I interviewed Boris Tsirline who discussed Towards Operational Excellence With RFID.
It's nice to speak to you today, Boris. I'm looking forward today to hearing your views on the topic of Towards Operational Excellence with RFID.
Hi, Dustin. I'd be glad to answer questions and make comments. Initially I was educated and I would say born as an RF engineer. And I have 20 years of European experience developing RF devices, and the last 20 years I was working practically for Zebra Technologies developing our RFID printer encoders. I have education from Moscow State University, PhD and graduated with Master’s Degree and Bachelor's degree from Moscow Aviation Academy.
Thank you. My first question is can you first define what is RFID and how can it be used for better operational excellence?
RFID stands for Radio-Frequency Identification. And the latest applications have been developed based on ability of this system, practically a transponder also called a tag, to be identified with unique code. And practically most applications lately were spinning around making labels with this embedded transponders and using this capability of the transponder to identify most of them used for tracking for kind of mostly inventory. It allows you to automatically grab this inventory, just moving an antennae around items with the scope's smart labels. And it can contact less identify them.
Because of a natural radio-frequency waves, you don't need to aim it exactly like you used to with bar codes, the beam at the objects and still be able identify objects surrounded the inspector. But it's not... It's sort of the tip of the iceberg because transponders themselves, which define radio-frequency identification technology is capable of much more and has different features, allows to use them not just for identification but with a variety of industries.
First of all, the industries and applications.First of all, regarding operational excellence... For operational excellence, here has been developed accounting system which actually calculates different key ratios, allows it to estimate how healthy is the production or manufacturing or any operation is.
The biggest obstacle for using this accounting measures is there are coming too late, practically the end of a month you will see how successful the operation was or not successful— what has been done right, what's wrong.And RFID, it's capability allows you to get a kind of instant information and also combined with different other components such as microprocessor, batteries, Wi-Fi, and other devices, Bluetooth. It allows you to get this information by demand and organizing a database, kind of the centralized.It's completely not necessarily to send this information permanently to IT technology department and overloading it with data. It can be retrieved by demand, by sending signal and verifying what transponder has collected.
So it opens a lot of different applications, including, for example, moving out equipment, moving personal, and also, what is an important thing, you can get kind of a trend lines from these devices. Estimating if some parameter is growing or trailing down or changes somehow, and practically, as of today, it is possible to organize some kind of fixed asset management. It's also mixed up with tracking and tracing, but it's completely wrong. Because take asset management includes not just knowledge of location and moving our equipment, but rather how reliable this equipment is or how well it works over time.
So using this kind of RFID technologies, you can combine them with different sensors and thus, receiving information permanently about the current temperature or vibration or humility and a lot of other parameters. So this technology will allow you to kind of finally improve Mean Time Between Failures. And thus make your equipment available and working with the minimal expenses for maintenance and repair.
For RFID technology or Radio-Frequency Identification has been allocated a few frequency bands, a low frequency, high frequency, and ultra-high frequency. The ultra-high frequencies are used for, more or less, long range applications while magnetically coupled devices which work at high frequency has much higher noise immunity. And there's another effect that has a shorter range. But here's the an advantage of being a resilient to different interferences.
At low frequency band, transponders are made kind of hermetized in a small container, it's plastic or glass, and it very well withstands against different environment climate changes or temperature change, environment changes in regards of temperature, humidity, other things. Most applications of this low frequency RFID found in the laundry applications where clothes are sorted out by using automated equipment because what the biggest advantage of RFID is digitization. And RFID devices will be vital for the incoming internet of things because it will be kind of like a glass and eyes and ears of this technology and allowing to exchange information widely and very fast.
And can you share any success stories about implementation?
I can name a few positive and a few negative if you'd like. The practical applications are huge and mostly in the retail sector now and in healthcare. RFID are also used for kind of a compliance. For example, I am aware of cases where police are supposed to monitor some areas, have to come to the post which has a reader. It will let them read their transponders, just verify that they are patrolling a particular area. And that application is for compliance. It's kind of a hand wash for your employees in food stores, food production.
In retail there are a couple of applications, the kind of most impressive is the inventory accuracy at retail store, if I am not mistaken Neiman Marcus or other chains. They were able to increase accuracy of inventory from regular 75% up to 98%, saving a lot of time, because not only their accuracy has been increased dramatically but also time spent for inventory was cut maybe 20 times.
The applications in healthcare for example, in hospitals, when patients were supplied with a wrist band with embedded transponder which is keeping all places patients visited or if he or she goes to different doctors, that every kind of meeting or encounter with doctor is recorded to the wristband transponder.
In this way, a lot of adverse events were prevented. For example, for operation, they always know which hand or which leg to operate because these terrible things happen when doctors are missing the right thing. In operations, the biggest problem among surgeons is leaving sponges some kind of materials inside abdominal patients. And now with transponders, it has been, the procedure itself takes really attentive counting. How many was used? And how many were received. So with embedded transponders in this kind of sponges that's become automatic. And there are no terrible cases when something was left inside of a patient.
This kind of application is very successful and hard to estimate a financial gain for this because health you cannot measure.
Other application encountered in different areas. In production, for example, especially when assembly line is used and this assembly line shares a different product assemblage. A lot of mistakes happen there, happen from different components, especially when they look alike, was used wrongly. And with implementation of RFID, this kind of adverse event was practically eliminated after automatically verifying what came to the next station for assembly, that it's the correct part, correct device. So a lot mistakes prevented.
RFID technology also covers partly real-time location systems. They could not be necessarily based on RF, but some of them are based on radio-frequency identification. The system allows you to practically locate the object remotely by watching a screen with kind of a map. And the marker shows where the equipment or component or barrels located, showing the kind of map where it's located. It's also widely used for parking lots and sometimes in warehouse.
What I would like to mention that is kind of problematic things, because historically, RFID and RTSL has started implementing by the same companies which used to deal with bar code. And this kind of mentality still remains and it caused a lot of trouble because, for example, RTLS working well on open space because some of the methods for RTLS has been borrowed from navigational radio systems used for aircraft.
But people somehow forgot that this technology developed for aircraft worked really well on open space, open air. But when you deal with warehouse environment, there are a lot of reflections which kind of lower the accuracy dramatically of location. Other things also relates to our deep understanding of RFID engineering which deals with signals, level of signals, reflections, penetrations and other things. And what I observe, the education is not really spreading intensively. And that might cause very long pilot trial and finally based the system on error and trial. If awareness of this technology would be higher, then it could help to proliferate this technology widely.
It seems to me that, like I mentioned before, using RFID only like identification, it's kind of fraction a whole capabilities, and it's not really widely known. As of today, the mature applications based on only solutions based on only identification code. But hopefully as this process develops in companies, most system integrated and system designers will realize capabilities that will accelerate the progression of RFID technology applications and create a lot of different solutions.
What this technology is comprised of?
The major four components of this RFID application and technology includes antennas, includes transceiver, transmitter and receiver called reader unfortunately, and also includes a printer encoder for initial encoding transponders. And a key element is the transponder, which calls for transmit and response. And this kind of type, there are a lot of different transponder types available today. And transponder itself, depending on what frequency it works at, depending on signals, technologies, and standards, define the whole capabilities of RFID.
I think that's it. That's probably enough.
About Boris Y. Tsirline
Boris Y. Tsirline, PhD
Expert in RFID Technologies development to maximize P/L Ratio; Business Technology Consultant