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EPC RFID Simplifies Inventory for NASA's Langley Research Center

The research facility uses passive tags to identity equipment and its location, enabling it to cut the time spent taking stock of its equipment from three weeks to one day.
By Claire Swedberg
When inventory is counted, employees utilize a CS101 handheld reader from Convergence Systems Limited. A worker then downloads data indicating which items should be at which location, via an Ethernet cable connected to a desktop computer. The user reads the tag for the room or server rack, prompting the handheld reader's screen to display a list of items that should be stored at that location. In the data center, the user then opens the rack door and reads all tags attached to the servers within that rack. In the office or laboratory, the individual simply proceeds into the room and reads the tags on all devices found within. If there is a discrepancy—for example, if a server is missing or in the wrong location—the screen displays an alert, according to Jim Ferguson, DataSpan's security consultant. The handheld reader also offers a Geiger-counter function, so that a worker can pinpoint a missing item by inputting it into the handheld and walking through the data center, laboratory or offices until the object is located—at which time the handheld emits a faster beep.

When laboratory equipment is to be taken out of the facility, staff members again use a handheld interrogator to read the tag on each piece of equipment as it is packed, and then return the handheld to the office staff to download the list of those items, which can be stored along with information regarding the particular project for which the objects had been removed. In that way, if workers seek a missing item in the future, they can log into the Enasys software and input the object's serial number or RFID number, or the number of the room in which the object belongs, in order to determine whether it has been taken offsite—and, if it has, where it was moved to.

Approximately 400 rooms currently have RFID tags attached to them, in the facility's two-story office and laboratory section. To date, Mercier says, the system has yet to be used to track the removal of research equipment for field projects, since such projects occur only sporadically. He notes, however, that he attempted an inventory count himself, and completed half the entire volume in four hours. With regard to tracking the research equipment loaned out for a field project, he adds, "I know it will be quicker," simply because forms will not need to be filled out, and information will not need to be input into the back-end system.

In addition, the system provides a history for each piece of equipment, as well as how long that item has been at a specific location, and when it was removed—for example, if it was taken for servicing. The software also allows the tracking of data, such as warranty dates or predicted end of life, so that employees can receive an alert in the software, or on the handheld reader if specific equipment needs to be serviced or removed.

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