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NFC May Bring Efficiency, Accountability to Laboratories

Test and research labs are tracking the chemicals and other samples used for their scientific work, by tagging products with open-detection labels and capturing data about the use and storage of each item via a solution from MilliporeSigma.
By Claire Swedberg

The company aims to solve technology problems in laboratories. "We've worked closely with our strategic accounts," Kuechenthal says, to identify the types of solutions that would help labs manage inventory. "We said to our customers 'Let's think through the workflow of a consumable or chemical in a lab'," he adds, in order to track the movements of these high-value items, as well as create historical records about how they are used, "where you have touch points that are not efficient enough."

Many labs use a software system known as the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). In some cases, rather than inputting data manually, they utilize barcodes on products so that they can scan them to access information about those items. The shortcoming of barcodes, however, is the need for a clean line of sight, according to Kuechenthal.

The environment can include spilled chemicals, ice or other materials that could block a barcode label from being properly scanned. Compounds can also be stored in vials that are typically about the size of half a pinkie finger, which means large amounts of data cannot be printed on them, such as expiration dates and batch numbers. Sometimes, specific notes are attached to products as well, but those can be knocked off during storage or use. MilliporeSigma says its RFID solution is intended to address these challenges.

The company developed a passive 13.56 MHz NFC tag compliant with the ISO 14443 and UHF 18000 standards, which can also be read via an NFC-enabled mobile phone or tablet. The label can also detect if the container to which it is attached has been opened. Each label is attached to a vial's lid, and the seal must be broken in order to open the sample. The unique ID encoded on the tag is then transmitted when interrogated, with a status indicator showing that it has been opened.

Here's how laboratories will use the solution: Users can download an Android-based app on their phone or tablet, then create their own ID number in the system. The cloud-based software enables management to view inventory data via a Chrome, Internet Explorer or Firefox browser. As each new product is entered into the system, a tag is attached to the closed container. Users can interrogate that tag via a phone or tablet, then use the LANEXO system to link the tag ID with other data about the product, including its batch number and expiration date, when the container is closed, or after it is opened.

To deploy the solution, labs would attach an adhesive NFC or UHF label to the front of each cabinet and storage area. The label's ID number would be linked to that cabinet or space in the software and app. As a product is put into storage, a user would open the app, read the tag at the cabinet and then interrogate the tag on the product in order to link the two together. The app receives the data and displays relevant information. For instance, if a product is highly flammable and should not be stored with another product that is corrosive, the app would display a warning on the user's phone or tablet, ensuring that such as mistake wouldn't take place. The system then stores that item's location, along with the identity of the person who put it there.

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