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Steelcase Mexico's RFID Solutions Help Banks Manage Assets

Banks and other businesses in Mexico City are using EPC passive UHF tags to track office furniture, and are testing a system that uses active tags to detect when specific office areas are in use.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 05, 2012The Mexican division of office-furniture company Steelcase is providing an RFID-based solution that helps its customers track the locations of their furniture and office equipment. Steelcase Mexico is currently offering a solution employing passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 RFID tags to make inventory-management more efficient, but the company is also developing a solution involving active RFID tags that can detect when office chairs are moved, and thus when—and for how long—a specific area within the office is being occupied.

The asset-management system consists of passive UHF tags attached to the underside of chairs, which transmit a unique ID number to a handheld device, or to a fixed reader installed as a portal within the user's office space. It also includes a software application that users can install in order to link the tags' ID numbers to details regarding the office furniture, including not only an item's description, but also where it belongs and to whom that asset is assigned. Later this year, Steelcase Mexico plans to incorporate passive EPC Gen 2 tags into the chairs that it sells to certain customers. By the end of 2012, the company may opt to incorporate passive RFID tags into every chair it sells in Mexico.

Raúl Hernández Rivas
However, Steelcase Mexico is also developing an active tag with a built-in accelerometer that senses when a chair is moved. The tag will transmit that movement data, along with its unique ID number, to software that records when an individual is using the chair. Based on each chair's movements, as sensed by the active tags, Steelcase's software can determine the frequency at which a conference room is utilized, the number of people using it and the length of time that it remained in use. With these reports, says Raúl Hernández Rivas, Steelcase Mexico's project and services manager, a user can evaluate whether the conference rooms are being utilized to their full potential, or if fewer or more conference rooms are required. Steelcase hopes to make this conference-room solution available in mid-2012.

For several years, Hernández says, Steelcase Mexico has been developing solutions that would contribute to workspace efficiency, "with creative ideas and services." Approximately four years ago, the company's managers learned about RFID, and began investigating the types of services that they might offer using the technology. The firm partnered with Accsys 3000, a Mexico City company that provides an RFID solution for access control and asset tracking, known as Accsys Track, and utilizing passive, active or semi-active technology. Several years of research—conducted by Steelcase Mexico and Accsys 3000—into an asset-management solution included developing software to link asset data to a tag's unique ID number, as well as the testing of active and passive RFID tags. Steelcase Mexico settled on a solution involving passive tags, which cost less than battery-powered tags.

In 2008, Steelcase Mexico offered the solution to Ixe Banco, located in Mexico City—one of the company's existing clients that uses office furniture in large volume from Steelcase Mexico. The first installation was at a local branch in which Steelcase provided UPM RFID UHF Gen 2 passive RFID tags, to be applied to chairs and workstations, and read by Accsys 3000 handheld RFID readers, with Accsys Trak software managing read data. According to Hernández, the firm has since provided the system to several other companies in Mexico City as well.

After using the system with passive tags on chairs and workstations, customers began requesting additional tags to apply to other assets as well, including computers, phones and printers. To date, Steelcase Mexico has supplied Ixe Banco alone with about 60,000 tags, for multiple branches throughout the country. The solution has now been installed at Microsoft's Mexico City office, with about 1,500 tags; at Monex Bank, with 10,000 tags; and at L'Oréal, with 3,000 tags.

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