In the Aesop fable, “Belling the Cat” concerns a group of mice who debate plans to nullify the threat of a marauding cat. One mouse proposes placing a bell around the cat’s neck, so that they are warned of its approach. The plan is applauded by the mice, until the leader says, “It’s a great plan that is sure to work… but who will bell the cat?”
The story is used to teach the wisdom of evaluating a plan not only on how desirable the outcome, but also on how it can be executed. The story gives rise to the idiom to bell the cat, which means to attempt, or agree to perform, an impossibly difficult task. In the field of investment recovery, tracking assets, and finding accurate purchase and maintenance records have historically felt like impossibly difficult tasks. But the advent of Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) technology can make finding those “cats” and their individual history a whole lot easier.
RFID technology is exploding, fueled in part by the ubiquity of the Internet. Access to and the use of RFID by surplus asset managers is an ever more likely event. For one thing, tag placement options are improving as storage and sensing options become smaller and easier to implement.
For example, tags that had to previously be welded, wired, or screwed onto equipment in rugged environments are more likely to be built into a newer asset. Now, even RFID-enabled washers featuring an extremely small tag embedded in a recess on the washer’s surface can be attached to an item by means of a bolt that is already part of that asset.
The information collected by the RFID device is a huge benefit for anyone responsible for determining the appropriate value in a potential redeployment or resale. Also, the availability of complete and accurate maintenance records is of value to a potential buyer, likely increasing the investment recovery.
Tags and readers are helping oil and gas companies to determine the lifespan of each pipe lowered into and removed from offshore drill holes, thereby retaining a record of how much and how frequently the equipment is used, and thus the amount of useful life it retains. That information will allow a company to better manage its inventory, and ensure that equipment is not used longer than it should be, or discarded before reaching the end of its lifespan.
To deter thieves who have taken the opportunity to steal more expensive plastic pallets and containers in order to grind the plastic down and sell it to recyclers, iGPS, a company that rents plastic pallets, equips the more expensive pallets and container with RFID chips. When Charleston County, S.C., shifted its recycling program from a dual- to singlestream system (with all recyclables being deposited into a single large container, rather than separated into two smaller ones), the county employed an RFID system to measure the success in increasing recycling participation. RFID even allows the county to target those not participating in the program, and provide them with educational materials. In response to thefts of copper electrical wires, a company in Albuquerque, N.M. is now employing an RFID-based solution that can alert police officers through automated wireless sensors.
Utility poles and RFID
Cox Industries is attaching passive ultra high frequency (UHF) RFID tags to wooden utility poles after they are manufactured. The tags track their location and status within the yard in which they are stored and then loaded onto trucks bound for utility companies across the Eastern Seaboard. At the same time, the city of Orangeburg, S.C., is applying similar tags to 20,000 poles for use by its inspectors and maintenance staff. If utility companies had RFID handheld readers, they could then encode the tags with such information as when a particular pole was inspected or maintained, and use that data throughout the pole’s life.
In short, Belling the cat for IR managers is becoming a whole lot easier and more common.
Interested in other technologies applied to IR today? The 2018 Seminar & Trade Show will feature a panel discussion on how IR professionals are using technology to maximize their productivity and profitability.