Department of Defense Completes Testing of Mesh-Networking RFID Tags

December 29, 2009

After large-scale testing, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is considering the use of mesh-network location-tracking RFID tags to track high-value or mission-critical items.  The relatively inexpensive tags are battery-powered and allow for the tracking of boxes and refrigerated containers through terminals, seaports, and/or airports even in remote locations via secure local mesh networks spanning up to half a mile in length.

According to the RFID Journal (http://www.rfidjournal.com/article/view/5087/1), each tag on transported goods serves as a network node, transmitting its own and other tags’ unique ID number and GPS coordinates. Using a proprietary 2.4 GHz mesh communication protocol, the tags form a network with each other and with mobile radio frequency (RF) gateways that transmit each tag’s ID number and GPS location over secure long-range communications channels such as satellite, cellular, Wi-Fi, or other available networks. Because the tags communicate with one another, the need for a great deal of infrastructure is reduced. This allows for fixed locations, such as shipping ports, to need only one or two gateways. Additionally, unlike most RFID technology, the system does not require fixed interrogators at every gateway because the mesh network provides visibility from almost any location.

To date, the largest test of the asset-tracking system occurred in March 2009 at Moffett Field (operated by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California) for the U.S. Army Logistics Innovation Agency (LIA). While the DoD has not yet decided whether to permanently deploy this system, there is conjecture that the testing could result in other its use by U.S. governmental branches, such as the Department of Homeland Security.

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RFID Helps University of Miami Center for Patient Safety Prevent Healthcare-Associated Infections

December 23, 2009

A sobering and little-known statistic is that, in the United States, healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are among the top ten causes of death. Many of HAIs occur because of a lack of proper hand washing among hospital staff. Now, the University of Miami UM-JMH Center for Patient Safety is deploying a cutting-edge sensor-based RFID hand hygiene compliance solution to monitor staff hand-washing compliance and reduce the occurrence of HAIs (http://www.versustech.com/pdf/PR_090729_HHC_@_Univ_of_Miami_(DCC_&_Versus).pdf).

The automatic system is a patented hybrid of infrared and radio frequency (IR-RF) technology. It works by using small IR-RF sensors in soap dispensers to read staff ID badges and monitor the exact location and time at which staff members wash their hands. When hand washing has been completed successfully, the system emits an audible verification sound; the system also emits an alert when staff members forget to wash their hands.

With the IR-RF system, the hospital is able to track and report on hand hygiene compliance (HHC) in real time, implementing additional employee training when necessary. The hospital’s goal is to reduce the 1.7 million HAIs (and 99,000 related deaths) seen by the U.S. each year.


RFID Tags Used to Ensure Recycling in Australia

December 22, 2009

In an unprecedented move, Australian councils have begun mandating that recycling contractors affix an RFID tag to each residence’s recycling bin. Because the councils are charged for the collection of all recycling bins, whether or not they are actually used by homeowners, the idea is to use RFID to keep track of which bins are actually collected for recycling. This way, recycling contractors can provide an audit trail and charge only for the bins whose contents have been collected.

The RFID system hinges on the unique ID number encoded in each RFID tag. A high-frequency (HF) RFID reader reads the tag on every bin as the bin is delivered to a home. After capturing the tag’s unique ID number, the reader sends that information via Bluetooth to a contractor’s handheld terminal, which holds the bin identification solution. That data is then sent back to a central database, where each tag (and, thus, bin) is matched to an address.

Interestingly, the handheld terminals utilized in the system were originally equipped with only barcode scan capability, Bluetooth, and GPRS—not RFID. The goal was to find an RFID reader that was both easy to use and whose information could be transferred via Bluetooth. Both goals have been met by the new system.

In the last six months, 16 readers have been used by recycling contractors with little training time and few complications (http://www.greensheet.com/newswire.php?newswire_id=12359).


Leading Pallet and Container Pooling Service Provider Deploys RFID to Track Assets

December 17, 2009

CHEP (www.chep.com), a leader in pallet and container pooling services with more than 7,000 employees in 45 countries, has chosen to deploy an RFID system to track assets for its customers in South Africa. Specifically, the MEA division of the company will be using battery-assisted, passive (BAP) RFID tags to track pallets and containers for automotive and retail customers.

With an asset base of more than 300 million pallets and containers worldwide, CHEP provides pallet and container supply chain logistics services for customers in a variety of industries, including consumer goods, produce, meat, home improvement, beverage, raw materials, petro-chemical, and automotive. Some of its partners include Procter & Gamble, SYSCO, Kellogg’s, Kraft, Nestle, Ford, and GM. CHEP seeks to provide all of its partners with unprecedented supply chain visibility, and tracks most of their products using traditional passive RFID labels.

However, the company has found that some items in the automotive and retail sectors pose challenges for traditional passive RFID labels. For this reason, CHEP MEA chose to build its RFID tracking system using EPCglobal Class 1 Gen 2 labels, in addition to standard RFID readers. Passive Gen 2 RFID labels complement the system.

According to Victor Leftwick, CHEP MEA’s Technology Services Director, “We selected [BAP] tags for customers with items that challenge RFID performance. We are very satisfied with [their] ability to provide us with full visibility.”

For more information on CHEP’s deployment of RFID, visit http://www.power-id.com/Newsroom/content.aspx?id=268.


Metro Group Expands RFID ”Tag It Easy!” Program Into China and India

December 15, 2009

After reaching a reading accuracy level of nearly 100 percent at its food markets in Germany and France (link to post “Metro Group Tracks Pallets with RFID, Achieves Nearly 100 Percent Read Rate”), international retailer Metro Group (http://www.metrogroup.de/servlet/PB/menu/-1_l2/index.html) is expanding its “Tag It Easy!” RFID program into China and India (http://www.checkpointsystems.com/default.aspx?page=news&idnews=306).

The expansion, which is the third phase of the overall program, will involve more than 75 Chinese and Indian consumer goods suppliers, as well as the 100 manufacturers from Hong Kong, China, and Vietnam that already participate. As part of the program, all of these suppliers and manufacturers will apply RFID labels on shipments heading to Metro Group’s facilities in Germany.

Metro Group originally turned to RFID in order to achieve real-time visibility and increase the processing speed of incoming goods at its European warehouses and stores. Now, the company is using the “Tag It Easy!” program— which utilizes ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 RFID tags—to track merchandise throughout its Asian supply chain.

The RFID labels used by Metro Group store the Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC), which is read by RFID interrogators located throughout the supply chain. The readers then send Metro Group an electronic advance shipping notice containing specific shipment details; the readers also send suppliers an automatic proof-of-delivery notification.

The results of the system include the elimination of manual counting and checking of export packages as well as more accurate shipping data; or, in short, more streamlined logistics processes. Ultimately, however, Metro Group hopes that the initiative will enhance its customers’ shopping experiences.


RFID a Hit at Annual French Golf Tournament

December 10, 2009

At this year’s Open de Saint-Omer, organizers turned to RFID in hopes of streamlining access control for approximately 2,000 VIP guests (http://www.rfidjournal.com/article/view/5076/1).

More than 13,000 people (including the VIPs) attended the tournament, which was held June 15-21. The VIPs required special access to private boxes, VIP lounges, exhibitor areas, restaurants, and hotels. Meanwhile, an additional 1,000 people—such as organizers, players, sponsors, and journalists—also needed access to restricted areas. Access control processes were potentially complicated by the fact that some individuals’ access rights changed from day to day. Keeping guests’ spirits up while maintaining control of who entered which areas has been a significant challenge in previous years, even with bar-coded badges and wristbands in use.

To combat the problem, the tournament’s organizers deployed a passive RFID system to track VIPs. The system, which cost about $17,000, included handheld computers with built-in RFID interrogators and an RFID ticketing solution. Additionally, guests, staff, and others with special access rights were given ID badges encoded with high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz passive tags. The readers were linked via wireless network, and a centralized guest database contained and managed the access rights of everyone using the RFID system.

Benefits included:

  • Building up profiles of guests and sponsors to provide more personalized service in future events
  • Ability to quickly change a guest’s access rights—without needing to completely reissue a badge—if he or she needed access to a different area of the tournament
  • Maintaining statistics such as which guests attended which bars and restaurants, how guests came and left the tournament, and which locations were most popular with guests

For privacy reasons, guests could opt out of the system at any time.


Wake Forest Medical Center Deploys Hybrid Infrared-RFID System to Track Assets and Vaccines

December 8, 2009

In what is set to be the largest healthcare tracking deployment to date, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center (http://www1.wfubmc.edu/) has begun using hybrid infrared-RFID technology to track assets and vaccines throughout its 4.1 million square feet of hospital space. In addition to simply being able to locate the vaccines throughout the vast area, Wake Forest will also be able to track their temperatures within its 300 refrigerators and freezers.

Located in Winston-Salem, NC, the 1,056-bed Wake Forest began looking into RFID approximately three years ago. At the time, the medical center was interested in finding a way to track its growing inventory of infusion pumps, wheelchairs, and other higher-value mobile equipment.

After piloting an RTLS system that used Wi-Fi-based RFID tags, however, Wake Forest found itself still unable to track an asset’s location to a specific room. To solve this problem, the medical center decided to deploy infrared transmitters and sensors to track its 900 MHz RFID tags at room-level. There will soon be approximately 1,300 infrared transmitters (one per room) and several hundred RFID readers installed throughout the facility.

As well as tracking medical equipment using RFID, Wake Forest has installed temperature-sensing RFID tags to the exterior of refrigerators and freezers, with temperature probes placed within. Each tag transmits a signal encoded with a unique ID number, as well as location, date, time, and temperature. If the sensor determines that a vaccine temperature is outside the safe threshold, the system alerts the appropriate personnel via text message, e-mail, or page. This further enhances the safety of the patients at Wake Forest.

In the future, Wake Forest aims to expand the deployment to include tracking patients, staff members, and additional assets throughout the hospital (http://www.rfidjournal.com/article/view/5073/1).