SVreX UltimaDork
3/22/12 9:20 p.m.

I just inherited a big tracking and logistics challenge. RFID's seem like a good solution, but they are a bit cost prohibitive.

Any low budget approaches?

I need to track up to about 1000 large containers on our company's reasonably small (3 acre) property. I'd like to know where every container is at all times, and be able to re-assign the RFID tags to a new container when the container is empty. There are 4 or 5 metal buildings (2000 SF- 20,000 SF) in which the containers could be located in or around, inside or outside.

Expansion capability a must (let's say up to 5000).

If it works, my scale up would then be to do a similar thing to our warehouse across town (60,000 SF in one building).

The scale-up beyond that would be for the 2 facilities (and roads between them) to function together (5 miles apart), but it is not that necessary.

I will never need to track these containers once they have left our premises. I'd like to remove the tags and re-use them at that time.

Other systems would be considered. We have no bar coding, or other system in place.

Any one with good advice?

SVreX UltimaDork
3/22/12 9:43 p.m.

I should clarify...

When I say "low budget", I don't mean Challenge budget. We are gonna spend some money on this, just want to spend it wisely.

GameboyRMH UberDork
3/23/12 8:51 a.m.

QR code has lower hardware costs than RFID (almost zero actually), but if you think RFID's expensive you're probably looking at the really overpriced high-end stuff.

I'd recommend QR over RFID for this. Somebody has to scan these containers with an RFID scanner right? They could scan a QR sticker with their camera phone just as easily.

stumpmj Dork
3/23/12 10:49 a.m.

What kind of costs are you seeing on RFIDs? I thoguht individual tags were down to <$1 per which would be very reasonable for 1000-5000 containers. The nice thig about RFID tags vs QR is you don't you need to get right up to them to scan them. Just be in the general vicinity. Plus, you dno't need to worry about them getting dirty like a QR/bar code.

GameboyRMH UberDork
3/23/12 10:54 a.m.

Yep you can get your regular passive short-range tags for under $1, although keep in mind you need some kind of mounting hardware for each tag, and because the container's metal you'll have to get fairly close AND be on the right side of it so they don't have that much of a readability advantage. For QR tags, magnet stickers could do the job.

szeis4cookie Reader
3/23/12 10:59 a.m.
SVreX wrote: We have no bar coding, or other system in place. Any one with good advice?

If QR is viable, a simple one-dimensional barcode is probably even better (cheaper). Have the barcode be only an ID number, store the rest of the data on a database.

Are the containers parked in an organized manner that you could assign aisle or bin numbers? Or are they just parked however? Could there be a process instituted to get containers parked in an organized way?

GameboyRMH UberDork
3/23/12 11:03 a.m.

I'd think QR would be easier with the huge number of free apps out there built to handle them...a 1D barcode will save money on square-inches of sticker but that's about it.

SVreX UltimaDork
3/23/12 11:09 p.m.

The containers are in motion. They are moved regularly by multiple people to various locations for various purposes and not necessarily returned to the same spot.

Bins seem obvious, but the operational limitation is that the reality is getting people to put them back in the same spot is functionally unlikely at best.

Most of the containers are drums. They are heavy, and frequently returned to a location with the tags not necessarily visible (which limits bar codes). Some containers are bigger totes. Some are boxes. Some are bags. Some are smaller bottles, etc. Some containers are metal. Some are plastic. Some are glass.

The job is to correctly identify and locate 20-50 containers per day out of 1000 that are constantly moving around, with different ones the next day. In the dark. Slight exaggeration, but pretty close.

I was thinking active RFID, so they could send their own signals and be seen on a centralized monitor.

I would not be opposed to a higher entry cost- as much as $10 per tag, if necessary. I WOULD be opposed to a system that didn't work fluidly.

I am thinking that bar codes or QR codes will help identify a container once it is standing in front of you, but not necessarily help find the darned thing in the first place. Am I wrong?

szeis4cookie Reader
3/24/12 5:19 a.m.

you're right - a barcode or qr solution is only going to work if you're standing in front of the container and asking which one you're in front of. to say "I need container number 127, where is it?" probably requires rfid. I have a friend who is familiar with this sort of implementation, I'll put the question to him.

SVreX UltimaDork
3/24/12 11:44 a.m.

In reply to szeis4cookie:

That's correct. That's what I am looking for.

I'd appreciate any input from your friend.


FlightService SuperDork
3/24/12 12:28 p.m.

In reply to SVreX:

My company has a few suatomers that do RFID on a very large scale. This is cost effective for them. I don't know the names but I can ask on Monday if a google search for RFID inventory tracking doesn't produce what you want.

Fletch1 HalfDork
3/25/12 8:19 a.m.


He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666. Revelation 13:16-18

It's coming....

GameboyRMH UberDork
3/25/12 8:25 a.m.

I hope you're joking. I never understand why nobody brings up regular ol' credit cards either, they seem like a good fit for "mark of the beast"...

SVreX UltimaDork
3/27/12 8:30 a.m.

No need for RFID's under the skin when we are all willing to voluntarily PAY FOR the privilege to carry cellphones that can track us everywhere.

I guess RFID's are beyond the GRM brain trust.

GameboyRMH UberDork
3/27/12 8:52 a.m.
SVreX wrote: No need for RFID's under the skin when we are all willing to voluntarily PAY FOR the privilege to carry cellphones that can track us everywhere.

Hah true....

It sounds like you're trying to remotely query the location of these things like a lojack (RTLS), not just register where they were last placed. That is pushing the limits of RFID technology and you'd need some very long-range active tags to do that - or use some other technology like WiFi or Xbee, but the point is you're not going to get away from having battery-powered tags and you'd be lucky to stay under $30 per tag, $10 isn't doable.

The cheapest solution might be to use some simple Xbee-based tags with receivers around the warehouse or whatever that can query and triangulate their location. It would have to be 100% custom, but you can be sure it will be futureproof this way, it should give you the cheapest per-tag costs and battery requirements.

Hocrest HalfDork
3/27/12 12:50 p.m.

My thought is barcode/QR on each item, the items can have multiple tags on opposite ends. The storage area is mapped and marked into appropriate grids, the grid ID signs could include a scannable code as well.

Everyone who has access to the product, carries a smartphone with all linked to a DB. Need to find something, type it in and the DB tells you what grid it's in. If you move it, you scan the product and it's new home.

The limit on this system will be human, and if someone doesn't scan properly then the item could be lost forever.

FlightService SuperDork
3/27/12 8:22 p.m.
FlightService wrote: In reply to SVreX: My company has a few customers that do RFID on a very large scale. This is cost effective for them. I don't know the names but I can ask on Monday if a google search for RFID inventory tracking doesn't produce what you want.

Uhhh, well within' the GRM brain trust. You just didn't ask

slopecarver New Reader
3/27/12 8:48 p.m.

What you want is gps+wifi+some way for them to talk to each other+a way to power it on too small of a budget. Sadly what you want is out of your budget range.

Even a budget sensitive active RFID will have a tough time dealing with your problems, Do a bit of reading on active RFID and you'll find how limited the range is and then you'd need to find a way to triangulate the signal strength, or wander around with a directional antenna like you are looking for tagged bears in the wilderness. Don't forget about the walls and other crap in between hindering the signal from getting through.

If you want simple then I suggest you start with getting your worker bees to get their ducks in a row, then utilize a combination of sticker, magnet, and tag barcodes along with a portable wifi barcode reader system along with a bin organization system. Every time a worker bee moves something they must track the move with their barcode scanner. Barcodes are great because the work in the dark and are fast. Barcode stickers are cheap, you could consider them disposable.

Slightly more expensive (and I'm not sure if it exists in a commercial sense) would be to replace the bin system with a barcode scanner with built in GPS, everytime a code is scanned the operator would let it know if the item is leaving or getting put in a new location and it would notify a central database of the new location.

QR codes require a camera to be held still and relatively close to a well lit code, I don't think they are a solution to this problem but they are great if you want to check in somewhere with foursquare.

I'm not an RFID expert but I did walk past my alma mater's RFID lab thousands of times.

Edit: looks like wifi GPS barcode scanners do exist, they are $$$$$$ but still under your $10x1000 budget. Edit Edit: A wifi barcode scanner is called a portable data terminal.

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