Revolutionizing Industries: The Power of RFID Tracking

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Radiofrequency identification (RFID) is one of the older wireless machine communication standards still used today. There is a good reason it has stuck around so long. RFID is very efficient and cost-effective at doing one particular job well: fast, short-range wireless tracking. 

RFID tracking is poised to become even more useful in the coming years as more and more organizations make a digital transformation. Connected devices and embedded sensors scattered through the workplace, warehouse, and shipping and distribution networks can generate massive volumes of data. That data can provide powerful insights into business operations. RFID will provide tracking and communication infrastructure for many of those data-generating assets. 

In this guide, Revolutionizing Industries: The Power of RFID Tracking, we make a case for automating various business and security management processes using RFID tracking. We’ll first explore RFID technology's history to understand why it has stuck around as a business technology when so many other early-twentieth-century ones have faded. We’ll also explore how RFID tracking systems work, how they’re used in various industries today, and explore some best practices for adapting them to your organization’s workflows.

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Revolutionizing Industries: The Power of RFID Tracking

Chapter 1

A History of RFID Tracking Technology

In essence, RFID is a combination of radar and radio broadcast technologies. The core principles of the technology were understood decades earlier, with radar first developed in the United States in the 1920s. Radio broadcasting even earlier, in the late nineteenth century.

And like many of the most impactful technologies of the twentieth century, today’s RFID technology evolved from wartime innovations and practical, real-world experiments by practitioners, not researchers.

The 1940s: From battlefield jerry-rigging to promising new frontier 

During World War Two, German pilots noticed that if they rolled their planes in certain patterns when returning to base, they could alter the signal received by their radar technicians. If those techs knew what to look for, those radar wobbles identified the German planes as friendly blips, not incoming Allied fighters. That was the first recorded use of radio frequencies for identification. What we today in more formal use cases call passive RFID. 

Word of this battlefield improvisation quickly spread, and scientists and engineers worldwide began understanding the potential. So in the post-war years, British military researchers set out to create a purposeful ‘identification: friend or foe’ (IFF) signal system for their air force using RFID. The descendants of those original IFF systems are still used today by air forces worldwide. 

Late 20th Century: Consumerism drives RFID’s jump to business technology 

The IFF systems were 1-bit RFID signals. In other words, they were either on or off, yes, I’m friendly or no, I am a foe. In the 60s, just as military engineers quickly saw the potential in jerry-rigged battlefield signaling, business leaders saw the potential in identification tags that could instantly transmit a 1-bit yes or no signal. 

One of the first commercial applications for passive RFID tags, which is still widely applied today, is anti-theft tags. These surveillance tags can either be off for “paid” or on for “unpaid.” If a tag attached to merchandise set to unpaid passes by a store’s exit scanner, an alarm will sound. 

More and more applications emerged in the 1970s and 80s, and RFID technology became popular enough for global standards to emerge. For example, the US military desperately needed to know when and where trucks carrying nuclear weapons moved. So they commissioned a research team to develop RFID vehicle tags to achieve that. 

And as industrial farms expanded to feed the world's growing population, farm leaders realized they needed better methods for tracking livestock. Then, as today, cows received RFID trackers either as ear tags or, later, as capsules embedded in their hide. 

The 1990s to Today: RFID & the Internet 

The standardization and commodification of RFID tags led rapidly to innovations and miniaturization. Costs fell along with miniaturization, and by the beginning of the twenty-first century, miniature RFID tags could be attached or embedded in practically anything. 

All this happened at the same time the Internet emerged and revolutionized business and society. Today, leading businesses rely on their digital transformation to help give them an edge—the networking and connecting of all their distributed business systems. Internet of Things (IoT) and RFID sensors embedded in materials and business equipment generate mountains of data that companies want to turn into new business insights. RFID tracking systems are at the core of this movement. 

So in just a few short decades, radiofrequency identification went from a battlefield novelty to an important but uninteresting business tool to the cornerstone of the most exciting business initiative underway in the world today. These humble little tags have a fascinating history. 


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Chapter 2

Scope of Real Time Networks RFID Tracking Business Solutions

Real Time Networks offers the AssetTracer RFID asset tracking and management system. It is designed to make asset tracking simple and effective for organizations of all sizes. AssetTracer is powerful and flexible, suitable for various business use cases across many industries. It utilizes RFID tracking tags and can use RFID fobs for access control, among other methods.

Real Time Networks also offers KeyTracer physical key management systems. KeyTracer key cabinets are powered by RFID technology. They identify individual keys and keyrings and help you ensure that only authorized users ever have access to keys. And since all transactions are carried out according to RFID-tracked key identities, you’ll always have an error-free digital “paper trail” logging who has which keys in their possession. 


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Chapter 3

Core Components of an RFID Tracking System

RFID tracking systems are powerful, flexible technologies. Business systems take many different forms, almost as many forms as there are use cases. But the underlying components are more or less the same in all cases. If you understand how they work and interconnect, you can select the product that fits your organization’s needs the closest.

The key components of modern RFID tracking systems include RFID tags, storage cabinets, readers and access terminals, and management software.


RFID Tags 

RFID tags are the glue that holds modern asset tracking and management systems together. They come in two varieties, either unpowered passive tags or battery-powered active tags. 

Much like the German planes that first generated these signals, a passive RFID tag doesn’t have an onboard antenna. Instead, it relies on an external transmitter to send a signal that it can process and bounce back to its source. The source RFID scanner then reads the modified signal and converts it into data. Because they’re unpowered, passive RFID tags can be manufactured quite small, often to the size of a small coin or pen cap. 

On the other hand, active-powered tags carry an onboard battery and antenna. They are bulkier than their passively-powered cousins but boast significantly greater read range. As a result, they’re cost-effective when you need to track high-value assets in a controlled environment. 

Both passive and actively-powered varieties can store a good amount of data. However, unlike their 1-bit ancestors, today’s RFID tags can hold up to 128 or 256-bits of information. That is enough capacity for detailed asset identification data. 

One of the other main benefits of radio frequency identification is that it doesn’t conflict with other wireless standards popularly used in workplaces, like WiFi internet or two-way radios.

Storage cabinets 

Businesses use RFID tags to track various assets, from key rings to radios, mobile devices, toolkits, security equipment, and much more. If those assets are important enough to tag, you usually want them securely stored when not used. That is why most modern RFID tracking systems are built around storage cabinets. These hold assets while idle and often include charging ports and data cables for fault monitoring of electronics. 

Advanced asset storage cabinets also typically have a modular design so that cabinets can be stacked and configured for different floor plans and use cases. For example, a police precinct storing firearms, tasers, and kit bags will need a very different configuration from a regional warehouse with a vast, open indoor facility that wants to store dozens of identical handhelds. 


RFID readers receive signals from tracking tags and transmit them to connected computer systems for action. Where you place readers depends on the type of system you’re deploying. For example, a standard asset tracking system will have an RFID tag reader mounted at the storage cabinets that verifies the identity of assets users take and return. 

A full-fledged real-time location service (RTLS) identifies asset locations anywhere in an indoor space. These systems rely on RFID readers positioned throughout your facility, which can get accurate read locations on all tagged assets. In addition, RTLS systems typically rely on active RFID tagging to work at range. 

In addition to wall mounting or access terminal mounting—more on that in the next section—you can also use RFID readers for custom applications. One of the most popular that Real Time Networks helps deploy is as a muster point for emergency evacuation systems. When evacuating your facility, you need perfect staff management. RFID readers at muster points scan employee badges as they approach, automatically marking them safe. Emergency managers don’t have to worry about taking roll calls in this scenario. Instead, they can focus their attention on other aspects of the evacuation. 

Access terminals 

The smart access terminal is your staff’s primary user interface with your RFID tracking system. Users authenticate themselves at the terminal when they want to sign out or return a stored asset. Access terminals can utilize one more access control method. Some of the most popular today include RFID tokens, PIN codes for lower-security environments, smartphone apps, or biometrics, such as fingerprint, iris eye scan, or facial recognition. 

Some access terminals are simple key entry systems, but you can also use advanced touchscreens for more rigorous or customized workflows. For example, when users sign out or return an asset, you can present checklists. You can use these checklists to gather valuable transactions and use information. They also help you improve accountability for equipment use as you can require users returning equipment to log repairs needed before the device reenters service. If they fail to log an obvious issue, supervisors can see the complete chain of custody in the transaction logs and follow up with the user.

Management software  

Data from the sensors, cabinets, and access terminal all flow back to a software dashboard that system administrators use to get real-time tracking data on RFID-tagged people, equipment, keys, and vehicles. Most contemporary software dashboards are designed as web apps, which means they’re accessible from any secure device, like authorized desktop computers, smartphones, and tablets. 

Through the dashboard, your managers can receive real-time tracking alerts if assets are late for return or if a sensitive asset passes through an exit monitored by your RTLS system. Your managers can also generate reports that show them detailed tracking histories. As a result, they can help identify meaningful trends you might not see otherwise.


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Chapter 4

8 Business Benefits of RFID Tracking

RFID tracking systems improve how your business runs in many important ways.

  1. Improves your process controls  

    Detailed tracking data offers insights into all stages of critical business workflows. Better tracking will help you develop better process controls so that work is carried out consistently, reliably, and with good feedback when errors occur.

    Using RFID tracking, you can optimize each workflow that uses tracked assets. That will help you better support business methodologies like Lean or Six Sigma.

  2. Enhances operations efficiency  

    Knowing precisely where vital assets are at any given moment, when they left, and when they’re due for return will make your business operations more efficient. You won’t waste time hunting for missing equipment. Instead, you can check when someone signed out the keys. You can see at a glance during a chaotic evacuation who is safe and who is still at risk in your facility. 

  3. Reduce costs   

    Automating IT asset tracking using RFID can save hours of labor every week. Over time, that alone will quickly offset the upfront capital invested into an RFID tracking system, never mind all the other operating efficiencies you’ll gain. 

    Equipment, fleet, and personnel managers won’t have to spend as much time micromanaging transactions, usage logs, and reports. The RFID tracking system will automatically compile everything. 

  4. Fosters better accountability 

    Since every transaction and asset movement is tracked, RFID systems enforce better accountability among their users. Storage systems record the condition of every asset signed out. Readers placed throughout your facility monitor movement in real time. And the state in which assets are returned to storage is fully logged. 

  5. Supports better standards compliance  

    An RFID tracking system’s management dashboard includes many powerful pre-built reports. You can customize your own reports too for business or industry compliance needs. 

  6. Offers reliable emergency management  

    Digital RFID tracking systems can’t get flustered. They do their jobs reliably even when staff are on edge during an emergency evacuation. Using RFID tracking to manage evacuations and roll calls at muster points makes everything error-free. There’s no rushed, panicked human operator who can miss an employee or accidentally mark someone safe who might still be at risk.

  7. Cuts equipment losses  

    Automating equipment and key tracking reduces the opportunities for staff to lose vital assets. And when assets are not returned on schedule, supervisors can receive instant alerts, so they can start searching faster, increasing the chance that you will recover expensive or mission-critical equipment. 

  8. Integrates technology and business practices 

    RFID tracking better integrates your business and security technology to your business practices. It connects the digital world in which your data lives with the physical world. We’re moving towards a converged workplace in the coming decades. RFID tracking is one of the more important tools we have today to build the foundation of our smart workplaces of tomorrow. 

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Chapter 5

RFID Tracking Use Cases Across Industries

As we’ve seen, RFID tracking systems are versatile platforms that improve many business activities and even support brand-new ones. Their versatility is their primary strength. As a result, RFID tracking systems have use cases in many industries.

Manufacturing & Distribution

RFID tracking systems help you keep tabs on all the vital handheld devices employees need day-to-day. For example, manually tracking who has a working handheld scanner and when it’s due for return can be a full FTE job. Automating that work with an RFID asset tracking system frees valuable manager time for other activities.  

Law enforcement & Emergency services  

Law enforcement personnel and emergency medical service (EMS) teams carry a large amount of gear on duty. Some items, like police radios, even come with embedded RFID chips. Automating kit signouts using an RFID tracking system helps ensure everyone leaves for their shift with all necessary gear. The storage system will know if they forget a radio or other tagged equipment. It will read the RFID tag on the item still in the cabinet and alert the user. 

Real time location service RFID tracking can also improve corrections officer and inmate safety and security. 

Many law enforcement agencies also use RFID tracking systems for evidence management. It helps them maintain an airtight chain of custody on evidence they must provide during disclosure and bring to trial. 


Hospitals, clinics, ambulatory companies, and other healthcare agencies must ensure that medical equipment is available when and where needed. It’s vital for patient care, and it is expensive too. Healthcare budgets are tightening everywhere, and unnecessary equipment losses are costs many centers can’t afford. 

RFID tracking your medical equipment can improve quality of care by helping nursing staff find equipment when needed. Also, nursing supervisors will know which nurses or technicians signed out which equipment, which rooms they’re going to, and when they’re scheduled to return it. Quickly checking their RFID tracking dashboard will tell them where to find anything they need.


RFID tracking systems can manage secure, unattended sign-outs of educational tools and electronics, like tablets and laptops. This will improve institutional equipment and campus security. You’ll see which student or instructor signed out each device, so you always know who is accountable for what. 

You can also facilitate technical support. If there is a problem with a device, the teacher or student can report it through the access terminal when they return it. The tracking system can then lock the device out of circulation and notify IT so a technician can retrieve it for servicing.


High-quality guest service means having your keys and equipment ready at a moment’s notice. Many hotels and other venues now routinely distribute tablets to service staff to help make operations more reliable and improve housekeeping efficiency. For example, housekeepers can notify the front desk through a tablet app when a room is turned over for a waiting guest. In addition, RFID tracking systems manage key and equipment sign-outs, so nothing ever gets lost, and vital electronics have a secure storage location with built-in charging.  

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Chapter 6

Best Practices for Implementing an RFID Tracking System

Are you looking to deploy an RFID tracking system for your organization? Feeling overwhelmed? You don’t have to be. While RFID tracking systems are complex, choosing the right one and deploying it in your facility shouldn’t be a headache.

This best practice planning process will help you identify the system that best fits your operations and, more importantly, your strategic goals. RFID tracking systems are powerful sources of business intelligence. Their reach extends deep into your organization, touching many workflows that utilize trackable equipment, vehicles in fleet management, keys, and people. Therefore, you want to follow a planning process that treats them like the strategic resources that they are.


Collect stakeholders into a search committee   

Since RFID tracking systems will reach through many facilities and organizational layers within your company, you should start by ensuring everyone impacted has a seat at the table in selecting the one you’ll use. 

Start by identifying the business units impacted by the delivery of a new RFID tracking system. That might include IT, physical plant, security, accounting, and different operational units. 

You’re not asking them to select a new product yet. First, you need to get their input on what improvements they want to see in your company’s asset tracking. 

Understand your risks and opportunities 

Once your stakeholders have weighed in on what matters to them at the operational and strategic levels, you can move on to assessing the risks and opportunities you face switching to RFID-based tracking. At this stage, you want to identify the risks of deploying new technology and the potential opportunities using it might generate. How will your business landscape change for good and bad?  

Determine the scope of RFID tracking you need 

What key performance indicators (KPIs) do you want to monitor while tracking assets? Understanding the KPIs you want to set will help you narrow down the assets you want to track. Although you don’t want to invest in RFID tracking resources for every last item your company owns, there needs to be a threshold for tracking you establish, likely tied to what KPIs you care about. Determine that scope now. 

Plan your RFID tracking deployment 

Now it's time to shift from strategic-level planning down towards operations. First, consider where you will want to install the storage cabinets for your RFID tracking system. Your goal here is to balance security and functionality. You shouldn’t leave your assets open to unnecessary theft or other risks, but you also don’t want to hide them so they’re difficult to get during day-to-day operations.  

Train administrators and users  

Technology is wasted if your personnel don’t know how to use it. So set aside time and resources to train your system administrators and users to operate a new RFID tracking system. No matter whether it is for day-to-day operations managing asset transactions or a muster system for emergencies, your people need to know the ins and outs of your new RFID tracking system. 

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Chapter 7

Work with a Trusted Provider

RFID tracking systems can transform business operations. But it takes a little planning to get the most out of them. With just a little planning and organization upfront, you’ll ensure your organization gets a resource that will benefit it for years to come. 

Working with a trusted RFID tracking technology provider can make the job simpler. Real Time Networks’ team of experts has decades of combined experience designing and deploying RFID tracking systems for various industries and use cases. 

Never Lose Track of Your Assets and Keys Again
Contact Real Time Networks today to schedule a demo of our RFID tracking solutions for assets and keys



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Everything You Need to Know About The Power of RFID Tracking

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Revolutionizing Industries: The Power of RFID Tracking