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RFID Brings Order to a Chaotic Office

Florida State University is the first educational institution to adopt 3M's RFID Tracking System—and recoup its investment in less than a year.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
System Components
Florida State University is the first educational institution to adopt 3M's RFID Tracking System, which is most widely deployed in law firms to track legal files. The system was developed using much of the same hardware and intellectual property found in 3M's RFID-based Library Systems division, which provides automated book check-in/check-out and anti-theft solutions.

The RFID Tracking System is comprised of RFID smart labels, two software components and a fixed-position and mobile interrogator. The RFID smart labels are converted by 3M and contain high-frequency (13.56 MHz) ISO-15693-compliant inlays from Texas Instruments containing 2048 bits of user memory. Each label comes with a warrantee lasting the life of the file to which it is attached.

3M's RFID Tracking System utilizes a number of components, two of which are shown above.

The Tracking Pad Monitor is a fixed-position interrogator with an antenna roughly the size of a mouse pad, which can sit on a desktop or be mounted to a wall. The antenna links to the interrogator, which connects through a serial cable to a computer running the System Manager software. The device has a read range of up to 10 inches and can read each tag attached to a stack of file folders placed on top of the antenna pad. This fixed interrogator has two main uses: It encodes a unique ID—which, for the FSU grant system, is a 6-digit code—to each RFID smart label after it's applied to a new file folder, and it also reads existing file folders, either for inventory or for checking files in or out.

The handheld interrogator has an antenna that juts up vertically from the handle, making it easy to wave the antenna horizontally along a shelf of tagged files to read attached tags. The handheld interrogator must be placed 4 to 6 inches from each tagged file to read its smart label.

The System Manager software programs the tags, sets up groupings of files based on configurable fields, establishes zones within a facility to which the files are assigned and performs other infrastructure tasks. The System Manager also controls the RFID interrogators. The File Locator software, used for taking inventory of the tagged files, includes a database search tool for finding specific files. It can search for files based on up to 10 different search criteria fields, such as the name of a grant's principal investor or the zone within the office to which the file is assigned.

The System Manager software collects the tag data and sends it to the File Locator software, which generates an inventory report once all shelves have been scanned. It also generates a list of shelved files that were neither read nor marked as checked out. This list is then uploaded to the handheld interrogator, which reads tagged files in the inbox that have been checked back in but not yet shelved. If files are still unaccounted for once this is done, staff can use the handheld interrogator to scan other areas where tagged files might be located—for example, staff members' desks.

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