Radio frequency identification (RFID) may be an unfamiliar term to many. Turnpike drivers who pass through an automatic toll pass experience one type of RFID device. A pet implanted with a microchip for identification experiences another type. RFID tags are becoming a growing technology in today’s fleet.

RFID devices come in two basic types: active and passive. Active devices transmit a short range radio signal, while passive devices respond to reception of a short range radio signal. The content of those signals can be used to identify, monitor, and speed delivery of items to which the RFID device has been applied.

RFID tags can be set up to incorporate identification data before they are applied, often by self-adhesive means, to products or packages. RFID tags can be wirelessly interrogated by suitable radio frequency transceivers. Depending upon the nature of the tags, the transceivers can be at varying distances from each other, as close as a few feet or as far apart as several yards.

RFID tags cost 5 to 20 cents per tag, depending on functionality. Applications for RFID tags include inventory control, anti-theft purposes, and product location, among many others.

Using RFID to Manage Cargo

An important use for RFID tags in truck fleets is monitoring cargo location and condition.

Opening and closing the cargo door on a truck can send a signal to a receiver that the units of cargo in the truck have been added to or subtracted, and a computer keeps track of the changes. Since the computer is aware of the cargo units in the truck, the driver can be notified if the wrong piece of cargo was delivered at a given stop.

Today, cargo management processes tend to be labor-intensive and expensive. Shipment verification is often done manually, and information is then re-keyed into information systems. These manual systems impede the efficiency of freight sequencing and dispatching. Companies cannot easily track where their freight is at any given time, and trucks often sit idle, nonproductive and vulnerable to theft and tampering.

Finding an RFID Solution

One solution is to combine RFID devices with sensors, computerized databases and tracking devices. (See inset.) Both truck and driver would be made aware of each stop location on the day’s route. An RFID reader in the truck would confirm that each stop was made.

With such a system a wide range of management functions can be tracked, for example:

- Contents of the truck.

- Delivery route information.

- Storage requirements of the products.

- Data about temperatures and other environmental conditions affecting cargo.

All this information and more can be transmitted to a small computer in the truck. Cell phone or radio technology can then be used to transmit the data back to the dispatcher.

The RFID tags “know” their position thanks to zone identifiers placed in shipping yards and at points along truck routes. The tags report real-time information to RFID readers connected to the central enterprise system.

The result: A freight company can monitor its assets and products in real time.

The company knows the movement and location of freight shipments throughout their journeys and can compare current location to the original route plan. Think of it as giving inventory management responsibilities to the shipments themselves; they can report their contents and exact location, as well as how they are being treated.