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Texas Lab Stocks Up With RFID

At the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, researchers find that radio frequency identification gets them the supplies they need, 24-7.
By Jonathan Collins
Next, the PromegaExpress application updates the online inventory data, accessible via the Web by university administrators, researchers and Promega, and generates three e-mail messages: one to the school’s accounts payable department to sanction payment, one to Sylvia Thomas, and one to the person who took the items out. This provides a record of what was removed, as well as an immediate opportunity to rectify any anomalies.

“Now all researchers have 24-7 access, and no one has to be here to supervise, and there are no forms to fill out. In addition, we have an actual record date and time stamped at the freezer,” says Thomas.

In addition to recording each transaction, the system helps Promega know immediately what supplies have been used, what needs to be paid for and what needs replacing.

According to the university, despite the ultimate success of the Promega RFID system, kinks needed to be ironed out along the way.

“Tags were problematic to begin with. When items were moved, they would give a false reading that they had been removed. That meant charges levied for products that hadn’t been used,” says Thomas. Terso would not say how this problem was resolved.

“There [were] also issues getting readings from tags on items packaged in metallic foil,” says Thomas. As a result, Promega stopped supplying these products for a time, but now the problem has been rectified, and foil-wrapped products are now back in the freezer.

In the university's initial system, each cabinet’s RFID reader was linked by dial-up modem to Promega’s managed Web application. The link has since been upgraded to an Ethernet connection, requiring that the university run an Ethernet cable to the unit.

The PromegaExpress is now being marketed through Terso Solutions as the Terso Clear Intelligence Solution. The system consists of refrigerated and nonrefrigerated RFID-enabled cabinets and RFID key cards, along with Terso’s SeeWhere Software—an application hosted on a customer’s network or accessed over the Internet that lets customers see what supplies are remaining in each RFID enabled cabinet, identifies users, checks the status of hardware and generates reports. Each cabinet is secured with RFID-enabled lock that can be opened only when presented with an RFID key card issued to a registered user. The company also provides technical support, installation, training and onsite repair services to ensure smooth operation of the freezers and cabinets deployed at the customer site, as well as the RFID tags and key cards.

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