Snap, snap click, click
Snap, snap click, click

Oct 1, 1999 12:00 PM
Michael Fickes

Photo identification (ID) and badging systems are part of many of today's access control systems. Photo ID also offers utility above, beyond, and even below access control.

Some companies, for example, routinely take pictures of employees on their first day of work, storing hard copies or digital copies of the photo with personnel records.

Such a system could eventually rise to the level of photo ID badging and provide a form of access control. For example, if a company's policy requires all employees to wear photo ID badges and all visitors to wear visitor badges, those without badges could be questioned or reported.

There are other good reasons to provide employees with badges. Some companies use photo ID badging to promote loyalty; others hope ID badges will foster teamwork within groups.

A more compelling use of photo ID arises in multi-tenant office buildings. Here, badges provide quick information about where an individual belongs. Her red badge indicates that she works for A-Corp. on the third floor. His white badge identifies him as part of the building maintenance staff.

In addition, a well-planned badging system could eventually port data into a system designed to handle facility access control.

Likewise, a photo ID system chosen to support access control might eventually provide cards that could double as tools for time and attendance, equipment check-out, inventory management, and even as debit cards for company vending machines.

For these and other reasons, it makes sense to examine photo ID badging technology as a system compatible with several other technologies.

AN ENTRY-LEVEL SYSTEM A basic photo ID badging system could include a film-based instant camera to take pictures, a manual photo die cutter to crop the photos, and a laminator to seal a polyester badge inside a clear laminate.

Either the vendor of this equipment or another company can provide thin, flexible polyester badge media. In most cases, the media comes with a pre-printed design that includes fixed information: a square defining where the picture will attach, the company logo and tag line, and a line of type asking anyone who finds the card to return it to the company's address.

The pre-printed media comes in two formats similar to envelope labels: 8-up and 4-up. The 8-up format shows the front of eight cards on 8 1/2 x 11 sheets. The 4-up format shows the fronts and backs of four cards on each sheet.

The badging administrator can type names and any other variable information onto these sheets with a typewriter.

Conventional laser printers will also print on this kind of media.

After the addition of variable information, the administrator attaches the photo with a dot of photo tack and runs the badge through the laminator, producing a sturdy and durable photo ID tool.

The cost of such a basic system runs to about $1,300 for the camera, die cutter, and laminator. Add to this the fairly nominal cost for pre-printed media and the cost of a typewriter or laser printer.

Basic photo ID badging systems do not normally include a relational database to store data related to the badging system, but many companies may want to add this tool. Personnel data usually resides in a database in the human resources office. If that is so, it would be easier for the badging administrator to import data to the badging center and automate the badge printing process.

In purchasing this kind of software, industry consultants recommend that it have a feature called Open Data-Base Compliance (ODBC).

ODBC will enable a badging administrator to use personnel data from the human resource department, as long as human resources uses an ODBC database. The cost of such software is nominal, about $600, according industry sources.

FOR LARGER APPLICATIONS A basic photo ID/badging system may serve well for companies with up to 200 or 300 employees, vendors, contractors, and visitors per day.

Above this level, instant film cameras become costly, because taking acceptable pictures may require several attempts, with failures representing wasted costs in film and time.

Instant cameras used in badging applications photograph four people at a time. The die cutter then crops the four photos to fit single badges.

An individual, however, is often unhappy with his or her first picture and may require a second and even a third attempt before giving an approval. At some point, so many people will want their pictures re-taken that it may become inefficient to retain the basic badging system.

In addition, companies with more than a couple hundred people often want to upgrade security by implementing card-based access control technology. These companies may also want to automate time and attendance records with cards that go beyond the capabilities of punch-clock systems. Some may decide to add inventory and equipment control technology, another application for which cards are suited. While none of these systems necessarily need photo ID badges to operate, photo ID does offer an extra measure of control to each.

Most of today's access control softwares have the ability to call up stored digital photographs as a double check on individual's seeking entry through an access controlled entrance, a function that advanced photo ID badging system can provide.

DIGITAL IMAGING AND PHOTO ID IMAGING For the most part, the components of a basic photo ID badging system will not serve the requirements of card access control, time and attendance, and inventory management systems.

An exception is the relational database. Companies that install a digital image-based badging system and have an existing and transferable database will not have to re-key information related to existing employees and regular vendors. That's important if 300 or more people need new cards to gain entry through access-controlled doors.

The heart of an advanced badging system with digital imaging lies in the camera. Two kinds of cameras can accommodate this application: basic digital cameras and full motion video capture cameras.

According to industry sources, a basic $600 digital camera carries the lower cost of the two camera options and provides a better, higher resolution image. On the other hand, a digital camera cannot work as fast as the higher priced video capture camera.

To create a badge image with a digital camera, the badging administrator takes a picture, and uses software that comes with the camera to import the picture into a PC and view it on the screen.

A serial or Universal Serial Bus (USB) port on the PC provides the physical connection between the camera and the PC. Industry experts recommend a USB connection, which speeds the process.

When the picture appears on the screen, the subject accepts or rejects it and the photo is saved or re-shot.

VIDEO CAPTURE CAMERAS Video capture cameras speed the process. With these cameras, the subject can stand or sit in front of the camera and his or her image appears on the computer screen. By angling the monitor, the subject can see the image, make adjustments, and approve it. The badging administrator can then capture the image by clicking the mouse.

Video capture is the fastest, easiest way to acquire photo-ID badging images. This technology does, however, cost more than a basic digital camera.

Video capture systems include several components in addition to the camera. A video capture card, about $1,000, must be installed in the PC. The connection between the PC must be made in the form of a cable that can transmit one of three kinds of signals of differing quality.

First, there is an S-Video signal cable, which is compatible with most monitors but delivers grainy images. Second comes a composite signal connection that improves on S-Video image quality. The best image arrives through an RGB (red-green-blue) connector.

When everything is said and done, a video capture imaging system may run about three times the cost of a digital camera system, according to industry sources.

Another camera consideration involves where the badging administrator must take pictures. For companies in which employees have the time and ability to visit a badging station, video capture may make sense.

On the other hand, video capture cards generally don't fit into laptop computers. So remote, temporary badging stations at branch offices, for example, must rely on digital camera technology.

RELATIONAL DATABASE A relational database with the ability to attach image files is another component of an advanced badging system. Once again, an ODBC database will allow the badging administrator to import demographic data from existing ODBC files stored in other databases. This software will include a new feature as well, one that allows the digital image file to attach to the individuals demographic file.

Can you use the software and the database from an older badging system? In some cases, yes. Some vendors offer utility programs that add the ability to attach digital image files to data files in a relational data-base.

Chances are, a new relational database with integrated image attachment capabilities will work better.

While video images will print to a variety of card materials, PVC cards remain the most popular for access control swipe and proximity readers as well as for readers handling other card applications.

Printing on PVC cards requires specially designed dye-sublimation printers which diffuse dyes into the surface of a card.

Entry level dye-sublimation printers cost about $3,000. These printers can produce a finished card in 35 to 45 seconds.

Mid-range printers costing between $5,000 and $7,500 run at a speed of 25 to 35 seconds per card.

The price differential in the mid-range relates to options available for these printers. For instance, a $7,500 printer might print a card and then add a protective layer of lamination. This level of printer might also encode magnetic stripes and smart card chips.

The newest card printers on the market print reverse high-definition images on the underside of a film that then attaches to a card. This allows the use of photo ID badging and other card applications with a range of substrate materials of different sizes, configurations, and thicknesses. These printers can handle up to 200 cards an hour. Their cost, between $8,000 and $9,000, reflects the enhanced capabilities.

Moving to digital image photo ID badging certainly raises the cost of badging. But weighing the higher costs against increased efficiency and the enhancement of other systems such as access control may, in the end, make advanced photo ID badging snap into place.

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