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RFID Outclasses Manual Furniture Inventory System at USC

A UHF solution, from Simply RFID, enables the University of Southern California to boost the accuracy of inventory data related to on- and off-campus housing furnishings.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 30, 2014

The University of Southern California (USC) housing office knew its housing facilities, on and off campus, had upwards of 60,000 pieces of furniture and appliances. But until the student housing office deployed a radio frequency identification system, tracking which items were at what locations, as well as which were broken, missing or due for replacement, required exhaustive manual inventories. Those inventory counts, typically conducted during summers, required the hiring of temporary workers and many hours of labor to catalog what was where.

Thanks to an RFID system provided by Virginia technology company Simply RFID, however, the school now knows where its inventory is located, and has been able to dispel some myths as well, says Leo R. Boese, the special projects manager of USC's housing office. One prominent myth claimed that furniture was frequently moving and was often not where it was supposed to be. By using handheld RFID readers, employees were able to determine that furniture did not move as often as the school had thought, and that when it did move, it was still in the vicinity of its intended location. That, along with other findings, has made it easier for the school to order new furniture when necessary, as well as identify which items need repair. What's more, it can now avoid over-ordering due to furniture ending up missing.

USC is a private research university in Los Angeles. It has approximately 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled, many of whom live in dorms, suites and apartments. All facilities are furnished with chairs, desks and beds, while the apartments also include refrigerators, and other appliances and furniture. Until recently, the housing office staff went through each room or unit once a year or semester, counting and identifying every piece of furniture, and writing down what was missing or required repair or maintenance. Many items seemed to be missing.

In 2011, the college began working with Simply RFID to install an RFID system known as NoxVault, consisting of passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags containing Avery Dennison AD-223 inlays for attachment to furniture, Convergence Systems Ltd. (CSL) CS101 handheld readers and Simply RFID's NoxCore software residing on the college's virtual machine, to manage inventory and RFID read data.

In summer 2012, USC employed six temporary workers to apply RFID tags to every asset within all of the housing units, and to input data about those items into the NoxCore software. By the time they were finished, Boese says, they had identified 63,943 assets, ranging from chairs and couches to mattresses, refrigerators and bed frames. In addition, each object was assigned a room or unit number in the software.

Beginning in fall 2012, the school began equipping its housing health and safety inspectors with CS101 readers. The inspectors enter each housing unit or room once a semester (typically while students are on holiday) and examine the working conditions of smoke detectors, appliances and electrical plugs, identifying any potential safety issues. Now, they also use the RFID reader to capture asset inventory information. The handheld can read up to 90 tags per second at a range of 20 feet.

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