Tag Them All? – Exploring RFID Application

By Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer, Great Systems

This post is taken from a chapter from Kevin’s book Error Proof – How to Stop Daily Goofs for Good. The book can be purchased in both e-book and hard copy form from Amazon.com.

I came across the Celebration Health (Orlando, FL) surgical team RFID application a few months before using Magic Bands as a Disney customer for the second time. I was already promoting RFID (short for Radio Frequency Identification) use because I clearly saw the potential performance improvement benefit. Many of my own customers were also starting to use these tags to track asset (human and mechanical) movement, location, and behavior, in the spirit of better managing costs and preventing equipment damage and human injury.

Personally, I had already been tagged multiple times over the years. To-date, it had been a painless experience. RFID strips are in both my passport and my state driver’s license. My race bibs are tagged to track my time in a given race. I wear my Magic Band around the different Disney parks with no concern. I personally don’t leave Locations active on my phone, but I know many people that do, while also remaining logged on to multiple social media sites. Why should we be concerned about wearing another tag or two’?

Whenever I bring up asset tagging, people are quick to discount the use of this technology in their own work worlds. They state concerns / excuses such as ‘we can’t afford it’, ‘the union would never buy it’, or ‘that’s too Big Brother for me.’ Three big questions do loom on this emerging frontier. Who should be tagged? What data can we legally and ethically collect? What types of analysis and choices can we make using that data? Is any group’s opposition enough to keep this emerging technology from permeating the workplace?

A Rapid Increase in Onboard RFID Diagnostics and Power

RFID application is becoming more cost affordable and commonplace, whether we are aware of this happening or not. Passive chip costs ranged between ten and fifty cents USD in 2017. Active chip costs ranged between $25 and $50 for the same time period. Keep in mind that Moore’s Law is in effect here. Memory density and processing speeds are doubling at least every 18 months.  RFID chip capabilities, such as signal strength and range, along with the ‘on board diagnostic’ analytics for active chips, are rapidly increasing as well.

The ‘too expensive’ or ‘too controversial’ management pushback is still strong outside of retail, where RFID application is helping to reduce shoplifting rates. Momentum is starting to build outside of North America, and with some early adopters here in the States. The folks at Celebration Health have pushed through the ‘too expensive’ barrier, and they are beginning to reap the benefits. The Disney parks are making increasing use of Magic Bands as each operating year passes. That is one thing that makes each trip to Walt Disney World so interesting. The process improvements I see relative to RFID application with each return visit are obvious.

At Walt Disney World, queue lengths are becoming shorter than in the past if you plan ahead. The Disney buses are flowing more effectively between parks. Wait times for service in general are significantly less. Disney bus driver safety seems to also have improved. I have observed essentially no ‘high risk’ behaviors on recent visits. I have to think that the implementation of fleet management software and RFID-based tracking has had something to do with this. Better information, especially real time performance information, leads to better decisions and more effective asset utilization when that information is used correctly.

How Can We Use RFID Application to Manage and Improve Asset Performance?

Before you push back too much on being tagged, you might want to think a little about whether you have already been tagged. It may not be RFID, but if you have ‘locations’ activated on your phone, you are being tracked, just as cookies track your Internet usage patterns. Most new passports have tracking chips in them. Soon, RFID tags will replace VIN numbers in cars and drivers’ licenses will be tagged.

Given my late ‘baby boomer’ age, it is easy for me to think about ‘Big Brother’ whenever I talk about tagging all assets. At the same time, I have already seen the reductions in personal injury, equipment damage, and process wait times due to tag use. More importantly, as a customer, I have experienced, on more than one occasion, the improvements in customer service and service value that the use of real time technology has helped provide. It is an exchange that I think I am willing to make.

People will push back as these new technologies are used and deployed to greater degrees. Compared to the past, they are more intrusive. At the same time, they help us manage processes and meet (if not exceed) customer expectations more consistently. When your time comes, how willing will you be to tag them all?

Some High-Powered RFID Application Examples

Here are some high-powered RFID application examples that organizations of any type might benefit from using:

  • Asset Tracking – When each human or equipment asset is tagged, their locations, movements, and travel patterns can all be tracked. Such an approach is being used to help optimize surgical team performance in healthcare and heavy equipment utilization in construction. Such tagging also provides enormous security gains.
  • Asset Utilization Optimization – The time-based data captured by RFID can be used to help optimize the utilization of both human and equipment assets. Such data can also be used to fuel simulation models that are used for training and decision-making purposes.
  • Compliance Checking – RFID chips can be used to monitor the use of personal protective equipment on a real time basis. For example, the PPE chip and the employee tag are linked. If the distance between gets too great, alerts are sent.
  • Controlling Security / Safety Perimeters – RFID can be used to set and monitor safe work zones and security perimeters in a very low-cost manner. Tags can also be used to monitor and control asset entry / exit through perimeter access points.

Don’t wait for process errors to teach you about the importance of human factors engineering. Many of us are already being ‘tagged’ daily by more than one device. We are sending out the signals already. How can such information be used for good?

How can we use the steady streams of location, rate of travel, environmental factor, biometric, and other data from our internal and external customers to make better decisions?

Take the initiative to learn more about how you can change your work systems to help minimize the potential for human error. Don’t rely on experience to be your teacher. Too much trial and error is not an effective way to learn.

Remember, systems shape culture. How can we use systems and process design to drive error-free task performance?

Keep improving! – Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer, Great Systems


This post is based on a chapter from Kevin’s book Error Proof – How to Stop Daily Goofs for Good. The book can be purchased in both e-book and hard copy form from Amazon.com.

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