RFID and other Cage Technologies

The use of RFID technology to ease the tracking of cages in the animal facility has taken a long time to take off.  It was at least 15 years ago when TOPAZ presented RFID technology to our Annual User Conference in the full expectation that within a few years, everyone would be using it!  In practice the uptake has been slow, mainly due to technical difficulties with reception (the amount of metal in a typical animal room can be a problem), a lack of simple solutions from vendors and the cost.  An additional factor may be the apparent turn over of vendors in this area – every year at National AAALAS, TOPAZ is visited by new vendors who often have very impressive technologies and ideas, but all too often, they fail to reappear the following year.

In the last couple of years, however, we’ve seen a gradual increase in customers actually starting to implement this technology, and have worked, in partnership with those customers, on three different approaches.

  • TOPAZ Elements can provide a self contained RFID solution.  Our Mobile Census application can read RFID tags, and Elements can print to standard RFID capable printers to generate the cage cards.  This option has the advantage of keeping it all within the TOPAZ universe, keeping the cost low and making it easy to adopt gradually, alongside your existing barcodes.  On the other hand we readily admit to having minimal experience with the technical vagaries of RFID and it’s interactions with your steel cages and racks.  We’re software folks after all!
  • We’ve integrated with the Sensus application from the folks at Allentown.  This option has the advantage of offering several strategies for reading the RFID tags, but has required more complicated integration of data between the systems and does, of course, involve the purchase of their system.
  • Most recently we’re exploring working with a company called Terso, who are not in the lab animal space, but are a very large company specializing in RFID technologies. They are true experts in that side of the technology, and the integration is a little easier, but of course, there is a price for that expertise!

Just to make the picture even fuzzier, there are other, non-RFID technologies becoming available which may either complement or supplant “traditional” RFID!  TOPAZ has integrated with the DVC “digital cage” system from Tecniplast, there is the CageTalker “digital cage cards” from Galilei, and several others.

With all these options, it’s easy to get confused and miss the target.  The answer is to adhere to the good principles for any project – define your requirements and expected benefits, avoid “solutions in search of a problem” and be agile.  Start by implementing the “MVP” (minimum viable product) – the smallest, lightest possible solution that will address the primary needs – and then grow from there.

If you’re interested in adding RFID capabilities to your Elements installation, drop us a line. We’re here to help!