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The Great Recession Spurs RFID Adoption in Europe

Facing tough economic times, private businesses turn to RFID for new efficiencies and cost savings.
By John Edwards
Oct 01, 2010—Most European business owners and managers, like their global counterparts, are seasoned recession fighters. They took the usual steps to cut costs and raise efficiencies, including reducing payrolls and eliminating discretionary spending. But in this historically challenging economic downturn, the usual wasn't good enough to boost profits. So many private enterprises across the continent decided they needed a new approach, and they began fighting the sluggish economy with radio frequency identification technologies.

In 2008, U.K. construction firm Byrne Group implemented RFID to improve management and control of assets at all its construction sites, including London's Olympic Stadium. "The recession was a warning sign that we needed to tighten our worksite practices," says Matthew Preston, the company's IT director. The firm, which was manually tracking assets on its various sites, estimated it was losing £100,000 ($153,000) worth of consumables and other small items annually.

European businesses are deciding that if RFID can provide true value for them, with a very decent ROI, they're going for it. (Illustration: John Hull)
"At Byrne Group, we have to manage and control more than 13,000 items of equipment and tools," Preston says. "We're always looking for a more efficient way to control these assets." He notes that detailed research showed the company that RFID, by providing a holistic approach to asset management, could improve equipment and tool oversight.

Byrne Group now uses an RFID system developed by 4hSolutions of Leicestershire, England, to speed and protect equipment deliveries, as well as to track usage. By issuing RFID-enabled ID badges to its roughly 2,000 employees, the company can maintain an accurate electronic record of which workers use which assets. This enables the firm to prevent unauthorized employees from operating equipment, and to track the consumables used on specific projects. The system can also pinpoint workers who use too many consumable items, or who take an asset and don't return it. "The system generates an end-to-end audit trail with an inspection, maintenance and hire history," Preston says.

The deployment, completed earlier this year, is already showing positive results in the areas of inventory control, accuracy and reduced costs. Before introducing RFID, the company had to process more than 3,200 job cards every year, each reporting an "incident," such as a lost tool. "There has been an 87 percent reduction in job cards processed," Preston says. "Loss and theft of equipment has been halved, and savings of more than £300,000 [$386,000] have been identified."
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