Asahi Glass Co. Tracks Documents via Smart Shelves

By Claire Swedberg

The Japanese company is using Cell Form RFID antennas to know the locations of 6,000 files, and when a particular document was removed, thereby reducing labor hours and the risk of a misplaced document.

Japanese glass manufacturer AGC Asahi Glass is tracking approximately 6,000 document files with an RFID-based shelf-management solution provided by Japanese carbon fiber plastics company Teijin Ltd. The system, using Teijin's RFID-enabled Cell Form sheets (which act as reader antennas) installed on shelves, tracks the ID number of each passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tag attached to a file while it is stored on a shelf. AGC can then link that data with details regarding who has taken a particular file, based on access-control records.

AGC manufactures glass products for the automotive and transportation industry, as well as lighting, energy, building materials and consumer products. The firm maintains files containing documents—related to the development work done on its products—on shelves within an enclosed, secure storage area, which personnel can enter only by inputting a password at the locked door. Prior to the RFID solution's installation, if a file were discovered to be missing, the company faced a monumental task in trying to locate it or identify who may have taken it, resulting in a waste of time and the risk of permanently losing that file.

The company sought a solution by which regular inventory checks of all its files would no longer be necessary, and that would enable employees to quickly locate a specific document when needed, explains Hirano Yoshiaki, the manager of Cell Form's sales section. As part of this more efficient document-tracking solution, the company wanted to be able to know what was on its shelves in real time, but also which files had been removed and by whom, so that if a document was no longer on the shelf, the firm could identify the individual who had removed it ask him or her about it.

Asahi Glass began working with Teijin in 2013 to create a solution using the Cell Form smart sheet. The technology was developed by Cellcross, a spinoff venture company comprising researchers from the University of Tokyo. Asahi began installing the system in May 2013, and the technology was taken live in November.

The company deployed 6,000 EPC Gen 2 UHF passive RFID tags (the company is using a variety of makes and models) affixed to files. The unique ID number encoded to each tag is linked to data about the corresponding file in AGC's software. Once the tag ID is stored in the system, along with the file data, that file can then be placed on the shelf, resting on top of a Cell Form sheet.

The system employs Convergence Systems Ltd. (CSL) CS468 RFID readers (see RFID Sheet Antennas Enable Unique Shelf-Management Systems) wired to Teijin's Cell Form smart sheet antennas. The antenna captures tag reads from a distance of up to 1 meter (3.3 feet), though that distance can be narrowed to 15 centimeters (6 inches). The reader then forwards that information to Teijin's Smart Shelf-Management software, residing on Asahi Glass' back-end server. The software determines the location and forwards that data to Asahi Glass' own management software.

The Teijin sheet antenna has an adjustable width of 2.9 to 4.7 inches and an adjustable length of up to 94 inches, based on the number of tagged items that need to be read. Each of the 10 readers used in the system manages eight sheet antennas, which altogether accommodate a total of about 6,000 files. The Cell Form sheet technology is designed to limit the RFID signals, thereby more closely approximating a tag's location on a shelf. The layers of the sheet (which consists of two conductive layers with a dielectric layer between them) propagate the 920 MHz UHF reader signal across the sheet that interrogates any tags within the vicinity (immediately above that antenna).

Asahi Glass' software combines the RFID smart shelf-data from Teijin's system with access data indicating who entered and exited the room, and when this occurred. This enables the company to identify who has taken and returned which item, and at what time.

Because the system reads the documents' RFID tags on a regular basis—thereby accumulating data that management can access in real time—the need to conduct visual inventory counts has been eliminated. This, Yoshiaki says, boosts the company's operational efficiency. In addition, he states, the "management of confidential documents will be possible with greater precision and efficiency than ever before."

A similar system is also in use to track books at several libraries, including Tokyo's Chuo City Library, which has tagged books in its area designated as "Hall 3," and is tracking the locations of those books on its shelves via the Cellcross technology.