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RFID in Force at Asset Management Expo

Attendees at the inaugural Asset Management Conference & Expo in San Diego heard first-hand accounts of how RFID and other technologies can improve asset utilization and maintenance applications.
Feb 27, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

February 27, 2007—While RFID use in the supply chain has primarily been mandate-driven, asset management is an application where the technology has been embraced by end users right from the start. Attendees at The Clarion Group's inaugural Asset Management Conference & Expo in San Diego last week got to hear firsthand accounts of how RFID, two-dimensional (2D) bar coding, and direct part marking (DPM) can improve asset utilization and maintenance.

Asset management is an increasingly important function across industries as business struggles to comply with the requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), cargo security regulations, and other industry mandates, all while improving operational performance. As more companies make asset and maintenance operations a priority, a growing number of technology companies are now targeting the space.

"We are told we are bean counters until something goes wrong," said Douglas Goetz, a professor of contract and property management at the Defense Acquisition University and national editor of The Property Professional, who delivered the event keynote.

The show was held at the San Diego Convention Center from February 20th to 22nd and was co-located with the UID Forum, a US Department of Defense-sponsored educational event centered on the DoD's Unique Identification (UID) requirements. The 185 attendees and 20-plus exhibitors mingled freely in the shared exhibit space with more than 500 UID attendees and 30 exhibitors.

The show kicked off with a pre-conference technology review workshop on the 20th that covered enabling technologies used in asset management applications -- everything from RFID to enterprise asset management (EAM) software. Goetz's talk set the tone for the rest of the conference, which focused on the convergence of technology with the increasing demand for asset data.

These cross-industry concerns were reflected in the variety of associations on hand at the show: the International Association of Information Technology Asset Managers (IAITAM), National Property Management Association (NPMA), National Contract Management Association (NCMA), Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA), Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG), and EPCglobal.

RFID projects in other segments, like retail, have often remained in the pilot phase because they require broad trading partner adoption to achieve a return on investment (ROI). End users in the asset management space, however, have been able to forge ahead with successful, closed-loop deployments that pay for themselves relatively quickly.

"Asset management is a labor intensive activity," said Pankaj Shukla, director of RFID business development at Motorola. "RFID can save you a tremendous amount of that labor."

Given the proximity to the UID Forum, defense applications were well represented in the conference program. Savi Technology was on hand to explain its Total Asset Visibility Network, which the DoD uses to track cargo containers around the globe. Mark Reboulet, Air Force automatic identification technology (AIT) program manager, outlined how the Air Force is using a combination of active RFID and sensor technology to monitor the condition of missiles in storage, and how RFID and 2D bar codes are used to manage ammunition. In addition, several bases are planning to deploy real-time location systems (RTLS) to track ground equipment.

Lift truck manufacturer Crown Equipment Corp, meanwhile, is saving an average of $230 per day by automating its tool crib operations using the CribMaster inventory control system and Accu-Port RFID portal from WinWare of Marietta, Georgia. The portal is able to track employee ID badges and RFID-tagged tool and equipment bags as they enter and leave the crib. Since deploying the system, the company has reduced its daily average inventory usage by more than 20 percent.

Some of these projects used a mix of technologies, such as the asset tracking pilot now underway at Hospital Corporation of America (HCA Inc.), which is using a combination of 2D bar codes and RFID to track assets at its Capital Regional Medial Center in Tallahassee, Florida. The hospital was already using a 433 MHz active RFID system from Virginia-based Agility Healthcare Solutions to track things like IV pumps and wheelchairs. Bar coding will be used for assets like surgical tools that are less RF-friendly, and also as a back-up identifier in conjunction with the RFID system.

An even larger medical application is the system deployed by the Navy Expeditionary Medical Support Command (NEMSCOM) to track thousands of items in its 10 pre-positioned, 500-bed fleet hospitals. These hospitals are moved and deployed to different locations, which presented a significant asset management challenge to the Navy. Consulting firm Bruno Associates developed a tracking system that uses linear and 2D bar codes, contact memory buttons, and RFID tags.

The variety of technologies used in these applications was striking -- both active and passive RFID, global positioning system (GPS) technology, bar codes, and RTLS systems have all been deployed, sometimes by the same end user. "You need to know what you want to accomplish with your assets before you look at a technology," Reboulet said.
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