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3M Launches Asset and Inventory Tracking System

The solution includes 13.56 MHz passive RFID tags, handheld and pad readers, and a hosted software application in which asset data can be stored online.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 22, 2010Later this month, 3M plans to release its Asset and Inventory Tracking System, with a hosted software application that will allow organizations such as IT departments and construction equipment managers to use RFID or bar-coding to track their assets. To test the system's flexibility, the company is preparing to pilot the technology to track laboratory equipment within its own facilities in St. Paul, Minn.

The solution includes high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz RFID hardware, compliant with the ISO 15693 standard, and is designed for midsize or smaller businesses seeking to track assets without installing software that must be integrated and maintained, or wiring hardware such as fixed reader portals. The software application in which data regarding those assets is stored and displayed is hosted by 3M, and can be accessed via the Internet.

Tom Mercer, marketing manager for 3M's Track and Trace Solutions division
The system is easy to install and use, and requires limited investment, says Tom Mercer, the marketing manager of 3M's Track and Trace Solutions division, because users would need only upload existing data about the assets into the server software, place a passive RFID tag (or a bar-coded label) on an asset, and then utilize a Socket Mobile 650 handheld interrogator to read the unique ID number encoded to that tag. 3M also offers a reader pad so that tags can be interrogated by placing the tagged items on the pad—as they are being checked out of storage or returned, for example, or as they enter a new building.

In this way, companies can track the time and date an item was moved. When performing audits, workers can use the handheld reader with a Wi-Fi connection that lets it communicate with the hosted 3M software. They can also utilize the reader's keypad to input a specific item they are seeking, and the handheld would alert the user when that unique ID number was detected. Alternatively, the interrogator can also be used to take inventory, with a user walking throughout a facility to count all items—such as phones, PDAs or laptops—within read range (up to 12 inches) between the handheld reader and the assets' tags. Users can also select a "search and report" function in the server to run reports on inventory, or on the location or use of the assets.

One way 3M could prove the system's use, however, was to test it within its own company. Because the firm already has a large inventory-tracking system in place for its IT assets, 3M selected a smaller use case that would be more typical of those of its customers. In this case, the company chose to track laboratory equipment. Beginning in early April, 3M intends to employ the system to manage 400 pieces of equipment that require regular audits and must be tracked from one building to another. The equipment consists of balances, oscilloscopes and other calibrated devices used in the design and development of 3M products.

In the past, that tracking had been conducted manually, using pen and paper. Each time an audit occurred, a list would be created and printed. One or more people would walk through the labs searching for assets, and then cross them off the list. "The manual process of crossing off lists, compiling the information, took quite a bit of time," Mercer explains. "Now, with the handheld, they can walk around and scan each item quickly. If there is a bar code on the item, they will scan the bar code; if there is an RFID tag on the item, they will scan the RFID tag."

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