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How to Select a Real-Time Locating System

These four steps will help you determine the most cost-efficient solution for managing assets and improving the bottom line.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Dec 14, 2009—Real-time locating systems (RTLSs)—which employ RFID tags to automatically identify assets and individuals, as well as determine their locations in real or near-real time—have come of age. The benefits have been proven: RTLS technology improves visibility, which, in turn, enables companies and organizations to save money, manage assets, reduce labor, and boost safety and security. In addition, industry standards related to RTLSs have been ratified in recent years, enabling supply chain partners to share information.

Today, RTLSs are being employed in a wide range of industries, from defense to health care, logistics and manufacturing. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) alone is investing nearly $430 million in the technology, to track cargo and assets as they move around the world, including through war zones.

As RTLS technology matured, more RFID vendors entered the market (see the table below). The good news is that now there's a solution to meet your business needs. The problem is finding it among the many different options available. A wide range of RFID tags—from simple, low-cost, ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) passive RFID labels to sophisticated, high-cost active tags with embedded sensors—can be used as part of an RTLS. Some systems use ultra-wideband (UWB) technology, while some are based on the Wi-Fi standard and others employ proprietary protocols.

Click here to view a larger version of the table.

In this guide, we will explain what you need to know to choose an RTLS that's right for your company. The above table, listing several RTLS providers, can help you narrow your choices by technology, industry and application. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution, since every company has its own unique requirements and circumstances. In some cases, you might need a combination of hardware and software technologies.

Keep in mind that while you may be interested in an RTLS for a specific application, the solution can provide multiple benefits. For example, Genesis Health System, in Davenport, Iowa, deployed a Wi-Fi-based RTLS from AeroScout to track assets, such as infusion pumps, wheelchairs and stretchers. Now the firm is leveraging the system to respond more quickly to natural disasters or other emergencies (see Genesis Health System Uses RFID to Drill Deeper). Similarly, Transmed Foods, an exporter of olive products from growers in Morocco and Spain, deployed an RTLS to improve the visibility of its products in transit. The system saves labor and enables the company to optimize its inventory levels, while also deterring theft and counterfeiting (see GPRS-GPS Tags Help Shippers Fight Theft, Reduce Costs).
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