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Case Studies

Bob Jones University Improves Security and Reduces Costs with Intermec RFID System

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Bob Jones UniversityBob Jones University (BJU), the world’s largest fundamental Christian liberal arts university, recently evaluated the function, design and security of its Greenville, South Carolina campus entrance in hopes of creating a more community friendly, secure environment for its faculty and students.

Previously, the campus’ front gates were monitored and controlled via an RFID access control system featuring active RFID tags placed on car windshields. The university faced several challenges limiting the effectiveness of the system, including the design of the buildings and gate, and the proximity to the street. These issues contributed to only a 19 percent read rate. In addition, the technology was battery-operated with a short life cycle of two to three years, accompanied by a high recurring tag cost.

BJU officials were in the process of redesigning the front of campus, and took these issues under consideration throughout the redesign. The university selected Intermec Technologies and its partner, Regan Inc., to install passive UHF RFID and logistics technology, eliminating the need for batteries and expensive tags. The technology consists of Intermec IF4 RFID readers with antennas embedded in brick pillars at the main entrance and exit of the campus and Intermec IT32A Gen 2 identification tags placed on windshields of the cars entering the campus.

“The order was driven, in part, by a need BJU felt as a result of the Virginia Tech campus shootings,” said Dan Regan, chief executive officer of Regan, Inc. “They realized that they had no idea who was on campus and who was not, given they didn’t have a way to secure the campus. We worked with Intermec to provide the hardware and technical support to enhance the security of the BJU students.”

Exceeding Expectations

The time allotted to design and implement the solution at BJU was limited to only five months in order to be completed before students started school in the fall. During the most critical element of the selection process, also known as the “bake-off,” Intermec took a significant lead over the competition. “Intermec tweaked the product to work at twice the distance of the competition,” said Paul Litzenberger, manager of IT Telecommunications, Bob Jones University. “Not only did they prove that a passive RFID tag in a moving car could connect with an antenna, they exceeded their own distance expectations and managed to duplicate it in the second lane.”

The product, engineered to read at a distance of 13 feet, achieved a distance of 35 feet through extensive re-engineering by Intermec, ultimately resulting in a 269 percent overall improvement.

“The Intermec team saw our need to catch cars as they were pulling off the highway when we drew a line on the concrete that said, ‘must work here’,” said Litzenberger. “They thought it was a long shot, but spent hours reconfiguring it until it met the need. Those efforts resulted in an increase in read distance of about 15 to 20 percent beyond our expectation.”

While the new construction improved the aesthetics and security of the entrance and solved some of the previous technological issues, it brought a new set of technology challenges as well. Details including placement, multiple traffic lanes, multiple buildings, lack of overhead structures for antennas and vehicle mounting variations were considered during the field testing with Intermec.

“It was truly a partnership all the way through, which was particularly valuable as we worked against a very tight deadline,” said Litzenberger. “As a team, we were persistent about continuing to reduce variables until we reached 35 feet in real-live application, even if that meant working through the night to be ready for our students and visitors the next morning.”

Improved Efficiency, Greater Cost-Savings

After deployment, the read rates increased from 29 percent to 99 percent. Over the course of 16 days and in a testing of 2,900 cars, only three cars failed to read properly during the initial test for reasons engineers were unable to identify. After additional testing under various circumstances, the remaining three cars passed the test. Since the Intermec solution offered passive RFID, batteries were eliminated and the life of the tags increased from two to eight years. In addition, the university reduced the tag costs by more than 75 percent by implementing the technology.

“We calculated spending on the previous system versus Intermec and discovered significant cost-savings with the new technology,” said Litzenberger. “Reducing the tag costs alone allowed us to pay for the RFID portion of the project for less than what we would have spent on two years worth of cards in an active environment.”

Implementing the technology has proved to increase overall efficiency for both the visitors and staff. Previously, a public safety officer stood near the entrance and manually pressed a button each time a car was approved to enter. During a volume study conducted with over 2,000 cars – an average of 750 of which drove through the gate per night – only 150 cars read correctly under the guard’s watch. Now, while on shift, security guards are able to focus on other job functions, resulting in increased productivity.

“We’ve noticed that no one mentions the technology anymore which is a significant change from the amount of complaints we received with the previous system,” said Litzenberger. “It’s so seamless that all they see now is the gate and ultimately a more secure environment.”