Products & Solutions

Methods of Asset Tracking

Asset Tracking with Barcodes

A barcode is an optical, machine-readable, representation of data. Traditional barcodes represent data with parallel lines of varying the widths and spacing. There are also two-dimensional (2D) variants that use rectangles, dots, hexagons and other geometric patterns, called matrix codes or 2D barcodes. Barcodes can be scanned by a variety of devices, most commonly optical scanners called barcode readers. Application software for devices is also available for smart phones that reads the barcodes as images.

Barcodes are one of the most recognizable forms of asset allocation in the consumer market, where it is used in a lot of applications for inventory management, such as on packaging at stores, to reward cards, and more. Barcoding is easy and inexpensive compared to other forms of asset allocation. However, there are a few shortcomings:

  • Barcodes are ideal for situations where the location of an object is known and easily accessible to a barcode scanner.
  • As all the data is accessed via a visual representation of data, any slight damage or visual interference to the barcode will result in data being inaccessible.
  • Often accomplished with small barcode stickers, these are prone to fall off and become detached. It can also be very tedious to update barcode data, and can generally only be accomplished by manually applying a completely new barcode.  For these reasons, barcodes are often not the ideal solution for harsh environments. 

Asset Tracking with Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID)

An RFID system is composed of four main parts:

  1. An RFID tag is a piece that is physically attached to an asset – generally smaller in size and affixed with either screws or adhesive. The tag has two main functions: First, it stores important identifiable information about the object, such as its name or any other parameters. Second, it is able to wirelessly communicate this information in coordination with RF signals that come from an RFID antenna.
  2. RFID antennas generate a field of RF waves, which interact with the internal components of RFID tags so that information can be written and/or read from the tags. An antenna has a specific, and sometimes customizable, read zone, in which the RFID tags can be physically detected.
  3. The antenna sends the results of the RF signals to and from an RFID reader, which then processes, and decodes that data so that it interfaces with a software application.
  4. RFID software allows the user to read, visualize, and apply additional logic to the RFID data. The user can also make changes to the information stored on the tag through the software.

RFID offers several benefits over other methods of asset tracking, such as:

  • Remotely updatable: Because RFID waves can be used to both read and write data to the RFID tags, it is a far less-manual process to update the data that exists within each tag.
  • More data storage: The internal components of RFID tags allow for several thousand characters of data to be stored, in contrast to the limited number of characters capable in 2D barcodes.
  • No visual line of site needed: While an RFID tag must exist within an active RFID field in order to be detected, it can exist in any position within the three-dimensional field and does not require visual line of site. This makes RFID more resilient to visual obstructions or changes in physical positioning of each object. Also, because the tags do not need to be physically exposed

Asset Tracking with NFC (Near Field Communication)

NFC is a type of communication protocol between two electronic devices, one of which is usually a portable device, such as a smartphone, that communicates when the devices are brought within a distance of around 4 cm of each other. Usually, the two devices "tap" each other and then the transfer of information occurs. NFC is common in applications such as:

  • Commerce, where it is used for payment in such things as credit cards or through phones (iPay, Google pay, etc…)
  • Social networking (for things like sharing images, files, etc…)
  • Identity and access tokens

Asset Tracking With GPS

GPS makes it possible to globally track assets using satellite systems that allow for triangulation of the position of a device on the earth’s surface. Each individual devices receive signals from satellites in order to determine their own precise location. This is the kind of technology that is used for cell phone positioning.

GPS can be unreliable in certain environments because it requires having clear access to several satellites at once in order to function. This makes it non-ideal for situations like when a train enters a tunnel, or when objects are stacked on top of one another, such as with metal shipping containers this is a form of inventory management.

Asset Tracking With Bluetooth

Bluetooth is a technology for exchanging data over short distances from fixed and mobile devices and building personal area networks (PANs). Bluetooth is a packet-based protocol with a master/slave architecture, which is communication where one device or process has unidirectional control over one or more other device. One Bluetooth device can communicate with up to seven devices. Bluetooth was not originally designed for asset allocation, and while it has been used, is not often the ideal solution.

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