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Health Clubs Halt Towel Loss With RFID

Russian fitness centers have reduced the number of lost towels from 150 per month down to only five or 10 in three months, thanks to an RFID-based solution from ISBC Group.
By Claire Swedberg

ISBC also provides the UHF RFID readers that are mounted at the fitness center's entrance. For most installations, a tag isn't read unless the towel to which it is attached leaves the site. The tagged towel data is managed in ISBC's cloud-based or locally hosted server, and if no tag is read, the system knows the towel is located on the property. If an individual attempts to leave with a towel, the reader at the entrance will interrogate that tow's tag, then forward the ID number to the server via a cabled connection.

Next, the software prompts the sounding of an audible alert at the door, and a worker at the front desk can ask the individual to check his or her bag for a towel. Typically, Anisimova says, clients remove towels inadvertently. Once reminded, they usually return them to the staff and are less likely to make that error again.

Once a user is finished with a towel, he or she can discard it in the drop box at the back of the wardrobe.
Reading tags through wet laundry and water bottles in a gym bag posed a challenge that required some engineering, Anisimova says. Engineers had to factor the high presence of water into the development and installation of reader antennas, she adds, so as to ensure they could reliably read tags at the required distance. According to Anisimova, the system works effectively at a read rate near 100 percent.

Some fitness centers plan to install an ISBC ESMART UHF RFID-enabled wardrobe that could allow them to manage towels on site. With the wardrobe in place, clients who need a towel could use their ID card (provided by the centers) to open the wardrobe's door. Software would then be updated to indicate who had accessed the towels.

Once a person takes a towel, its ID number will no longer be read by the antennas, and the system will thus associate that towel with that individual. After the visitor is finished using it, he or she can discard the towel in the drop box at the back of the wardrobe, which also has antennas built in to detect RFID tags. The software is then updated, indicating that the towel was returned.

If the soiled towel level becomes too high, the software can issue an alert to employees that the dirty towels need to be collected for laundering, or that the number of clean towels need to be restocked. The wardrobe is built to hold 200 to 300 clean towels, which is what many health clubs typically have on hand at any given time. Since the dozen health clubs took the RFID system live, Anisimova says, some have reported that the number of lost towels has been reduced from 150 per month to only five or 10 during a three-month period.

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