By Claire Swedberg
Feb. 9, 2012—SencorpWhite
recently released a version of its MicroVert compact storage system that employs radio frequency identification
technology enables a user of the automated storage device, such as a hospital or a laboratory, to track which items are removed, and by whom, and can also provide instructions to an individual who is retrieving items, to ensure that he or she takes the appropriate products.
Several companies in the health-care market are currently testing the RFID-enabled MicroVert device, says Maurizio Turri, SencorpWhite's executive account manager for automatic-identification integration —who, prior to joining SencorpWhite, worked for the University of Arkansas
' RFID Research Center
, where he managed RFID-related research and development programs. The solution can be sold to users outright, or be provided at a monthly fee for use of the equipment and cloud-based server.
The RFID-enabled version of the MicroVert knows which items are being removed, and can communicate instructions to users based on that information—such as a warning if a wrong item is taken.
The MicroVert steel storage device secures high-value items—such as medical devices, pharmaceuticals or tools—that are required by a company's staff, but that must be monitored in order to ensure that they do not end up lost, or expire before they can be used. The solution comes with SencorpWhite's onboard PC and a 15-inch color touch screen monitor for accessing Web-based Genesis
inventory-management software. The software, located on the onboard PC, as well as on a server linked to the MicroVert device via a Wi-Fi
, cellular or cable connection, manages the dispensing of items to a worker, and stores data regarding which products were taken. The software can also interface with a user's enterprise resource planning (ERP) or pharmacy-management software.
The MicroVert, which measures 78 inches high, 50 inches wide and 36 inches deep, is a steel storage unit available with either a single door or dual doors, as well as motorized shelves that turn toward the doors, according to the specific items requested. The storage device locks when not in use, requiring a PIN code for users to release the doors, thereby enabling the software to track who has accessed the unit. Also available is a temperature-controlled version that can maintain the temperatures of items stored within, via a cooling or heating unit.
Turri likens the MicroVert system to an intelligent vending machine with high security for storing items of great value. The device is designed to provide easy access for those authorized to utilize items stored within. Without RFID
, he says, the system can secure items; track who requests access, as well as which items they ask for, via the touch screen; and grant access to authorized individuals—but not track which specific products are being removed. The addition of RFID readers and antennas to the machine provides greater intelligence, he explains; the RFID-enabled version knows which items are being removed, not just the remover's identity, and can communicate instructions to a user, based on that information—such as warning that individual if he or she takes the wrong item.
The RFID-enabled version of the MicroVert comes with a single RFID interrogator
and two antennas (SencorpWhite works with a variety of reader
and antenna vendors)—one at the door, to read items as they are removed or placed into the unit, and another to perform inventory counts of the supplies stored within the device.
Maurizio Turri, SencorpWhite's executive account manager for auto-ID integration
When an individual seeks a product, such as a medical device, from the MicroVert, that person first swipes the magnetic stripe on a personnel badge, uses the touch screen to enter a PIN or performs both functions, in order to indicate his or her identity. The software loaded on the onboard computer identifies whether that worker is authorized to retrieve items from the machine. If so, the solution displays prompts on the touch screen, in order to identify which product that individual seeks, as well as the quantity required. The software then links the product's ID number with the location of that item on a specific shelf, and rotates the shelves to orient the item to a position just behind the door, which is then unlocked.
As the employee removes the item, an ultrahigh-frequency
) EPC Gen 2
passive RFID tag
attached to that item transmits its ID number to the antenna
installed at the doorway, and the software is updated to indicate the product's removal. If that individual removes more than one of that specific item, the software also detects this action.
The software offers several options, says Brian Urban, SencorpWhite's CEO, and can be custom-configured for a particular application. For example, if a company wants to ensure that those products nearest their expiration date are used first, the system can alert a user to return an item taken and replace it with one carrying an earlier expiration date. If a user removes more objects than requested, or takes the wrong item entirely, it can alert him or her to that discrepancy as well. Once the worker closes the door, all data related to that transaction is then sent to the cloud-based server (which can also reside on the user's back-end system), where the software stores that information. If the employee wishes to return an item to the MicroVert, he or she must again provide the proper ID, select a prompt on the screen indicating an item is being returned, open the door and replace the item. The reader
will then identify that product, enabling the software to update its status.
SencorpWhite's CEO, Brian Urban
In addition, the MicroVert software can send management an alert in the event that a product requires replenishment, if an expiration date is approaching or if a door has been left ajar. A company can also customize the system to conduct regular inventory checks, such as after every five transactions, or once daily. In such a case, the system would issue a report listing all ID numbers being read
by the antenna
mounted inside the device. In this way, says Turri, the solution provides redundancy, in addition to the tag
reads as items are removed or replaced through the door.
SencorpWhite chose to install UHF RFID
technology—as opposed to high-frequency
(HF) readers and tags—with the system since that would allow it to operate with any EPC Gen 2
UHF tags that drugmakers or other product manufacturers may choose to attach to products in the future. Currently, users must apply the UHF EPC Gen 2 tags, provided by SencorpWhite, themselves.
The MicroVert unit also comes with temperature-monitoring capability, so that the device's temperature sensor
data can be sent to the back-end system via a cable, cellular or Wi-Fi
connection. In the future, Turri says, the firm may provide temperature-based RFID tags that would track the temperatures to which a product is exposed while outside the MicroVert, and then transmit that temperature data via RFID to the MicroVert reader once that item is returned to the machine. In that way, he explains, the software could then update that product's shelf life, based on the temperatures to which it has been exposed, along with the duration of that exposure.