RFID in ports and terminals: moving towards global acceptance


Michael Dempsey, Port Equipment Manufacturers Association & Identec Solutions



Radio Frequency Identification – or, as it is more commonly known, RFID – is an automated identification and data collection (AIDC) technology. From access cards to passports to toll tags, RFID has become a ubiquitous, integral part of our daily lives both at work and at home. RFID offers unique benefits for the identification and tracking of people, assets and inventory. It provides automated identification without the line of sight required by bar code and optics (laser, OCR), can be read at short to very long range and can be encoded with significant amounts of data. Few AIDC technologies can match its flexibility and cost/benefit ratio.

The ports and terminals sector represents a proven, growing market for RFID. Historically, the ports market was an early adopter of RFID. However, what started as a market focused on the use of passive RFID for security has evolved to a predominantly active RFID for long-range asset tracking and process automation. Current RFID applications in ports and terminals are grouped in four main areas:

• Network asset visibility: These applications support the identification and tracking of assets typically associated with operations within a facility, but to a growing extent also across wider-spread container logistics networks. A derivative of visibility, Real Time Locating Systems (RTLS) provides precise asset tracking inside the terminal.

• Process automation: These are applications intended to automate previously manual processes with the goal of improving operational productivity and/or equipment utilization. They are almost exclusively deployed within a facility.

• Safety: Safety applications use RFID to ensure the safety of people as well as hard assets. This is fast becoming a hotspot in RFID as terminal worker safety is increasing in importance.

• Security: Security applications use RFID to ‘secure’ an asset or uniquely identify an individual, generally in conjunction with other security technologies such as biometrics.

Today, the overall RFID market in ports represents nearly a US$100 million business per year. The largest segment of this is within port community and marine container terminals for automating gate and yard processes. However, the emergence of new applications using RFID as a ‘wireless sensor’ may change the way the RFID market develops.

Application of RFID is driven by core benefits including labor productivity, safety and increased asset utilization. However, another key element of growth in the port community and terminal market is environmental. Ports and marine terminals are highly visible and tend to reside in large populous areas – think LA/Long Beach. Moreover, ports have been heavy ‘carbon foot-printers’ from both over the road diesel trucks and internal vehicles. RFID is now an integral part of the tracking of vehicles tied to emissions programs, as well as optimized travel of internal vehicles, thereby also reducing emissions.

New directions in RFID application

The current ports market is vibrant and has been steadily growing excluding the recent economic downturn. Most of the largescale deployments are concentrated in the marine container terminal and port community areas, focused on applications for gate automation and truck tracking. New opportunities also exist across a broad number of additional submarkets and applications such as bulk handling and RoRo.

So what should we expect to see and what are the hot applications in the next two to three years?


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