Auto-ID Company Creates Its Own System for Managing Its Assets

With its homegrown solution, QR code inventor DENSO deploys its own handheld RFID readers, along with Confidex UHF RFID tags, to automate the audit counts of IT assets at its facilities.
Published: February 24, 2021

DENSO Products & Services Americas has created its own automated identification system for its IT assets, leveraging its own UHF RFID handheld readers and  Confidex‘s Silverline Blade tags. The system, which was taken live at two sites in California, was found to reduce audit times as much as tenfold, the company reports, while also boosting accuracy. A division of global company  DENSO WAVE, which invented the QR code in 1994, DENSO operates divisions that makes products, components and a variety of solutions for automotive manufacturers, as well as automation hardware such as robots, scanning technology and QR codes for anti-fraud applications.

At its facilities around the world, DENSO employs thousands of IT assets, including desktop computers, laptops and printers, and it conducts periodic audits that require it to identify and count every item, according to Kevin Bradshaw, DENSO’s sales and business-development manager. Inventory managers must find and read serial numbers printed on each asset or label, then compare those numbers with the inventory list in the company’s management system. These numbers can be small and difficult to read, and an asset may need to be moved, turned or rotated.

DENSO must audit its thousands of IT assets, including desktop computers, laptops and printers, to identify and count every item.

Accomplishing such a task with thousands of assets at numerous sites often required employees to work on weekends, and audits could not be conducted frequently. Therefore, DENSO built what it calls an efficient time- and error-improving solution. The company’s Products and Services division designed the system to capture asset information using both RFID technology and QR codes. It leverages the firm’s own handheld UHF RFID readers to identify and capture data regarding RFID-tagged IT assets.

DENSO approached Confidex, Bradshaw says, to obtain RFID tags capable of being mounted on numerous surfaces, as well as storing and transmitting unique asset IDs and data in order to make the inventory audit system more accurate, faster and scannable from a distance of many feet. Confidex provided UHF RFID labels, as well as printing and encoding services, during a pilot and throughout the rollout via service bureau  Atlas RFID.

According to Joe Hoerl, Confidex’s VP for the Americas, DENSO selected the Silverline Blade RFID tag because it is IP68-rated (meaning it can withstand dust, dirt, sand and submersion in liquid) and can be used for on-metal applications, and also because it can work around a variety of other materials. The Silverline Blade offers several advantages, Hoerl says, as it is easy to print and encode, making the process of tagging existing and new assets faster.

What’s more, Hoerl reports, the tag has a footprint of 60 millimeters by 25 millimeters (2.4 inches by 1 inch), enabling discrete labelling on small electronics, and it offers a 4.5-meter (14.8-foot) read range on metal. “The tag’s industrial-grade adhesive ensures secure adhesion to each asset,” he states, adding that the all-surface label offers uniform reads whether used on or off metal. “It’s good for assets with a variety of material.” That includes computers containing metal internally, as well as plastic covers.

Joe Hoerl

The Silverline Blade leverages a wrapped antenna design enabling it to function well on all surfaces, the company explains. To pilot the technology, Confidex provided DENSO with encoded tags that include a printed QR code, though it now receives the tags from a third-party service bureau. As tags are applied to IT assets, DENSO’s IT personnel scan the QR code printed on each tag, and that QR code is linked directly to the RFID chip’s unique ID number. The collected data is then stored in DENSO’s database, along with a description of each item.

To provide the locations of tagged assets, DENSO has attached Silverline Blade tags to fixed infrastructure, such as support poles in its warehouse, as well as at key office locations, such as above doorjambs. Those conducting audits can employ either DENSO’s BHT-1281 handheld scanner, using the Microsoft Windows CE operating system, or the new SP1 Bluetooth device, paired to a host (an Android terminal, for example). The tags are typically read at a distance of 2 to 6 feet. Upon beginning the audit process, a worker reads the tag’s location using a handheld reader, then proceeds to read the tags of all assets within range, thereby automatically creating a record of the audit results.

The readers are recharged at a docking station, where the read data is transferred to a computer and imported into the company’s in-house asset-tracking database. Those conducting the audit can view any exceptions, such as items that may be missing or misplaced. The reader can also be placed in Geiger counter mode to seek a missing object. DENSO piloted and has now deployed the technology at one site in Long Beach, Calif., and another in Marietta. Two thousand assets have been tagged to date, and the company is applying tags to new items purchased at those sites, including office equipment, handheld computers and other capital expenditures.

The next installations are slated to take place at five warehouse locations, including additional California sites and in Indiana. Dozens more locations may potentially roll out the technology in the future, Bradshaw reports, expanding beyond warehouse storage and office environments to tracking high-value IT and production assets at manufacturing plants. In the meantime, he notes, the system has made the auditing process a matter of minutes or hours rather than hours or days. While standard manual audits typically require about 64 hours to complete, DENSO anticipates a reduction to between six and eight hours—and that number could be reduced further, he predicts, if every asset is tagged and as users grow accustomed to the new processes.

DENSO initially tagged the inside of some assets, such as laptops, and determined that the tags could be read consistently. However, the tags are now being more quickly affixed to the assets’ exterior, where additional visual personalization in the form of QR codes makes the audit process easier. “This is a solution that was really driven by our IT department,” Bradshaw states. “We had experience working with Confidex. We knew that Confidex offers on-metal technology in the automobile industry, so we knew they were a good fit.” Although the project has initially focused on IT assets, he adds, the company operates warehouses at which assets are stored that could also benefit from the system. “The first step is on the IT assets.”

Future implementations will employ DENSO’s SP1 handhelds with Bluetooth capabilities so that data will be automatically forwarded to the server or host while tags are being read. The SP1 offers several new features, the company reports. It reads 700 tags per second at a range of 8 meters (26.2 feet), leveraging a variable antenna that automatically shifts its read orientation between horizontal and vertical in order to obtain the most accurate read. Additionally, the unit forwards data to a mobile device via Bluetooth, and it can store up to 80,000 RFID tag reads when used offline. It has been ruggedized, with tests of drops onto concrete at a height of 1.5 meters (4.9 feet), and it can scan QR codes and barcodes.

DENSO’s experience with RFID and automatic identification, Hoerl notes, made the project straightforward and high-performing. A strong partnership between the company and Confidex, he adds, ensured that the development and piloting were successful. The solution is slated to be taken fully live later this year. In the meantime, the firm reports that it has received strong interest in the products and applications, especially as a way to reduce touch points or worker interactions that compromise social distancing.