Vital Entertainment Cuts Equipment Loss, Boosts Efficiency at Film Production Sites

The solution, from Dominate RFID, consists of an RFID reader that plugs into a smartphone or tablet running an app for managing lenses, cameras and other equipment fitted with passive UHF tags.
Published: April 18, 2014

Cameras and other recording and editing equipment are not only expensive but also highly mobile, and are frequently handled by a variety of people when videos are shot. Therefore, the companies responsible for such equipment often have a monumental challenge in ensuring that each item is where they think it is, and is returned once a job if completed. Atlanta-based Vital Entertainment Group is employing radio frequency identification to ensure that its film production and editing equipment does not end up missing. The solution, provided by Georgia-based company Dominate RFID, enables Vital Entertainment to read tags at job sites via an ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID reader plugged into a mobile phone or tablet, and to use an application to identify if anything is misplaced. The solution cost the company less than $1,000, according to Patrice Blagmon, Vital Entertainment’s co-owner, and the company likes it so much that it is now reselling the product to other video companies.

A large percentage of Vital Entertainment’s value is in its assets—very expensive lenses, cameras and other equipment that is either rented out to other production companies or used by its own staff. While theft can present a problem, the greatest concern was ensuring that equipment was never inadvertently left behind, Blagmon told an audience at the RFID Journal LIVE! 2014 conference and exhibition, held last week in Orlando, Fla. Vital Entertainment could, on occasion, drop off equipment for a specific project, and then later pick it up and take it to another site, only to discover that important items had been left behind. That could be expensive, not only with regard to the value of any items that might not be recovered, but resulting from actors, makeup artists and other personnel who are paid while waiting for the crew to retrieve the necessary equipment.

To ensure that this rarely occurs, Vital Entertainment’s personnel have typically laid all equipment out and gone over each item by description or serial number, conducting an inventory count before leaving a job site—which, Blagmon said, is an arduous and time-consuming task. “We’re a growing company,” she stated, “and we had to find a solution because the problem was getting worse.”

Blagmon said she looked into a variety of solutions using RFID to track the inventory. She spent six months searching for an RFID system that could meet her company’s needs, but found that each required a heavy investment in IT infrastructure in order to manage read data. “They were all unaffordable,” she said. The company then came across Dominate RFID, which has an office in Norcross, Ga., near Atlanta, as well as another in Dubai.

“They said they needed a solution to manage assets that would be highly portable and not expensive,” recalls Majid Roozi, Dominate RFID’s president. The company formulated a solution that utilized a smartphone app to manage read data, as well as several types of passive EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID tags for attachment to assets, and a small reader plugged into a smartphone or tablet to interrogate those tags. The entire solution would cost less than $1,000, Roozi says.

Dominate RFID spent some time identifying the best tags for the equipment—which was, in some cases, composed of metal—and identified four models. Two of these were Xerafy tags for on-metal applications, while the others were manufactured by Alien Technology. Dominate RFID designed and supplied the plug-in RFID readers and smartphone app for the deployment.

When items are moved onto a worksite, Vital Entertainment’s employees first use the reader, plugged into the headphone jack of a smartphone or tablet, to read the tag of every item being delivered to the project. Each tag’s unique ID number is stored in the app, along with a description and photograph of that item, as well as its serial number. Once all of the items’ tags have been interrogated, the app stores that data, indicating what was delivered to that site.

At the end of the production project, workers retrieve the equipment and use the RFID reader to again read all of their tags. Once this is done, the app displays a list of all items with the tag ID numbers that were not read. If a user selects one of these items in the app, a picture and description are displayed, thereby informing that user what he or she is looking for. The interrogator can then be placed in Geiger counter mode to locate that specific piece of equipment.

Blagmon said her company has now acquired eight of the plug-in readers and approximately 300 tags, and that it only takes 30 minutes to train staff members in the system’s usage. All data can be uploaded to a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, Roozi says.

Throughout the past few months, Blagmon reported, Dominate RFID has added additional functionality to help the company manage its assets. In the future, in order to better target theft, the firm intends to purchase a fixed reader with Impinj antennas, to be installed at work-site exits. Once the solution is in place, if the reader captures an item’s tag ID, the presumption will be that it is being stolen. The system will forward that tag ID to a tablet or phone running the app, which can then issue an alert to authorized parties via e-mail or text message, as well as emitting an audible beep.

Since the system was taken live less than a year ago, Blagmon said, the incidence of equipment loss has dropped. What’s more, she reported, work at sites has become more efficient, though she did not provide specific percentages by which labor time was reduced.