Wireless RFID product tracks hospital assets

December 5, 2008
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Earlier this year, AIS RealTime of Kentwood, in partnership with Grand Rapids-based Skytron, introduced a radio frequency identification tracking software product for applications in health care and related asset management sectors.

“There has been a tremendous response to the product from the health care industry alone,” said Bryant Broder, senior project manager at Skytron. “People can’t believe it’s so easy to deploy.”

In a hospital or clinical setting, this wireless, patented RFID tracking technology — known as Skytron Asset Manager — can be used to tag and track mobile or fixed assets, such as beds, wheelchairs, ventilators, infusion pumps, pressure devices and external pacemakers — even patients.  

The product uses battery-powered tags and wireless mesh sensors that can track items within one to three meters of their location. The tags run on low-power-consumption batteries that Skytron guarantees for five years, Broder noted. The software transmits information through a small plug-in device that plugs into any 120-volt standard electrical outlet, creating a Wi-Fi zone of that area.

The product’s software user interface is fully customizable. Hospital staff can access information using any computer connected to the hospital’s network. Skytron Asset Manager has a patented algorithm between the router and the sensor and the sensor and the tag.

Typical Wi-Fi systems have to deploy antennae in the ceilings and there has to be a triangulation point between three of those antennae to receive coordinates, so a hospital would typically have to be wired to support an RFID system. But the Skytron system is wireless, easy to deploy indoors and its tags have multi-function alerting capability, so it’s very flexible and adaptable, Broder said. Skytron Asset Manager also works with many kinds of existing RFID hardware.

Programmable alerts let staff know when a piece of equipment or an item has been moved from its usual location. As a result, the system reduces the chance of loss, theft or misplacement of assets. Equipment operating and maintenance manuals can be programmed in, as well.

Tim Bayer, president of AIS RealTime, started the company three years ago as an offshoot of his Advanced Inventory Solution Inc. business. Skytron Asset Manager was made available through AIS RealTime via a partnership between Advanced Inventory Solutions and Skytron.

Skytron Asset Manager is based on the IEEE Standard 802.15.4 for telecommunications and information exchange between systems, also known as ZigBee. ZigBee creates a ubiquitous sensor network by placing sensors throughout a facility for mobile asset management, Broder explained. The technology can be adapted to a lot of environments, including retail stores, grocery stores and casinos. 

“During the deployment of our system, we place our sensors in a normal 120-volt electrical outlet and the system creates what’s called a mesh network. That means that a tag will talk to many sensors at one time, so we get more accurate coordinates in real time,” Broder said. “Sensors also talk to one another and to a bridge, or router, that’s connected into a local area network by an Ethernet connection.”

About 30 Skytron Asset Managers have been installed nationwide this year. So far, most of the sales have been to hospitals, but through AIS RealTime, Skytron will began introducing the product to other market segments beginning next year, Broder noted. 

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