What factors determine how well the technology can be used for this purpose?
Yes, RFID can help reduce the loss of tools (see A Guide to RFID Tool-Tracking Solutions and How Can RFID Prevent Tool Theft?). Many factors are involved, such as the set-up of your facilities, your procedures and so forth.
Your best bet would be to use a tool crib, in which all tools would have an RFID transponder that cannot be removed (see CribMaster Adds RTLS Functionality to Its Tool-Tracking Solutions). The crib must have a passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) reader set up at the gate, so it can identify each tool that leaves the crib. Every employee and contractor should be given an ID badge with an embedded passive high-frequency (HF) transponder. When a worker checks out a tool, that person would scan his or her passive UHF badge to open the tool crib gate, and as the tools were removed, the tags would be read, with the serial numbers of those tools linked to the individual employee. Upon returning the tools, the worker would open the gate with his or her badge. The tool tags would be interrogated, and the system would confirm that the individual had returned all items. If a tool were missing, an alert could be sounded. Tool crib managers could also be alerted in the event that a tool remained checked out longer than expected.
Hospitals have been able to prevent the loss of equipment by using real-time location systems (RTLS) based on active RFID technology. An active tag can show the movement of equipment in real time. I have heard hospital executives report that they have reduced the theft of wheelchairs and other devices by setting up alerts for when a tagged asset is near a door or is taken into a bathroom. But RTLS tags cost $50 apiece and are fairly large. This solution would not work for all environments or tools, but it might be worth looking into, depending on your particular situation.
—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal
Is There Any Other Technology Like RFID? »