New system improves product tracking

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On October 12, 2010

Dr. Jagannathan Sarangapani, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology, was recently awarded a patent for “Adaptive Inventory Management System.”

The new inventory management system virtually eliminates frequency interference issues in facilities that use RFID (radio frequency identification) readers to manage inventories and track products.

“Our system reads and manages inventory in real time with a nearly 99 percent read rate,” Sarangapani says. “Previous systems had only a 60-70 percent read rate.”

This improved product readability could save companies considerable money in lost inventory and would help protect consumers and companies by guaranteeing the product is what it claims to be.

Sarangapani says RFID systems allow goods to be tracked from “cradle to grave,” recording the chain of custody from the point of manufacture of all the product’s components, to the point the consumer receives it.

The use of RFID technology is encouraged to help stop counterfeit pharmaceuticals, a rising problem worldwide. The technology is also helpful when products are recalled.

Facilities that use RFID systems have a network of distributed scanners that read radio frequency (RF) chips or tags that are incorporated into or attached to products, or materials within them.

“When a truck pulls in to deliver goods, the scanner at the dock door can immediately tell if all the goods are there,” Sarangapani says.

A number of factors can impact the ability of RFID readers to successfully read product tags. “Tag interference” occurs when multiple readers attempt to read a tag at the same time. “Reader collision” occurs when multiple readers are used and a carrier signal from one reader interferes with another. Reader collision makes the tags unreadable and lowers overall read rates.

Sarangapani and his associates overcame these challenges by developing software that activates and deactivates adjacent RFID readers within the facility based on the tagged product’s location. The software also queries an inventory database based on information collected from the item’s tag. “If shelves are empty of a product, or if a product is about to expire, it will alert the system,” Sarangapani says. “Employees can also track when the next shipment is coming.”

An additional benefit of the new system is its ability to read tags on frozen goods. “Many chemicals and medicines must be kept refrigerated or frozen,” Sarangapani says. “Other systems cannot read tags on frozen items, so they have to be thawed first to be inventoried. Thawing sometimes makes the product unusable and it must be destroyed.”

Also named on the patent are Dr. Anil Ramachandran, who received his master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from Missouri S&T; Dr. Can Saygin, formerly a professor at S&T, now with the University of Texas at San Antonio; and Dr. Kainan Cha, who received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical and computer engineering from S&T.

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On October 12, 2010. Posted in Research