Bangalore: For the Sundargarh Truck Owners’ Association (STOA), which manages about 4,500 lorries, tracking and numbering vehicles used to be an all-day affair.
“Our drivers and staff had to wait all day in the heat and it used to take at least six-eight hours to complete the entire manual process,” said Tapan Kumar Patel, joint secretary of STOA, Orissa’s largest such grouping.
But that was before STOA, which transports coal and iron ore for mining companies across Orissa, decided to deploy radio-frequency identification, or RFID, technology in early 2012. A task that would previously take hours could suddenly be completed in minutes.
“Tracking things like entry and departure time of vehicles has become so much easier for us now,” said Patel, also in charge of the RFID project at the truck association. RFID has also helped reduce the “misuse of vehicles”. “And since a truck or vehicle that does not punch in the tag at the entry point cannot enter the premises, it has also cut down the risk of theft.”
RFID tags are typically priced from Rs.45 to Rs.350. STOA has, till date, invested about Rs.22 lakh on the RFID project for all its trucks.
The push towards deploying RFID in an increasing number of mining companies such as Vedanta Resources Plc. and Coal India Ltd comes at a time of heightened government scrutiny in the mining sector that resulted in a ban on iron-ore mining in Karnataka and Goa last year, following reports of illegal mining.
Other major companies and conglomerates in the country are waking up to the potential of this technology. Examples include Larsen and Toubro Ltd, which recently deployed a RFID-based vehicle tracking system at its Hazira complex in Gujarat.
Sesa Goa, partly owned by Vedanta and the country’s largest iron-ore producer, has also begun using RFID tagging for its 10,000 trucks, which make a combined 50,000 trips on a daily basis.
Central Coalfields Ltd (CCL), a direct subsidiary of Coal India Ltd, also plans to deploy RFID tracking and global positioning systems (GPS) over the next seven-eight months for its 1,500 trucks, according to O.A. Siddique, chief manager at Central Coalfields.
“Coal and iron-ore mining have really caught the eye of the Supreme Court. Most of these coal companies and their subsidiaries are talking about investing close to a couple of hundred crores in the next 12-18 months and they need to bring some semblance of order in terms of what is being carried, what the trucker is charging, and what is being given at the end of the day in terms of consumption,” said Apurva Parekh, managing director, Essen RFID, a company that manufactures and distributes RFID tagging systems.
“Mining companies are open to leakages and tracking a million tonnes (of shipments) manually is obviously challenging,” Parekh said.
RFID tag manufacturers are also trying to implement the technology in other sectors such as fertilizers and pesticides to track bags of material such as ammonium nitrate, which can also be used to make explosives, and hence needs to be closed monitored.
The technology is popular in other countries such as the US, where tags are often used to track everyday items such as wallets, school bags and clothes.
In India, however, experts feel the implementation of radio-tracking is more challenging as not many companies are keen on increasing spending.
“For larger companies, it’s much easier to use this technology to bring about efficiencies in their business. It depends on the size of the company,” said Umesh Karne, an analyst at Brics Securities Ltd. “In a country like India, using such a technology is very important if you want to bring about order and efficiency.”
According to Parekh, however, making a bigger breakthrough in other sectors is challenging especially in a country like India since “…people don’t want to implement systems that can actually streamline and for which you can have a paper trail from beginning to end”.