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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
The benefits of real-time tracking of on-site products, according to Terso's Tripathi, include greater convenience, since researchers no longer have to fill out forms or suffer restricted access to materials; reduced theft and shrinkage; and increased efficiency, achieved by eliminating the need for materials suppliers to visit the sites to take inventory and refill freezers and cabinets.

The PromegaExpress system was developed using 2.4 GHz (Terso will not divulge what protocols the RFID tags comply with), but the company says its offering will also support UHF EPC tags.

For both Promega and the University of Texas, the efficiency of using its RFID system means savings—now reflected in the price the school is charged, says Thomas.

“Vendors' losses [from shrinkage at the university] are reflected in a price increase the following year. Since introducing RFID, Promega has kept its prices low—and, for the most part, at the lowest prices for the materials they supply,” say Thomas.

According to Thomas, Promega sells its Taq—the primary product the university purchases through the Promega system—for $60 per 500-unit tube, whereas others suppliers charge the same amount for only 100 units.

The university recently opted to buy some Promega supplies through Fisher, a Promega distributor, so two freezers stocking the same Promega products are available to researchers. To access either freezer, users must have an RFID key card, as Terso has fitted the Fischer freezer with an RFID lock, as well. That has entailed reprogramming the RFID key cards so all RFID-enabled cabinets can recognize them. A third freezer, also managed by Fisher, contains untagged supplies and still uses the traditional form-based supply tracking system. That freezer requires no RFID card for accessing and is, therefore, open to all. “We hope that seeing material is in the Promega freezer when it might not be in the Fisher freezer might be an incentive for researchers to set up their user profiles on the Web site,” says Thomas.

Eventually, Thomas says she would like to see the RFID-enabled management system used for supply cabinets from other suppliers the school uses. “I’m quite happy [with] the way using RFID has worked out for me,” says Thomas. “It’s making my life easier.”

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