| Written by Mark Buzinkay

Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) have emerged as a cornerstone technology for enhancing operational efficiency and visibility in the rapidly evolving landscape of industrial automation. At the heart of this transformation is the ability to track and manage assets and materials in real time, a capability that is particularly critical in complex factory environments. This article delves into the specialised domain of zone-based RTLS, focusing on deploying Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology at structural bottlenecks such as doors and hallways. These areas, often overlooked, play a pivotal role in the seamless flow of materials and assets, directly impacting productivity and operational throughput.
RFID Tracking and Zone-based RTLS in Factories

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RFID Tracking in Real-Time

RTLS technology allows businesses to gain better oversight of where assets are in real-time throughout that asset's life. This could be products moving along a production line, tools within a factory environment, materials arriving at a warehouse, the location of vehicles and other assets – almost anything can be tagged and tracked (learn more about auto identification technology).

RTLS technologies offer a dynamic way to monitor and manage the movement of objects throughout a facility, providing instant data on their location. This real-time information is crucial for decision-makers to optimise processes, reduce waste, and enhance inventory management. Among the various technologies underpinning RTLS, RFID stands out for its adaptability, range, and efficiency in tracking goods and equipment. 


Unlike traditional tracking systems that offer periodic updates, RTLS provides continuous, instantaneous data about the location of assets. RTLS systems consist of several key components:

  • Tags attached to the objects being tracked
  • Readers that detect and communicate with these tags (sometimes called 'sensors')
  • Software that processes the data collected by readers to determine the location of each tagged item

RFID tags contain electronically stored information that can be read up to several meters away. They do not require a direct line of sight to the reader, offering a significant advantage over barcodes.

RFID tags are categorised into two main types:

  • Passive RFID tags: These do not have a power source and are powered by the electromagnetic energy transmitted from RFID readers. They are cheaper and smaller but have shorter reading ranges.
  • Active RFID tags: Equipped with a battery, active RFID tags can transmit signals to an RFID reader over longer distances. They are typically used when higher read ranges or additional functionalities, like sensors, are required.

Learn more about automatic identification system transponder


RFID Tracking: How RFID works in zone-based RTLS

In the context of RTLS, RFID technology operates by deploying readers at strategic locations throughout a facility. These readers continuously scan for signals from RFID tags, which can be affixed to virtually any asset or material within the environment. When a tag passes within the reader's range, its unique identifier and possibly other stored data are captured and relayed to the RTLS software. This information is then processed to update the asset's location in real-time on a digital map or tracking dashboard.

The application of RFID in zone-based RTLS involves placing readers at critical points or 'zones' within the factory, such as entrances, exits, and bottlenecks. This strategic placement ensures that as tagged assets move through these zones, their movement is captured and logged, providing visibility into the flow of materials and equipment. This approach allows for monitoring asset movement patterns, identifying bottlenecks, and optimising the overall material handling process.

Implementing RFID technology at structural bottlenecks in factories requires careful planning and consideration of various technical aspects. This section outlines the process of setting up an RFID infrastructure to monitor and manage the flow of materials and assets through critical points such as doors and hallways.

Designing an RFID Infrastructure for Bottleneck Zones

  • Placement of RFID Readers and Antennas: The effectiveness of an RFID system hinges on the strategic placement of its readers and antennas. At bottlenecks, readers should be positioned to ensure maximum area coverage, enabling the detection of all tags passing through. This might involve installing overhead readers in doorways or side-mounted readers in narrow hallways. Antenna type and orientation are also critical factors, as they influence the reader's detection field and, consequently, its ability to accurately capture tag data. Be aware that you need two readers to understand the direction of movement of an asset or a process logic ("Asset A was located at door 1 of area X 5 mins ago; now it was located at door 3 of area Y. Therefore, it moved from X to Y"). Asset Agent successfully uses zone-based technology in the automotive, tyre manufacturing, container terminal, offshore installations and mining industries.
  • Choosing the Right Type of RFID Tags: The selection of RFID tags is equally essential. Factors such as the material of the tagged assets, the required read range, and environmental conditions at the bottleneck must be considered. Specialised tags designed to mitigate such challenges should be used for metal objects or environments with high RF interference. Additionally, the choice between passive and active tags will depend on the specific requirements of the tracking system, including range and battery life considerations. Asset Agent tags are best-performer under demanding environmental conditions.
  • Integration with ERP, Production and Factory Management Software: For RFID data to be actionable, it must be integrated into the factory's existing management software systems. This integration allows for the real-time visualisation of asset locations and movements within the facility's digital twin. Customisation of software interfaces and development of specific applications may be necessary to ensure that the RFID system delivers meaningful insights, such as bottleneck identification, asset utilisation rates, and predictive analytics for maintenance and workflow optimisation. Asset Agent interacts with 3rd-party systems using APIs, automating manual processes instantly. 

RFID Tracking and Technical Challenges

While the deployment of RFID-based RTLS in factory bottlenecks offers significant benefits, it also presents challenges and considerations that must be addressed to ensure the success of the implementation.

  • Signal Interference: Factories are environments filled with potential sources of interference, from metal structures to electronic equipment (read: WiFi bandwidth). Such interference can disrupt RFID signals, leading to inaccurate or lost data. Strategies to mitigate interference include the use of shielded cables, careful selection of RFID frequencies, and the placement of readers and antennas to avoid direct interference sources.
  • Environmental Factors: Extreme temperatures, dust, moisture, and other environmental factors can affect the performance of RFID tags and readers. Choosing tags and equipment designed to withstand these conditions is crucial.
  • Read Range and Accuracy: Ensuring that RFID readers accurately capture the presence of tags, especially in densely packed or high-traffic areas, requires optimisation of reader placement and settings. Additionally, the physical characteristics of the bottleneck may limit the available space for equipment installation, necessitating creative solutions to achieve comprehensive coverage.

Deployment Considerations

  • Cost vs. Benefit Analysis: The initial setup of an RFID-based RTLS, particularly at all key bottlenecks, can be costly. It's essential to conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis, considering the initial investment and the potential for significant long-term efficiency gains and cost savings.
  • Integration with Existing Systems: For the RTLS tags to be effective, it must be seamlessly integrated with the factory's inventory and management systems. This integration can be challenging, especially if legacy systems are in place and may require custom development or middleware solutions.
  • Scalability and Future Expansion: The initial design of the RFID system should consider future needs, including the potential for tracking additional assets or expanding coverage to new areas of the factory. A modular approach to system design can facilitate future expansions with minimal disruption.
  • Compliance and Privacy: Depending on the jurisdiction, there may be regulations governing the use of RFID technology, particularly regarding data privacy. Compliance with these regulations must be ensured during the system design and implementation phases.

Addressing these challenges and considerations requires technical expertise, strategic planning, and ongoing management. By carefully designing and implementing RFID-based RTLS at structural bottlenecks, factories can significantly enhance their visibility into asset and material flow, ultimately improving operational efficiency and productivity. Eventually, zone-based RTLS is the most cost-effective way to enjoy a real-time location system. 


FAQ: Zone-Based RFID Tracking in Factories

How does zone-based RFID tracking improve operational efficiency in factories?

Zone-based RFID tracking significantly enhances operational efficiency by providing real-time visibility into the location and movement of assets and materials within a factory. By deploying RFID readers at strategic points, such as entrances, exits, and other bottleneck areas, businesses can monitor the flow of goods throughout the facility. This real-time data allows for the optimization of processes, reduction of waste, and improvement of inventory management. For instance, identifying bottlenecks in material flow can lead to adjustments in workflow, reducing idle times and increasing throughput. Moreover, the integration of RFID data with factory management software enables predictive analytics for maintenance and workflow optimization, further enhancing productivity.

What are the key considerations when implementing RFID technology at structural bottlenecks?

Implementing RFID technology at structural bottlenecks requires careful consideration of several factors to ensure system effectiveness and reliability. Key considerations include:

  • Placement of RFID Readers and Antennas: It's crucial to strategically place readers and antennas to cover the entire area of the bottleneck, ensuring that all tags passing through are detected. This might involve using overhead readers for doorways or side-mounted readers for narrow passages.
  • Selection of RFID Tags: Choosing the right type of RFID tag is essential, taking into account the material of the tagged assets, the required read range, and environmental conditions. Specialized tags may be necessary for challenging environments, such as those with high metal content or RF interference.
  • Integration with Existing Systems: RFID data must be effectively integrated into the factory's existing ERP, production, and management software systems to provide actionable insights. This integration facilitates the real-time visualization of asset locations and enables the automation of manual processes.

What challenges might arise with zone-based RFID tracking, and how can they be addressed?

Several challenges can arise with the implementation of zone-based RFID tracking, including signal interference, environmental factors, and issues with read range and accuracy. To address these challenges:

  • Mitigating Signal Interference: Factories often contain metal structures and electronic equipment that can interfere with RFID signals. Using shielded cables, selecting appropriate RFID frequencies, and carefully positioning readers and antennas can help minimize interference.
  • Dealing with Environmental Factors: Extreme temperatures, dust, and moisture can affect RFID tags and readers. Opting for tags and equipment designed to withstand harsh conditions is crucial.
  • Ensuring Read Range and Accuracy: Optimizing the placement of RFID readers and adjusting their settings are necessary to capture the presence of tags accurately, especially in high-traffic areas. Creative solutions may be required to install equipment in space-limited bottlenecks effectively.



Implementing zone-based RFID tracking in factory environments marks a transformative step towards operational excellence. By leveraging RFID technology at structural bottlenecks, factories can unlock real-time visibility into the flow of assets and materials, enabling data-driven decision-making that optimizes processes (see also: pick by light system), reduces waste, and enhances productivity. As industries continue to evolve, the integration of RFID-based RTLS into factory operations emerges as a critical component for achieving streamlined workflows and sustained competitive advantage. Asset Agent offers all components for a successful deployment of RTLS for your production needs.

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