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William Frick Offers Municipalities a Low-Cost Solution for Tracking City Assets

The tag manufacturer has released an RFID-based solution designed to let municipalities, utilities, industrial companies or hospitals monitor equipment using software loaded on a handheld reader, without requiring integration with a back-end system.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 14, 2013

Municipalities typically have hundreds of thousands of assets that they must manage and keep in proper working order, including fire hydrants, signs and traffic lights. Government employees are often dispatched twice annually to inspect each unit, record the inspection results and itemize any maintenance work completed during that task. Frequently, workers are equipped with a pen and paper, and information must be manually typed into a computer system at a later date.

The above process is time-consuming and error-prone, however. Therefore, RFID solution provider William Frick & Co. has released a radio frequency identification system to identify items being inspected, and to electronically track the services or maintenance performed on a particular asset for municipalities or utility companies. The SmartCAT Asset Tracking System, released this month, consists of a ruggedized handheld passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID reader, software loaded on that device to manage the collected data, and Frick's SmartMARK UHF RFID tags. Peripheral equipment, such as a USB charging stand, a spare battery and a user guide, are also included.

A SmartCAT handheld device interrogates a hydrant's RFID tag.

The handheld comes with a built-in bar-code scanner, a digital camera, GPS functionality and a keypad for inputting data, along with the passive UHF RFID reader. With the solution in place, cities or utility companies can simply attach tags to items they wish to manage and then begin reading those tags, without requiring their IT department to perform software integration.

During the past few years, Frick had found that many potential customers, particularly municipalities, wanted to apply its ruggedized UHF tags to their assets for the purposes of inspection and inventory management. However, the company reports, gaining the necessary approvals for their IT department to integrate the technology with existing software often caused obstacles.

"They found the ROI [return on investment] for use of tags was there, but to implement an RFID system, they had to go back to the IT department," says John Poplawski, William Frick and Co.'s product-development manager. So Frick—which previously supplied RFID tags, rather than readers—developed a full solution that would be low-cost but not require integration with a user's own management system.

The technology is currently being tested by a U.S. municipality that has asked to remain unnamed. The use of RFID offers a more efficient and less error-prone solution for data collection, according to David Trebacz, William Frick's marketing director. Most small or mid-sized municipalities assign personnel equipped with a ledger or a pad of paper to visit hydrants or other assets, write down details and then bring that paperwork to the office, where the asset-managing staff input that information into a spreadsheet or other software. "We wanted to introduce a technology that eliminates the need for paperwork," Poplawski states.

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