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Clean-Room Services Provider Uses RFID to Keep Things Orderly

Micro-Clean is using the technology to track air-cleaning units, as well as tools for maintaining and testing those units, to ensure that all are being serviced and calibrated as required.
By Claire Swedberg

In 2012, the company first began working with Verigenics on a solution. Verigenics is the RFID division of NewAge Industries, one of Micro-Clean's customers. Wagner brainstormed solutions with Jeff Johnson, Verigenics' director of auto-ID solutions. Micro-Clean's technicians, Wagner told Johnson, typically loaded tools specific to each worksite onto carts, and then transported the carts to those sites by van. Wagner posed the idea of employing RFID to track those tools as they went out and were returned, and shared the idea with Micro-Clean's technicians, whom he says were enthusiastic. Verigenics then began tagging several thousand tools with high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz passive RFID tags compliant with the ISO 15693 standard. Verigenics uses a variety of metal-mount, nylon or epoxy-encapsulated tags provided by multiple vendors, Johnson says.

Verigenics installed three reading stations at Micro-Clean's tool warehouse and calibration laboratory—one at each of the two tool check-in and check-out areas, and the third on the lab's workbench. Each reading station consists of a touchscreen mounted on the wall, a tablet computer built by a third-party manufacturer according to Verigenics' specifications, and a Datalogic Element Bluetooth handheld reader (the Element reader is no longer being sold by Datalogic).

Micro-Clean technicians apply RFID stickers to the customer equipment they service.
A field technician first fills a cart with the tools to take to a particular customer site, then wheels that cart to Micro-Clean's checkout station, enters his ID number via the touchscreen and uses the reader to capture each tool's tag ID. When a tag is interrogated, the station's touchscreen displays a description of that tool and its serial number, based on the tag ID stored in the MCiD software. The software determines whether that tool is nearing its calibration date and indicates an alert if it is.

Once all of the tool tags are read, the technician presses a prompt to end the checkout process, and the software, residing on a local server, stores data indicating who has removed the items, as well as when this occurred. The system then prints a manifest for the technician to take to a customer's site to prove that the tools have been calibrated.

When returning the tools, the technician uses a similar process, by following the prompts on the station's touchscreen, reading each tool's tag, and indicating whether that tool is being returned to storage, or is being sent to the calibration area or service department.

When conducted with pen and log books, the manual check-in or checkout process typically took about 15 minutes per cart. With RFID, Wagner reports, the same task now takes two to three minutes to complete. This alone has saved the company approximately $200,000 annually, he says.

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