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Applied Materials Inc. Tracks Assets, Protects Intellectual Property

The company is using passive RFID to track assets and tools at its California Metal Deposition laboratory, and a Wi-Fi-based RTLS to capture the locations of high-value items in real time.
By Claire Swedberg

However, Applied Materials needed greater granularity to pinpoint not just the room in which a target was located, but also the specific rack and shelf. Therefore, Tagit applied passive UHF RFID "marker tags" to racks and shelves. The ID number encoded to each marker tag is stored in the software to indicate that specific location. Staff members walk past the racks and shelves while conducting inventory counts, and the reader captures the ID numbers of all tagged items (such as targets), as well those of the marker tags. A worker can use Tagit firmware on the handheld to determine the exact shelf and rack on which each item is stored. That data is then available on the software for users seeking a specific target for use or reuse.

"Just tracking those targets pays for the whole infrastructure," Saigal said, since it spares the company from having to order replacement targets when other targets are still useable but cannot be located.

Applied Materials' Dinesh Saigal
For more critical assets, Tagit installed the Wi-Fi-based RTLS solution. In this case, an RTLS tag is applied to each item that already has a passive UHF RFID tag to provide real-time data within specific sections of rooms. Applied Materials has a Wi-Fi network in place, provided by Aruba Networks. The tags transmit directly to that Wi-Fi network, and the Aruba system forwards the X and Y location coordinates to the Tagit software, which then identifies where within the building, or within a given room, a specific item is located. This can be valuable for tracking intellectual property, since it ensures that no customer's silicon wafer is ever misplaced or confused with one belonging to another.

The technology can be used to quickly find equipment that must be calibration-tested. What's more, workers can input data regarding each calibration test procedure, to be stored with the ID number on the item's tag.

The company has taken a measured approach to the installation, Saigal told the audience at RFID Journal LIVE, warning that such RFID systems should be well planned before any installation takes place. He added that it is important to have full support from management, and from the employees who will be using the system.

In addition, Saigal said, although the technology requires little human intervention, someone at a company must take ownership of the solution, and manage its operation and the data provided by the software. "You need someone to oversee the system," he stated.

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