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Asset Tracking Comes Into its Own

(Image source: Molex)

More than 15 years ago, a large retailer shook up the supply chain industry with an announcement that its top 100 suppliers would start tagging all pallets and cases with passive (RFID) tags. While the technology had been used for years in communications transmission applications, this was the first large-scale instance of RFID as an asset tracking tool.

However, the effort largely flopped. Passive RFID technology—which relies on the clear transmission and reception of radio frequencies—was still in early development and had not yet been used in a supply chain environment. RFID tags were often unreliable in harsh environments and unable to transmit signals through metal containers, and readers only operated at short ranges. Additionally, the back-end software required to process the data collected by readers was simplistic and failed to reach its full potential. The predicted RFID boom did not materialize, and for years most retailers stuck to manual barcode scanning to track assets.

But a lot has changed since 2003, and the maturation of RFID technology—combined with the advent of internet-connected devices and digital analytic software—has revolutionized asset tracking in unexpected ways. Molex’s robust RFID solutions—including ruggedized tags and reliable readers—showcase how far the technology has evolved over the years, and how it will shape supply chain operations in the years to come.

Components Built for the Job

Alien ALR-H460 Android Portable Ruggedized Computer for Data Collection. (Image source: Molex)

Alien ALR-F800-X Enterprise RFID Reader with Emissary. (Image source: Molex)

Following the initial rollouts of passive RFID tags in warehouses and factories, it became clear that tags needed to be able to stick around to do their job—literally. Today’s ruggedized RFID tags, such as the solutions Molex offers through Digi-Key, prioritize longevity by encasing the components in robust plastic and using a specialized adhesive, which ensures the tag will not be knocked off or disrupted by debris or extreme temperatures.

RFID readers have come a long way, too. Molex has worked with Alien Technology to develop readers, offered through Digi-Key, that include the software needed to gather, organize and analyze RFID tag data. Such readers are often also equipped with edge service, enabling an elegant two-in-one solution that reduces both downtime and network infrastructure.

Tech-Fueled Advances in RFID

Passive RFID tags—which send signals only when in range of an RFID reader—have become the go-to asset-tracking technology in supply chains. Fixed readers can be strategically situated on doorways or warehouse checkpoints to log an asset’s whereabouts at key points along its supply chain journey. Passive RFID is often used in industries such as food and beverage, oil and gas, medical, and automotive.

Molex RFID Tags. (Image source: Molex)

In addition to passive, there is also active tracking, which provides robust monitoring capabilities. Active tracking has taken the technology to the next level and gives stakeholders a well-rounded and constantly updated picture of high-value assets. The software ensures consistent and reliable information, and active tags are battery powered, often integrating low-energy Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or Ethernet capabilities that constantly gather and transmit critical data. The resulting real-time data ensures customers can easily access, manage and analyze the whereabouts of their assets, whether those assets are moving or at a standstill.

Shaping the Future of Companies

With the variety of asset tracking solutions now available for a growing number of industries, it helps to have experienced suppliers like Digi-Key and Molex identify the right combination of technologies to address pain points, whether that’s losing assets during transit, locating tools within a warehouse, or resolving inventory issues.

It is evident that asset tracking capabilities increase when combined with other technologies, and those possibilities will only continue to grow as more operations integrate IIoT solutions into their facilities. Asset tracking will grow more important than ever as the data collected can be analyzed by advanced software that can identify trends that will increase operational efficiency and cost effectiveness.

While the retail industry’s initial efforts to make RFID the new gold standard in asset tracking floundered in the early 2000s, the technology has persisted with the help of organizations like Molex and Digi-Key, which have made rugged and reliable RFID components readily available.

Today, the promise of asset tracking technology is becoming fully realized across a wide variety of applications, and it is quickly developing into a key component of future-facing supply chains.

Learn more about the Molex RFID tags and Readers available at Digi-Key.

About this author

Image of Mauricio Ardila

Specializing in asset tracking and digital analytics, Business Development Manager Mauricio Ardila started his tenure with Molex 4 years ago. Developing customized asset tracking solutions is something that he enjoys. An MBA in International business, a BS degree in systems management, with experience in product development, sales and marketing, supply chain management and business consulting, Mauricio’s experience serves as a resource to both internal and external customers. Spending quality time with family and traveling are things he enjoys.

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