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Japanese Hospitals, Stores Deploy RFID Smart Shelves

Teijin's 2D communication sheets provide a real-time view into when products are stocked on shelves on which the sheets are mounted, and when they are removed.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 06, 2019

Hospitals and stores in Japan have been rolling out an RFID-enabled shelf system that provides real-time data regarding when products are stocked on or removed from shelves. Recently, Osaka's Kitano Hospital has launched the passive UHF RFID system for the processing and distribution of medical supplies. They system enables hospitals to track when catheters are stored in its cabinets, as well as when they are removed, require replenishment or are set to expire. The solution, known as Recopick, is provided by Japanese chemical, pharmaceutical and information technology company Teijin, which is currently only selling the solution in Japan.

A department store, which has asked to remain unnamed, is among the latest retailers to deploy the solution. The system consists of passive UHF RFID tags attached to display shoes in the store's shoe department, as well as smart shelves and a software platform to identify every time a shoe is removed from the shelf—and when it is not returned.

Teijin's Natsuki Aramoto
Teijin's technology consists of what it calls 2D communication sheets, with built-in RF antennas, that confine and transmit electromagnetic waves, according to Natsuki Aramoto, Teijin's project manager for smart sensing business development. The system was developed by Teijin using 2-D communication technology from Cell Croll Co. Ltd, a venture launched from the Tokyo Institute of Technology's Shinoda Laboratory. The 2D communication sheets can be applied not only to shelves, but also to walls and floors, and thereby enable users to track the movements of tagged items within close proximity to a surface.

Each antenna sheet connects to a multiport RFID reader and writer, and a PC via a cable. The sheet measures 900 to 1,800 millimeters (35 to 70 inches) in length, 100 millimeters (3.9 inches) in width and 3 millimeters (0.1 inch) in thickness. Typically, the sheet is laid directly over the shelf, and products are then placed on the sheet in the same way they would be with a plain shelf. The solution has been most commonly adopted in four sectors: health care, retail, libraries and manufacturing. The sheets are designed to be waterproof.

In stores, the system can detect which goods are on shelves in real time, for the purpose of store management. For instance, by tracking products such as display shoes, a department store can better ensure products are on display for shoppers, and also capture analytic data about the popularity of specific shoes. When a tagged shoe is placed on a shelf, its tag ID number is captured by the antenna, and the reader forwards that data to the server via a cabled connection.

Teijin's software links that ID number with the product's Japanese Article Numbering (JAN) code and forwards the item-tracking data to a retailer's inventory-management software. When a shoe or some other tagged product is lifted 5 centimeters (2 inches) or more above the shelf, the system will no longer read the tag ID and will update that item's status in the software as having been removed. "It can be used at convenience stores and drugstores" as well, Aramoto says. The technology can help store associates to manage products efficiently—for example, quickly restocking fast-moving items.

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