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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

At the calibration lab, a technician uses the reading station to capture a tool's tag ID, and the MCiD software then shows which calibration tasks need to be carried out. Once the work has been completed, the technician uses the MCiD software to record which tasks have been performed, and then returns the tool to the warehouse. The RFID-based documentation process takes about one minute, while filling out paperwork related to each tool calibration required about three minutes.

This year, the company launched into the next phase of the deployment, by attaching RFID tags to equipment in the clean rooms serviced by its technicians. Thus far, Micro-Clean's technicians have tagged about 6,000 items. In the past, the company simply attached an adhesive sticker with its name and contact information printed on it, at the customer site. Now, its technicians are applying RFID sticker encoded with an ID number linked to data regarding the customer and the piece of equipment to which that sticker is attached. When Micro-Clean's workers visit a customer's site, they bring a tablet with a built-in RFID reader to capture each tag's ID and conduct their inspection and tests, and then input information into the tablet about the service being provided. The tablet has a Wi-Fi and cellular connection so that it can send synchronized data back to Micro-Clean's server on a regular basis.

Verigenics' Jeff Johnson
Previously, Johnson says, technicians prepared their reports by entering equipment and customer information into a form on their laptop, which required five to six minutes to complete. That process now only takes about 20 seconds, he adds.

At any time, technicians can upload the RFID-based data indicating what was done at each customer site. In that way, Micro-Clean can store the history of each piece of equipment for the customer, as well as for its own needs.

In the future, Wagner speculates that Micro-Clean could sell the RFID functionality to customers as a value-added service. This would be the third phase of the MCiD deployment. In that case, a customer would pay a fee to access data related to each piece of tagged equipment within its clean room. The customer's own workers could use an RFID reader or RFID-enabled smartphone to interrogate the RFID sticker of a particular piece of equipment, and then view that item's service history and the dates on which it is due for testing, servicing or replacement. The system could also enable a customer's workers to read a tag on an air-filtering unit, for instance, and view which components are installed inside it, thereby enabling them to locate a specific item they seek, such as a recalled filter part.

Wagner notes that some of Micro-Clean's customers have thousands of air-cleaning units onsite, and that tagging each of these units, or the components inside them, could make their management easier not only for Micro-Clean, but also for the customer. The company is now discussing this option with its customers and will proceed according to their interests.

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