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RFID Helps Stowers Institute Researchers Shop for Supplies

Terso Solutions' Smart Stockroom enables scientists to purchase tools and chemicals kept within a storage room, and to automatically bill the goods to a specific grant.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 12, 2012Scientific institutes typically have a complex system for providing materials to researchers whose work is funded by grants. Because researchers need a variety of goods—ranging from an $8 box of latex gloves to chemical compounds valued at thousands of dollars—and must bill the grant supporting their research, most institutes and universities must staff a storage area with someone who can record and authorize every transaction. An alternative to this method is an automated system consisting of locked cabinets that can utilize biometrics, radio frequency identification or both, in order to provide goods to authorized individuals and create an invoice for the appropriate party.

The Stowers Institute for Medical Research, located in Kansas City, Mo., conceived of an RFID solution that was then created by automated inventory-management technology firm Terso Solutions. The system consists of an RFID-enabled store at which individuals can shop for and select the products they need, and then make their purchases. The system was taken live in late September 2012 at the institute's Kansas City campus. Terso is now marketing that solution, known as Smart Stockroom.

Stowers' storage room contains not only goods on metal shelves, but also some temperature-sensitive items in about 13 refrigerators and freezers, as well as a cabinet for flammable materials.

The Stowers Institute employs 350 scientists, each of whom utilizes a variety of tools while investigating the causes, treatment and prevention of diseases. Those tools include reagent test kits, containers of chemicals used in experiments, and compounds made onsite for specific uses.

Until this year, the institute had a biometrics-based locked cabinet solution provided by Cardinal Health. At any given time, 24 hours a day, researchers could access a bank of locked cabinets and gain access to the items stored within. After undergoing a fingerprint scan, an employee would use the touch screen to select the desired product, thereby unlocking the door to the appropriate cabinet, where that individual would then find what he or she needed and request that it be billed to the appropriate grant. The team liked the system, says Jessica Witt, the head of research systems for Stowers' Resource Management division. Researchers were pleased to be able to access the goods they required 24 hours a day, seven days a week, she explains, since it did not require a staff member onsite to manually provide the tools and create invoices.

The Cardinal Health system, however, would no longer support integration with the institute's Oracle system, so Witt began investigating other solutions. She had seen an RFID-based convenience store at a Florida airport, and considered adopting that concept. The institute approached Terso Solutions, which offers RFID-enabled cabinets to the health-care industry, with the idea of obtaining a storage room that could act as a store for researchers, allowing them to browse through the available goods to find what they seek, perform comparison shopping, make a purchase via RFID technology and then have their grant provider billed.

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