You know how the scissors are always missing from the junk drawer when you need them most? Imagine managing tools or spare parts at a plant.
Yeah, "Who's got the wrench?" might become a common refrain.
Enter Advanced Research Company
's Storage+, a "smart" storage cabinet that uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID
) to keep track of what is in stock and what is missing -- and sometimes more importantly, who has checked out a particular part or supply.
ARC started out, back in 1984, as an engineering firm designing controlled, data collection and information systems for the automotive industry. About four years ago, due to the manufacturing downturn, the company began searching for products that would diversify their product line, and in turn, their client base.
The Orion-based company saw Walmart and the United States Department of Defense push the use of RFID in their supply chains as a solution for tracking assets. They asked, "How can we leverage that in a use for our manufacturing customers?" says ARC's William Sharp.
Storage+ works like this: an RFID label is put on every item that needs to be tracked which is then stored in the cabinet. Employees enter a PIN or swipe an ID to open the cabinet and take out whatever they need. Rather than sign a clipboard (how 20th century!). the cabinet scans its own contents and compares what is inside the cabinet before and after the latest access.
Contents can be tracked on the Internet and emails can be sent notifying need-to-know parties when stock is running low or when a critical item is checked out.
The cabinet clearly has uses on the plant and shop floor, but there's potential for it to infiltrate into other industries. One potent example is with consignment materials like equipment at a manufacturing plant or orthopedic surgical equipment at hospitals. "This way, the customer doesn't pay until they use the stock," says Sharp. The cabinet's tracking system can notify the supplier when they need to restock and can even be set up to help out with billing.
Other potential uses include tracking stuff like library AV equipment, laptop computers, gauges, regulated or hazardous substances and documents and software.
ARC houses its research, development and engineering teams at its Orion headquarters. Although it downsized to six employees, Sharp has high hopes that Storage+ will grow that number. The company is working with distributors familiar with industries that are outside their comfort zone and the cabinet is currently being tested by a large medical market reseller. "All the stars are lining up," says Sharp.Source: William Sharp, ARCWriter: Kelli B. Kavanaugh