RFID Technology Adds a New Level of Productivity to EAM Systems

By David Sims
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Managing an enterprise’s assets requires strict policies, disciplined operations, and labor-intensive inventory audits -- regular inventory audits are required as part of compliance with such laws as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 as well. Enterprise asset management (EAM) systems help achieve those objectives, and when radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology is integrated into EAM systems, it greatly enhances asset tracking, maintenance, and repair operations.

RFID uses small electronic chips not much bigger than a grain of rice to convey information wirelessly. They can be read at short distances or across a football field. Unlike barcodes, RFID tags don’t need to be in a direct line of sight to be read.

The technology received a huge publicity boost in 2003 when Wal-Mart, seeking to find efficiencies in its supply chain, required its top suppliers to use RFID on all shipments. RFID never really met lofty expectations in retail supply chain management, for Wal-Mart or others, but it did prove useful in manufacturing, as well as enterprise asset tracking. In a study published in SmartPlanet, Carlo Nizam, the RFID overseer for aircraft manufacturer Airbus, said RFID tags are used to “track and streamline” the company’s far-flung manufacturing operations.

“Today we build the A380 in different assembly sites, so what did we do? We put RFID on aircraft subassemblies in the plants and sensors all over the world,” Nizam explained to SmartPlanet. “We saw what sections were where and for how long. Then we judged that against how we wanted it to be done… I can see assembly time on every wing being manufactured.”

And RFID has found wide usefulness in EAM. RFTrail, a maker of RFID components and systems, notes in a white paper that EAM systems can incorporate RFID for real-time asset location, “delivered as an automatic email or text message alert when certain assets are moved. As an asset approaches an exit or doorway that is deemed unauthorized, an email or text message is sent to a predetermined list of managers.”

Another way to integrate RFID into an EAM system is compartmenting, which RFTrail describes as “tracking and managing of an entire data center system asset such as a multi-rack level enterprise switching system or server blade system as a whole,” as well as “the individual racked components of that entire system.”

This can mean using RFID to track individual server blades or switcher line-cards, to view “the relationship between the individual components and the complete functioning system,” which as RFTrail officials note, “greatly enhances information clarity for audits and regulatory compliance.”

RFID can also integrate tracking of “office, cubicle, asset storage room, server room, lab or data center rack” assets for an EAM system, allowing rapid auditing automatically or by a hand-held reader. “An audible Geiger Counter is selectable on Smart Mobile readers,” the paper explains, adding that this mode “lets an auditor use the varying sound level to hone in on a missing or misplaced tagged asset of interest until the missing asset is found.”

RFID can also be programmed to tell the EAM system when certain assets -- or badged employees -- enter or leave an area, making spot auditing and resource allocation much faster and more accurate. In fact, the RFTrail paper found, “Managers using industry-standard passive tag RFID-based asset tracking systems surveyed by RFTrail reported an average decrease in time required to audit of 89 percent.”

Ficus Software Services is another vendor of RFID-enabled products and services. A white paper written recently by Ficus notes that for inventory management, which is a part of EAM, when a company has the same items in different warehouses or locations, RFID tags alert the system when an order is received from a customer and help determine which warehouse is best to ship an order from according to the company’s own predetermined criteria.

RFID then feeds back into the EAM system which items have been shipped from which warehouse. Replenishment information can be fed into the EAM system in the same way.

Maintenance is another important part of EAM, and RFID can help there as well. A couple of months ago, RFID Journal reported that Milano Malpensa Airport integrated RFID technology into its maintenance and repair tracking system, deploying 50,000 RFID tags -- “one for every object or area that requires servicing, including fire extinguishers, electrical panels, bathrooms, moving walkways, and elevators.”

The system allows airport staff to use mobile phones or tablets to read the tags and create “a record of which services are being provided, as well as any exceptions encountered (such as identifying another problem that must be addressed, or a part that needs to be ordered).”

As RFID Journal explained, when a staff worker encounters an item such as a bathroom faucet or a light that needs maintenance, the worker “taps his or her mobile phone against a tag associated with that item,” and the EAM system “identifies the item and creates a service request,” whereupon management routes the request to the appropriate service provider. All this takes less than a minute, compared to the 24 hours usually required for written reports to be handled.

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