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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
Take Off
It took two and a half days to get the system up and running. On the first day, 3M field technicians installed the hardware and software. The rest of the time was devoted to training Hefren and her team to use it. Within a week or so, Hefren says her staff had tagged and registered all the files in the office.

"We had to go to everyone's office and collect all the files that were checked out," Hefren recalls. "We'd encode the label with the file's 6-digit ID." If there was more than one file for a project, a letter was added to the ID for each subsequent file—for example, 123456-A and 123456-B.

Above: An assistant keys in an ID code for a new file, then applies an RFID label to the file folder for use in tracking when employees check the file out. Below: To check a file back in, an employee brings it to the appropriate filing area and presents it to a reader so the software can check the file back into the system.

3M established a link between the Oracle PeopleSoft accounting software that Hefren's office uses to manage the collection and distribution of each grant and the System Manager software. Every day, as the office processes newly approved grants, PeopleSoft creates a new record to manage each grant.

At the end of each day, Hefren's staff utilizes the System Manager software to run a query that pulls all new PeopleSoft grant record IDs into a single Access database. An administrative assistant then gathers all paperwork linked to each new grant, including the original proposal, and puts it into a file folder with a unique, pre-printed 6-digit ID number. This same 6-digit ID is encoded to the tag. In the System Manager software, the assistant keys in the ID code and associates it in the database with the grant's ID, then applies an RFID label to the file folder, places it on the interrogator antenna pad and encodes the ID to the label.

System Manager also contains a database of staff members allowed to check out files. Each employee is assigned an RFID ID card, so instead of signing an out card to check out a file, that employee must present the card to an interrogator mounted at the entrance of one of two file rooms. As the tagged files to be checked out are presented to the interrogator, the system marks the file 'checked out' and associates it with the person who took it. The employees have System Manager on their desktop computers and can use it to transfer possession of files from one employee to another without having to check the file back in first.

When the time comes to check the file back in, the employee simply brings it back to the appropriate filing area and presents it to the interrogator, which reads the tag and sends the data to the tracking software. The software checks the file back into the system, and the employee places the file in an in-box in the filing area. Student workers later re-shelve the files.

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