RFID Tracks AV Assets at James Madison University

By Claire Swedberg

 

  • The solution from A2B Tracking was built to be simple and easy to use, with handheld readers and smartphones with an app.
  • Data is managed in the cloud so that the university can track location and maintenance records of thousands of high value assets, from projectors to monitors.

Since deploying an RFID-based asset management system, James Madison University has been tracking its audio-visual equipment throughout its 400 classrooms in 50 buildings.

The solution—from A2B Tracking—provides the university with its cloud-based, Software as a Service (SaaS) management as the assets are audited in rooms throughout the busy campus. The system went live in 2020, and the university announced this spring that the system is providing a digital view into about 4,000 projectors, control systems, switchers, flat panel displays and other AV assets.

The AV equipment management system leverages Zebra handheld readers and passive, UHF RFID tags on assets. When used for regular audits, the technology reduces the time and labor required to account for the assets and if they are in the right place, university officials reported.

The solution enables use of the RFID data to locate assets that are misplaced, and to identify anything that may require maintenance or inspection.

Seeking a Faster Way to Track AV Equipment

JMU is a public university in Virginia that opened in 1908 and today serves more than 20,000 undergraduate students. The amount of AV equipment used by colleges, including JMU, has been rising over the years, and labor related to keeping track of that inventory has therefore grown exponentially as well.

Because much of the equipment is state funded, careful inventory and asset management is necessary–including an annual physical audit in which a team of workers locate and visually inspect every piece of equipment.

JMU's Classroom Technology Services department is required to perform annual audits of its high value assets and trust fund items. To accomplish that, the department since 2008 has been using RFID to quickly locate equipment for the Fixed Assets Department. That department then uses a barcode scanner and visual inspection to scan and identify each asset in each room.

RFID Solution

By 2020, the JMU's technology services department was looking for a new RFID based solutions. The first system was not cloud based, and the university opted to then transition to the A2B Tracking system.

By the time the university began working with A2B Tracking, “we were already familiar with the advantages of RFID over barcode scanning,” said James R. West, JMU’s Classroom Technology Services director. “We chose A2B due to its ease of use and the cloud-based SaaS feature. A2B has robust inventory database features and the hosted inventory was important to us since we did not need to have a dedicated on-campus server set up.”

Handheld Readers with Mobile Phone App

A2B Tracking provided the university with the handheld RFID sled readers that connect to Android smartphones, said David Gardner, the company’s marketing director.

When conducting an audit, workers take the handheld and begin walking through classrooms. They run the A2B app on their smartphone to access data. First, they use the app to select the room they are auditing, the reader then captures the tag ID of each tagged asset within range.

Data is managed in the cloud in A2B Tracking’s RFID platform. The system stores the last known location of each item that was read along with the history of all transactions for that item.

The software compares the tag read data against the expected inventory for that room, and displays exceptions, such as tag reads that are not expected for that room or missing items that are not being read with the RFID reader.

As new assets are received at the university, the staff onsite apply UHF RFID tags and read the tag to link that newly acquired item with the unique ID encoded on that tag. The data can be linked to a picture of the asset, or even its manual, Gardner explained.

Addressing Stray Reads

At times, UHF RFID tags can be read through walls, and that means that stray reads occur in an adjacent classroom which can be a challenge, said West.

In such a case, the user will view an alert that an asset is detected in, for instance, room 724, when the audit is being conducted in room 725. The software offers the option to adjust the asset’s location assignment. At that point, the users can confirm that the unexpected read is likely to be coming from the next room, and bypass that exception.

The system can be used for maintenance or inspections. Individuals can access data from the software such as a list of all equipment that is due for maintenance. And it stores warranty information and technical manuals, if needed.

“The thing that was nice about [this deployment] is how simple it was,” said Gardner. The school needed a system that was low cost, and easily deployed, without requiring support from the IT department.  The system in fact works with a few handheld devices and access to the cloud.

A2B Tracking Solution for Schools and Labs

A2B Tracking also has the solution installed at other schools and universities, and the number is growing, Gardner said.

“It's not just universities it’s also research facilities,” he said, in which the organization needs to track equipment or even materials in a lab setting.

The company also offers its RFID solutions for commercial sites to track assets and stock as well as government sites to manage critical property, offering RFID tags and other labels as part of their package. The tags can be applied to a variety of surfaces, including metal, plastic or wood.

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