3D Printed BumpMarker Allows for Easier Inventory Management and Tracking

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In a paper entitled “BumpMarker: a 3D-printed tangible marker for simultaneous tagging, tracking, and weight measurement,” a pair of researchers introduces a device they invented that tags, tracks and weighs objects on pressure sensor sheets. As they point out, there is a major demand for inventory management in environments like warehouses and hospitals. In existing inventory management systems, it is necessary to check the names and positions of items, which can be made easier by attaching machine-readable barcodes for monitoring quantity. However, storage locations must first be determined in order to find the desired items, so radio frequency identification (RFID) tags can be attached, and RFID readers can be implemented to cover the entire storage space.

“However, when we manage containers that store relatively small objects (pellets or powders) or liquids, we must introduce an additional procedure to monitor changes in the amounts of objects in the containers,” the researchers state. “For example, if we remove a certain amount of liquid chemical from a container, we first identify the label of the container by scanning the attached machine-readable tag. After removing the desired amount of liquid from the container, the mass of the subtracted chemical is measured with a weighing scale. The amount consumed is then recorded for management purposes. This procedure is not desirable since it requires substantial manual labor and additional devices.”

Therefore, the researchers developed BumpMarker, a 3D printed device that can simultaneously acquire an object’s embedded information, position and weight on high-resolution pressure sensor sheets. The device consists of several pins on a flat baseplate.

“By modifying the arrangement of the pins, we can embed digital information that can be used as the object’s ID,” the researchers explain. “The printed marker is then attached to the bottom of an object. As the object is placed on a pressure sensor sheet, the sheet captures the pressure map and then processes it to track the marker’s position, retrieve the information, and calculate the weight of the object. Thus, BumpMarker enables us to remotely monitor the amounts of products in containers by simply placing their containers on the pressure sensor sheet without requiring an additional procedure.”

The researchers used 3D printing to develop the device because it allows for the rapid production of prototypes and iterations. They experimented with the BumpMarker to confirm that they could “enhance the detection sensitivity of the pins used by scattering them appropriately in space,” and showed that the system can distinguish approximately 100 g of weight difference. They propose several applications for the device; for example, if a hospital was storing various liquid medicines on shelves, the system can automatically and remotely monitor the precise positions of the medicines and their remaining amounts. It can also be implemented on refrigerator shelves to monitor what food or beverage supplies are running out. In environments with massive amounts of inventory, the BumpMarker can be used to drastically reduce the amount of time and effort spent on assessing the status the goods contained in that inventory.

Authors of the paper include Changyo Han and Takeshi Naemura.

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