RFID for Lab Equipment Tracking – Expert Advice to Choose Tags, Readers & Antenna

Are you considering RFID for Lab equipment tracking?

Here are some key tips to choose RFID tags, RFID readers & antenna, based on 15+ years of RFID experience. We help Labs track anywhere between 50 to 100,000+ pieces.

RFID lab equipment tracking
Photo by Misael Moreno on Unsplash

Research Info to choose RFID for Lab Equipment Tracking

Assumption

You have a “standard lab” where tracked equipment is in the known lab/buildings & not subject to extreme temperatures, shock, vibration, etc.

Objectives Drive Tag Choice

There are hundreds of RFID tags & RFID readers. Most of them work with the same frequency and work with each other. However, to meet the objectives of your use case, you can’t choose an RFID tag independent of choosing a reader, antenna & software.

Before you choose your hardware/software, you need to firm up the objectives & use case details.

Key Questions to Answer

Answers to the following questions will drive selection of RFID technology (LF/HF/UHF), tag size, reader/antenna, software and cost too.

1) Do you want all the equipment to be tracked automatically in real-time or just make it easy for a fast manual audit using a handheld scanner?

2) How does your equipment travel? All within one lab, multiple lab areas in a building, or across buildings?

3) Do you want to assign equipment to people, and allow check-in and check-out like a library?

4) Do you want the tag to contain equipment maintenance history? Impacts read-only or read/write tag

5) How important is aesthetics – both the tag and the fixed RFID hardware? Do you want the antenna to be visible or not? Some of our clients have embedded them in walls and floors.

6) Do you want to monitor equipment stored in cabinets? Are you open to new cabinets?

7) Do you want to track equipment that is due for calibration and goes out for calibration?

8) Do you want to raise alerts when equipment is missing from a location?

9) Do you store excess lab equipment in offsite storage? If so, do you want to monitor offsite storage locations?

Implementation Tidbit

  • Most of the labs use UHF RFID to track lab equipment, not HF/LF.
  • The longer the read range, the bigger the antenna on the tag and hence bigger the tag itself.
  • OK to use two or more tag and reader types.
  • Choice of tag mounting methods determines success.

Equipment Homework

You need this information for a vendor/consultant to help you.

1) List all equipment you want to track – equipment, accessories, – sort by size if possible.

2) For each piece of equipment type, note the type of surface – metal, plastic, wood, etc.

3) When equipment is stacked, can you always ensure that there is an airgap for the RFID signal to communicate with the reader?

4) Lab layout including pictures of all entry, exit, storage area, benches and anything metal that could impact signals.

AssetPulse Solution – RFID for Lab Equipment Tracking

AssetPulse doesn’t manufacture any hardware. This enables us to source the best combination of RFID tags, readers, antenna and software for our customers. If you have decided to use RFID for lab equipment tracking, AssetPulse can be your trusted partner. With the amount of experience and expertise, AssetPulse can provide the best RFID lab equipment tracking solutions that suits your needs.

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How AssetGather’s RFID Lab Equipment Tracking Software helps R&D Lab Managers to get Instant Visibility

Lab equipment in R&D laboratories are highly expensive and very vital for testing and other critical processes. R&D Lab managers have to constantly track the movement of lab equipment inside the lab and between the labs to know the exact location of each equipment and check for equipment availability. In addition, R&D managers need to know when the equipment was last calibrated and which equipment is due for preventive maintenance in order to ensure that the equipment meets the regulatory compliance standards.

Lack of visibility of lab equipment movement can result in scientists and technicians wasting their time to search for the required lab equipment, and can cause delays. Lack of data on calibration and preventive maintenance can hinder the functioning of the lab, affect the quality of results, result in equipment failure and increase the expenses in terms of replacing lost or damaged equipment.

R&D managers cannot keep track of the lab equipment and manage calibration and PM process manually. This is where AssetGather’s RFID Lab Equipment Tracking Software helps to get real-time visibility of lab equipment and other accessories in no time.

RFID lab equipment tracking software

AssetGather RFID Lab Equipment Tracking Software

With our RFID Lab Equipment Tracking Software, R&D managers will be able to find the location and status of any equipment in the laboratory. It is as easy as performing a Google search. Using Handheld RFID reader and/or fixed RFID readers, R&D Managers can quickly monitor the presence of equipment in labs and perform inventory audits in no time. The best part is, no human intervention is needed after the lab equipment is tagged with an RFID tag. The RFID-tagged equipment wirelessly check themselves in and out as they are moved from one laboratory to another. AssetGather’s RFID Lab Equipment Tracking Software is the best way to track and trace laboratory equipment and accessories.

RFID Lab Equipment Tracking Software – Key Features

Automated Check-In / Check-out

The RFID laboratory equipment tracking system enables automated equipment check-in / check-out, raise alerts on missing equipment, what’s moved excessively and what’s not moved at all. It reduces asset audit times by more than 90%.

Handles Calibration & Preventive Maintenance Efficiently

AssetPulse RFID laboratory asset tracking software helps you to manage the calibration process efficiently. The software helps R&D managers to track and locate equipment that are due for calibration and proactively alerts managers of upcoming calibration dates via email as well as software alerts.

Handheld Reader leads you to Equipment

You can use the Geiger-counter search on the handheld reader to quickly lead you to the missing equipment or equipment that is due for calibration.

Deployed at both SMBs and Large Enterprises

AssetGather’s RFID lab equipment tracking software has been deployed at several SMBs, Fortune 1,000 companies, Pharma / Medical / Manufacturing / Computer Software and many other industries, at government agencies, and in the US Military.

Best in Class with US Patent Protection

AssetPulse has several US patents on RFID Asset tracking.

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How AssetPulse helps in Laboratory Relocation

Laboratory Relocation Services
  • Is your company growing?
  • Are you moving into new buildings?
  • Consolidating labs?

Either way, there is a likelihood that your labs are being relocated. Laboratory relocations present a unique set of challenges and are huge headaches for lab managers. First, lab managers need to have an accurate inventory of their equipment in their current labs – not only what they have, but also where everything is. Now that the lab managers have clear visibility of where each of the equipment is, they need to decide what equipment goes where, in the new location. Equipment has to be packaged and marked with care before they are moved. 

Laboratory Relocation Services

Unfortunately, mistakes are bound to happen. Packages are mislabeled.  Equipment is not delivered to the right lab. Well meaning personnel, will move packages out for legitimate reasons, without informing anyone. The lab manager has a tough time searching for misplaced equipment. These are not uncommon scenarios.

RFID Tracking Solution for Laboratory Relocation

One of our long-term customers who has implemented our RFID-based asset tracking solutions just went through a significant move. The complexity of lab instruments, regulatory requirements and the need to address lab workloads during a move is an exacting process. Inventory tracking and equipment location tracking is facilitated by AssetPulse Lab equipment tracking solutions.

With our RFID-enabled lab equipment tracking system, they had an accurate inventory of all their equipment and more importantly, where each of the equipment was located. They were able to plan the move efficiently – which equipment goes to which destination. Equipment was packaged. Some labelling mistakes were made. Equipment did get misplaced.

As part of the move prep, the major exit and entrance doors of the destination labs were already installed with RFID scanners. The RFID scanners on the doors of the original labs were retained, because they were going to be inherited by the new labs moving into that space. Since all the equipment had already been RFID tagged, , our RFID asset tracking system accurately tracked what equipment was moved, when and through which doors and when they entered the destination buildings.

Even if a piece of equipment was incorrectly delivered to a lab, our asset tracking solution alerted the lab manager of the error. So, they knew where exactly to go search for the equipment with a handheld RFID scanner. Since the RFID tags are able to be read through the packaging, they didn’t have to undergo the laborious processes of opening the packaging and trying to read the asset number of the equipment inside.

Laboratory Relocation Process – Smooth & Quick

With our RFID system, the entire relocation process, from planning through execution to completion, was a much smoother, much quicker and more painless process for not only the lab management personnel, but also for the users of the labs. This had direct impact on the business, because it not only made efficient use of personnel’s time, but also got the labs back on its feet quicker, so the business suffered minimal disruption.

With AssetPulse’s Lab Equipment Tracking System, laboratory relocation is not a worry anymore.

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How RFID Based Asset Tracking aids in GLP/GMP Regulated Lab Management

lab equipment tracking software

Being responsible for the equipment in a GLP/GMP regulated lab is no easy task. Several compliance requirements have to be adhered to. AssetPulse’s RFID based asset tracking solutions have greatly helped streamline the equipment management of such locations.

RFID based asset tracking

 

AssetPulse RFID based Asset Tracking Software

Our real-time RFID based asset tracking solutions provide an accurate inventory of all equipment across geographic locations. It can detect addition or removal of components in qualified and/or validated systems like HPLCs. The Lab Manager can be alerted of such movements, thereby triggering a re-qualification process automatically. Failure to re-qualify can have serious logistical, technical and financial repercussions.

Several groups or departments within the organization are interested in knowing the whereabouts of the equipment. They include not only the actual users of the equipment – R&D personnel or cleanroom manufacturing personnel, but also other departments like Metrology or personnel who are responsible for calibration or preventive maintenance of the equipment. Each of these groups is looking for equipment at different times of the equipment’s’ lifecycle. Tracking compliance documents related to the equipment is also a time-consuming task. Often, the documents are stored in a separate physical location and are subject to the normal woes of searching for misplaced documents.

Before the use of RFID, the equipment databases were woefully out of sync with reality. This resulted in Finance and QA departments to initiate audits often, in order to update their databases. Small teams of scientists/researchers would need to be assembled, to scour the labs looking for equipment, severely impacting their overall productivity.

AssetPulse RFID based Asset Tracking Software Maintains Centralized Database of Asset Information

Maintaining accurate inventory of all the equipment and keeping their details up to date can be a full time job. Details include location, manufacturer, model, serial number, received date, deployment date and all maintenance related information including calibration/maintenance schedules, non-routine repairs, performance verification and revalidation dates.  The AssetPulse database allows all such detailed information to be maintained in one central database, accessible to all concerned players including R&D, Quality and Finance personnel.

Equipment qualification results in several sets of documents to be generated that are roughly slotted into three categories:

  • Specification – Documents specifying the equipment from the user and manufacturer’s perspective, including the URS (User Requirements Specification), FRS (Functional Requirements Specification) and DS (Design Specification)
  • Protocol – These encompass the procedures stating how qualification is conducted including test procedures, operating ranges and acceptance criteria
  • Report – Include the Traceability Matrix and Summary Reports
  • In the Specification group, the written document includes the critical attributes for the equipment from the user’s and manufacturer’s aspects. User Requirement Specification (URS), Functional Requirement Specification (FRS), and Design Specification (DS) are in this group.
  • In the Protocol group, the written procedures state how the qualification will be conducted. This may include the test units, test procedures, critical test parameters, operating ranges, sampling plan, and acceptance criteria. Installation Qualification (IQ), Operational Qualification (OQ), and Performance Qualification (PQ).
  • In the Report group, the written document reports the qualification activities and results, and traces back to the test items with their specifications/ requirements Traceability Matrix, ™ and Summary Report.

Once Validation is complete, the equipment has to be regularly maintained including undergoing calibration and other preventive maintenance procedures. The AssetGather RFID system also helps personnel to locate the equipment when it is due for calibration.

The AssetGather database allows all relevant documents to be stored together with the equipment details. IQ (Installation Qualification)/OQ (Operational Qualification)/PQ (Performance Qualification) documents, standard operating procedures, warranty certificates, calibration certificates can be made easily accessible through the database. This allows audits to be done a lot quicker, instead of having to sift through a myriad of documents in order to locate the appropriate pieces of paper.

Thus, the use of RFID can effectively bridge any visibility gaps with respect to Asset Management in Analytical labs, hospitals and in pharmaceutical manufacturing supply chains.

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RFID Tracking in Critical GMP Areas including Clean rooms

gmp room cleaning

Organizations have to apply well-defined GMP practices in Clean rooms and labs in order to maintain particulate and pathogen free environments. There are formal requirements and guidelines for food, drug, medical device and cosmetics manufacturing where sanitized conditions are maintained. There are several cleaning standards including the ISO14644 and the Federal Standard 209E standards. Since they are operated under strict guidelines, they are subject to several cleaning methodologies. Some of the common SOPs (standard operating procedures) include chemical wipe downs, autoclaving etc. Such standards can bring up some unique challenges when it comes to tracking assets inside these areas. This is where AssetPulse RFID Tracker system comes in handy. 

RFID tracker

1. RFID Tags can withstand Chemical wipe downs

This means the RFID tagged assets in the clean rooms are also going to be subjected to the cleaning Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Wipe downs can be done with oxidizing agents such as hydrogen peroxide or non-oxidizing agents like alcohols. The RFID Trackers have to be rugged enough to withstand these wipe downs. In areas such as Cleanrooms where such SOPS are enforced, particular attention has to be applied to RFID tag selection.

Not only should the RFID Tracker have a good read range, as is the default requirement, but it should be made of material that will remain unaffected when exposed to such chemical wipe downs. It’s also important to note that equipment in clean rooms tend to last many years, which implies that the RFID tags chosen should also be rugged enough to withstand chemical wipe downs for many years.

2. RFID Trackers that can withstand autoclave process

Further, several types of equipment will need to be cleaned in autoclaves. Autoclaves use a combination of steam and pressure over a significant period of time. They need to run at very high temperatures and pressures so the pathogens, microorganisms and spores can be destroyed. Metal, glass and various plastic materials may be autoclaved. Not only should appropriate RFID tags suited for the specific type of material be chosen, but it also must be ensured that they can repeatedly tolerate autoclave environments for a period of years.

3. RFID tracker with special mounting options

RFID Tag mounting methodologies should also be carefully considered. Often, commonly available adhesives will not withstand chemical or autoclaving environments for a long and extended period of time. Special adhesives or alternate mounting techniques need to be employed. Hanging, riveting or screwing down RFID trackers or RFID tags in autoclave environments is recommended.

AssetPulse, with its decades long experience in such ruggedized environments, has deployed thousands of RFID Trackers (need to make this a link)in multiple clean rooms. Not only is selection of the RFID Tracker important, but also the location of the RFID tags should be optimally specified. AssetPulse personnel study the SOPs employed in the areas to see what the best location for the tag is, so read range can be maximized while at the same time, and therefore protecting the tag from unnecessary mechanical impact, shock and vibration.

Further, in case a fixed RFID reader infrastructure is needed in clean rooms, the readers, antenna, cables etc. need to be fixed in the appropriate configurations so that they deliver the required performance, but at the same time, are able to tolerate the environment. This can be challenging, but is well within the AssetPulse wheelhouse.

 

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