read a tag, you don’t have to see an item to read it. Radio waves harmlessly pass through most materials, except for water and some metals. Depending on the equipment you use, you should be able to read tags on boxes behind other boxes without contending with the box-shelf shuffle.
- More Bang for Your Buck: Rather than just read one item at a time like traditional barcode readers, RFID readers spread the signal out (or all the way around), and all tags in the vicinity respond at once. This feature can save significant time when reading a lot of items; for example, when auditing all items within a records center.
- Save the Treasure Hunt for Jack Sparrow: RFID’s ability to initiate a call-and-response query for records hidden from view means you can search for lost records without digging through each pile of folders on a desk or getting to know the inside of every box in your records center.
- Humans = Optional: Accurately tracking inventory circulation in a storage area usually depends on people. You need a person to hand-sign a checkout log or scan barcodes on records before they’re removed from storage, right? And you need a gate-keeper to track records that go in or out of a storage area properly. Not anymore. Fixed RFID readers mounted to entryways and exits can allow you to pick up tags as they pass by and ensure accurate tracking without human interaction. This functionality might require active RFID tags to ensure signals aren’t obscured. Alternatively, you might simply want to make it easier to scan items. If that’s the case, a fixed reader on a table along with an employee’s RFID-enabled security badge can allow people to log the activity.
- Writable Memory: RFID tags have a small amount of memory that can store additional information about the item it’s referencing. Usually, memory sizes are in the 96-128 bit range but can go as high as 256,000 bits (31.25 kB). This allows storage of additional identifiers, such as ownership and dates. It also means efficiency—you can rewrite the information without reprinting the label.
With all the potential advantages that RIFD can offer, it’s no wonder so many companies are ditching traditional barcode technology for a more “hands-off” method. But new technology comes at a price. So how do you justify making the change? Is RFID cost effective?
What is the bottom line?
The cost of RFID solutions depends on several factors, which include: the type and number of readers, the type and number of tags, the type and number of printers, software licensing costs, and potential consulting needs.
With that caveat, aside, the cost per label has come down significantly in the past few years (from dollars to quarters). Less costly technology means you should be able to get started with an RFID system for less than $13,000 (USD) based on current average costs, type and number of labels, readers, etc. That price should cover one or two mobile readers, a printer, the software for the mobile devices, and up to roughly 5,000 UHF RFID labels (higher quantities means lower cost per label). Okay, so what doesn’t that number include? It doesn’t cover your overall records management system. An equivalent system for traditional barcode processing would typically be less than $8,000.
So, are the added benefits worth 60% more money out of your pocket? Both Motorola and Honeywell provide case studies showing a 50% reduction in time required to receive goods in a warehouse. Motorola’s case study also cites a 100% return on investment for each year the system is used. Let that sink in. It isn’t just a comparison of time saved that makes the technology exciting, but the “hello” to the new capabilities it brings. Need to locate lost records and audit entire storage rooms without records in-hand? Of course you do.
So, if your records management system needs an upgrade, or if you think the benefits could outweigh the costs, it might be time to make a switch to RFID. And, if you have questions about how to implement the new program or you need advice on RFID suppliers, feel free to contact Zasio. We can help you get on your way to a faster, friendlier system.
Disclaimer: The purpose of this post is to provide general education on Information Governance topics. The statements are informational only and do not constitute legal advice. If you have specific questions regarding the application of the law to your business activities, you should seek the advice of your legal counsel.