Asset Tracking: Material Handling Benefits

June 1, 2009
Pivotal asset management technology helps companies stay in business during difficult economic times.

The material handling and manufacturing sectors have grown increasingly competitive over recent years due to worldwide competition, excess capacity and eroding profit margins. To thrive in the current conditions, today's material handling businesses need to minimize staff and equipment downtime to stay lean and competitive.

Asset tracking supports material handling organizations by offering the ability to maximize staff and equipment output through accurately locating and redeploying existing equipment, limiting the need to buy or produce replacements, reducing labor costs, improving profits and increasing customer satisfaction.

Asset tracking helps ensure products arrive at the right location, at the right time and in the right condition.

Today, there are two primary technologies used for asset tracking: barcodes and RFID.

Using barcode technology, material handling operations can minimize time monitoring the progress of shipments through manufacturing environments and across a transport network.

Barcodes enable tracking of individual consignments and automatically capture product movement data at dispatch points, on packing lines, in warehouses and at delivery points. This allows transport providers and their customers to know precisely when goods are shipped, where they are in the transport pipeline and when they will be delivered.

The value of the barcode lies in its accuracy and efficiency. It is an incredibly robust, reliable technology that costs virtually pennies to produce and yields high return on investment.

Coupling barcode technology with an asset tracking system enables organizations to identify fixed and portable assets — including vehicles, tools, machinery and other plant equipment. Asset information is recorded via a handheld barcode reader, which has a pre-programmed interrogation system enabling the user to collate data efficiently, accurately and in an organized format.

While traditional equipment like barcodes and barcode readers are still often relied upon for asset tracking purposes, recent advances in RFID technology offer material handling operations powerful asset tracking benefits in a variety of settings.

RFID can offer unique benefits within asset tracking environments, as the technology can be faster and more accurate than barcodes because it is automated, and thus does not depend on people to scan tags. RFID can also be read in transport environments where barcode labels are difficult to read or in harsh environments where tags must be made of materials that cannot accept a barcode.

Employing RFID technology in an asset tracking process can achieve more than financial gains. RFID offers efficiency gains, improved productivity and visibility, higher speeds, greater accuracy and better customer service.

Importantly, RFID technology's ability to track and trace parts through the supply chain offers real benefits to material handling professionals in manufacturing and distribution who must trace the genealogy of their products or provide lifetime identification. In the aviation industry, for example, if positive identification and lifetime service records — including data on the manufacturer and production process — are not available for a part, the aircraft cannot fly. Misidentification and recordkeeping errors could potentially cost airlines millions of dollars in unnecessary replacement costs.

Having accurate product genealogy data can provide a big boost to service and reduce returns and recalls. Manufacturers and resellers can detect and prevent ineligible service claims with an RFID system that enables them to uniquely identify otherwise look-alike parts.

The ID information can also verify that items being returned for credit rightfully belong to the registered user. Linking individual part numbers with customers also enables companies to conduct narrow, targeted recalls. The data can also limit liability exposure and provide valuable service and maintenance evidence if product performance is in dispute.

Food and beverage manufacturers and distributors can also take advantage of the automated reading and group selection functionality of RFID to identify and locate products affected by a recall.

Using RFID to capture serial numbers or lot codes automatically on cartons processed at distribution centers provides a new level of traceability without requiring time-consuming manual data collection.

Asset tracking services focus on acquiring more accurate data to deliver timely information, which in turn, allows material handling professionals to deliver a better return on investment.

The most important factor in the decision to employ asset tracking in an operation is not necessarily based only on the cost of assets. Rather, it's the cost of not knowing the location and number of those assets.

Dan Drum is the president and managing director of Hardcat, a global provider of asset management software and services. Learn more at

Control Assets from Anywhere

Kennedy Group's new eP360 combines real-time materials-control software with RFID- and browser-based technology to collect, assemble, integrate and deliver asset-movement data through the Internet. Assets are tagged and antennas strategically placed at read points. As tags are read, the data is transmitted to a centralized Web server. The turnkey solution's information is accessible from anywhere there's access to the Web-based portal.

“Whether it's pallets or totes or reusable trays, putting a passive RFID tag on the item is only a partial solution to track resources,” observes Patrick Kennedy, vice president of marketing and sales. “By coupling the information to an intelligent software tracking tool, companies are finally able to access the data that allows them to effectively manage their capital expenses.” Learn more at