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Three ways RFID falls short when it comes to vehicle tracking

Automotive industry veterans have heard it all before. For the last 30 years, Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) technology has been “The Next Big Thing” in asset tracking.

And that sentiment really says it all because, by any estimation, 30 years is a terribly long time for a technology to be on the brink of having its moment in the sun—and still be waiting.

Now, this isn’t to say that RFID doesn’t have its uses. In manufacturing environments, RFID tags can be attached to specialist tooling and returnable packaging. In grocery stores, RFID tags serve as anti-theft devices for high-value items. Go through a road toll, and an RFID tag on the windscreen automatically identifies your vehicle, initiating billing without requiring drivers to stop, wind down their car window, and pay a human in a booth.

But in many application areas where RFID was expected to be a game changer, the truth is that RFID still isn’t a major-league technology in those areas. And it never will be.

Case in point: the downstream finished vehicle supply chain. RFID was supposed to transform this industry, but vehicle visibility is still an issue. Let’s look at three reasons why.

1. RFID solves the wrong problem

Successful RFID deployments are observed in scenarios where assets pass specific fixed points. Examples include returnable packaging reaching marshaling points or stores, grocery store checkouts, toll booths, and assembly lines.

And the reason for RFID’s success in these applications is easy to understand: when an asset passes those fixed points, the act is detected and recorded automatically. No human has to do anything—and inventory records can’t be corrupted by humans forgetting or doing something incorrectly. Plus, there are obvious efficiency savings.

And as well as being captured automatically, the data is captured fairly reliably, too. As long as an RFID tag is physically present, its data is consistently read unless significant metal interference exists in the immediate surroundings, which may cause missed scans or read errors.

But in vehicle yards, the requirement is different. In vehicle yards, the goal is to capture an individual vehicle’s current location.

The fact that the vehicle in question passed through an RFID gate 250 yards away is helpful and better than nothing, but that might still only narrow the vehicle’s location down to being one of 5,000 vehicles in the corner of the yard, which is far from the same as being able to pinpoint its position to a specific location.

2. For automotive applications, RFID requires hefty infrastructure investment

RFID technology is certainly an advancement over barcode technology, although it is relatively more expensive than the low cost of using paper or cards and printing barcodes on them.

But that superior performance comes at a price—and a fairly hefty one. RFID  captures data automatically and fairly reliably (subject to those occasional read errors)—but at a low level of locational granularity.

Consider the example above: a vehicle passes by (or through) an RFID reader 250 yards away, narrowing its location down to being one of 5,000 vehicles in a corner of the yard. To increase that locational precision, further RFID readers must be added. Add two further readers, and you’re potentially narrowing the location down to being one in 2,500 vehicles. Four more readers take you to one in 1,250 vehicles. Four more, one in 625. And so on, and so on.

Which is fine in theory if drive-by (or drive-through) RFID readers were inexpensive. But they’re not. And pretty soon, the costs of that additional infrastructure amount to a hefty investment—and one with a rapidly diminishing ROI.

3. RFID has little value in a Cloud-connected world

From the vantage point of 2023, RFID falls short in another important area: cost-effectiveness. Simply put, technology has moved on. Yet RFID tags still try to unnecessarily address yesterday’s problems.

One example is how standards-setting bodies—think the AIAG, ECG, and Europe’s Odette, for instance—have worked to build capabilities into RFID tags that simply aren’t required in today’s Cloud-connected world.

One standard, for instance, requires tags to encode the vehicle’s model, VIN, assembly plant, destination address, fuel type, date of production, transportation handling requirements, and OEM-specific additional information.

All helpful information, to be sure—but not in an RFID tag. In today’s world, there are better ways to store and transmit such data, such as the Cloud: encoding them within an RFID system adds cost but very little value.

So, if RFID isn’t the vehicle location solution, what is?

At Cognosos, we know there’s a better way of delivering what RFID tries—and largely fails—to achieve. A way that uses low-cost wireless-equipped GPS-enabled tracking tags, which are activated by onboard accelerometers so that any time a vehicle is moved in the yard, its new resting location is automatically captured in real-time.

And captured with a high degree of granularity, unlike RFID solutions that haven’t been augmented by other technologies. And by ‘granularity,’ we mean within ten feet or so of the vehicle’s location, or even less, with the latest generation of our technology.

There’s no need to extensively populate the yard with expensive RFID readers to track location, either. Cognosos’ patented low-cost, long-range wireless network gateway offers a range of up to 2 miles outdoors. One or two wireless masts can serve an entire yard, with tags communicating directly with the mast or masts, uploading their current location to our Cloud-based solution.

The result: real-time vehicle location data with pinpoint accuracy, updated automatically every time a vehicle moves, that is reliable and always up to date.

Does that sound better than RFID? It does to us.

The downstream finished vehicle supply chain has a golden opportunity to transform its operational performance and achieve significant cost reductions, thanks to recent advancements in real-time vehicle location technology. To learn more about these innovations, get our guide on improving FVL efficiency and profitability now.

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