In previous posts, we’ve looked at the difference between RADAR and LiDAR, and between RADAR and ultrasonic sensors. While there are significant differences between these three types of sensors, they have one thing in common: They are all used to increase safety by identifying and locating both still and moving obstacles relative to the path of a vehicle. RADAR sensors do this by emitting radio waves. LiDAR uses high frequency laser light. Ultrasonic sensors emit high-pitched sound waves.
Like RADAR, RFID is based on the use of radio waves (RFID stands for “radio-frequency identification”). But that’s where the comparison ends. While RADAR is concerned with the position of a vehicle relative to other vehicles and objects, RFID is an identification technology designed to provide companies with data on the location and disposition of the vehicle itself as well as, in many cases, the vehicle’s operator and contents.
RFID is often compared to—and often confused with—barcodes. A barcode carries data in a visible symbol and is read by a barcode scanner using optical or infrared wavelengths. An RFID tag carries data programmed into a small computer chip and operates at a wide range of radio frequencies. RFID transmissions take place at very fast speeds and, unlike barcodes, without the need for line of sight.
The tag is activated by radio waves emitted from an RFID reader. When the reader activates the tag wirelessly, the tag sends data stored in its memory relating to the item to the reader. A prime example of this is when construction or transport equipment approaches a gated area. RFID technology enables the equipment and its operator if properly authorized, to gain automatic entry to the site without the need for time-consuming communication between personnel. The event information can then be fed into the IT systems, including yard management and WMS, to accomplish a variety of tasks from equipment and personnel location management to load management.
Once the equipment is inside the area, RFID can make sure that, for instance, a truck goes to the right loading dock, loading bay, or filling station. It can make sure that the right tractor is connected to the right trailer. It can check loads of curtain-sided vehicles without the need to lift the curtain. If an operator needs to carry multiple trailers, RFID can determine which loads need to travel together and make sure the operator does not leave with the wrong trailers. Ford has used RFID technology to make sure its mobile mechanics bring—and return—all the tools they need for specific equipment repairs. RFID can also be used on toll roads to connect a piece of equipment with that vehicles toll account so the operator can continue driving without having to stop and pay tolls.
Mining operations are also expanding their use of RFID. Mounted on individual pieces of equipment, RFID tags can be used to closely track that equipment as it moves throughout the mining site. By mounting RFID readers on crushers or wherever trucks dump their loads, the technology can also monitor cycle times and overall equipment productivity. Managers can use the data to view and analyze load activity and a chronological summary of all loads on a given day. With RFID tags mounted on transport equipment, the readers can provide a detailed summary of all activity for that equipment as well. The data can help management identify equipment that is not performing as expected, where there are bottlenecks in movement or gaps in productivity, and can identify operators who are under- or over-reporting their work.
While RFID and RADAR play very different roles in equipment optimization, they both contribute to the overall improvement of connectivity, which is one of the fastest evolving aspects of the business. The goal is to move all elements of the supply chain into an age of data dependency, implemented by the use of a broad range of data-gathering sensors, the Internet of Things, and cloud-based applications. The journey, like so many other technological changes, will not be completed tomorrow. But the gains in productivity these sensors can deliver is available today.