Misplaced equipment and inventory theft come at a huge cost to organizations. A report by the National Equipment Register (NER) estimates $300 million to $1 billion in construction equipment is stolen annually in the United States.
Healthcare facilities are also challenged with the expense of replacing stolen or missing assets. At Toronto Western Hospital in Ontario, endoscopy equipment valued at $1.2 million was stolen in a planned heist. In San Jose, CA, equipment valued at over $11 million went missing over a four-year period from Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.
Reasons for asset loss
Although construction sites and healthcare facilities are vastly different enterprises, they do share common operational aspects that make the loss of equipment a real threat. Both environments are exceedingly busy and staff are pressed for time. There are many faces coming and going – hospitals have a constant stream of new patients and visitors flowing through, while a construction site or industrial facility receives a high number of subcontractors and delivery people.
Added to the mix of these bustling environments and time-strapped staff is the factor of mobile equipment, which is moved for legitimate purposes across multiple floors, wards, or sites. The ability of managers and employees to maintain vigilance on all people and equipment assets – and do their jobs at the same time – is an impossible task. For these reasons, in combination with high reward and relatively low risk, industrial sites and healthcare facilities have become targets for professional thieves to steal expensive equipment, which is then shipped overseas and sold.
While misplaced assets may not seem as costly an issue as stolen equipment, there is the hidden expense of the hours spent searching for missing items, disruption to workflow, and employee frustration.
The soft costs of assets gone astray
The hard costs of having to replace lost or missing inventory are only part of the budgetary picture. When industrial machinery or heavy equipment is taken, there is a business interruption as well. Replacement equipment must be rented or purchased, while management has to spend time filling in police reports and insurance claims. There is also the potential for penalties dues to projects being delayed.
In the end, the snowballing costs add to the sticker price of the equipment, which can be considerable to begin with. According to an NER Theft Report, stolen items of heavy equipment had an average estimated value of $26,765.
When assets “take a walk” in a health care setting, staff have less time to spend with patients because they are searching for their medical equipment. A survey conducted by Nursing Times reported that, during a hospital shift, over a third of nurses expended at least one hour a day searching for equipment, and a further hour assisting other wards to find missing items.
A solution for stolen and misplaced assets
To combat the problem, organizations in multiple sectors are turning to radio-frequency identification systems (RFID) to track, locate and secure equipment and inventory. Tags are attached to equipment and centrally monitored in real-time by software that has the capability to alert staff or trigger alarms when an asset is removed from a designated area.
There are a variety of tagging options, from low-profile asset tags for small items to rugged, IECEx/ATEX-certified RFID equipment and tags for hazardous and outdoor environments. Solar-powered tags and completely wireless RFID systems are an option for operators working with equipment in remote, off-the-grid locations.
It’s easy to see how small parts, like construction tools or surgical equipment, can be pilfered, yet harder to comprehend how large assets are stolen or go missing, such as wheel loaders, excavators, hospital gurneys and crash carts. And yet, they do.
By dedicating RTLS tags to every type of asset, the visibility and security of those assets is made possible. Tag rules can be set up and managed for specific equipment to designate perimeters. A manager can be emailed, paged or notified through a desktop client or app to quickly locate items if they travel beyond their prescribed area.
Integrating a real-time tracking system increases efficiency. Without it, only the person who last used a piece of equipment will know where it is – which becomes a problem if that person is unavailable or off shift. On construction sites, it’s possible for an asset not to be used for months – especially during the winter – and its location can be forgotten. However, if the item is tagged with a real-time location system (RTLS), every employee can quickly find that piece of equipment through the central system.