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Nuclear Facility Tests RFID on Pipe Welds

A solution from Beweis is intended to accurately identity a pipe weld via a handheld reader, and link that weld to radiographic images of it that prove its integrity.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 25, 2014

French technology-based tracking solutions company Beweis has developed an RFID-enabled system for verifying that pipes have been properly welded at nuclear power plants and petrochemical facilities, and for tracking the soundness of those welds via radiographic images. The company's solution is being tested by the French government's PACA Labs, as part of what is known as the Be-Tag project, financed by the federal agency Risk Division, with consulting services provided by the Institute of Welding Group, the French National RFID Center and the City of Martigues. The test, being conducted at a nuclear energy plant operated by Areva, consists of attaching passive EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags to pipe welds and to radiographic images taken of those welds, in order to prove that the welds are without flaws when pipes are being installed at sites for which integrity is critical. The weld and image tags are interrogated in the field to better identify each weld, and to confirm which image matches a particular weld.

Beweis provides its RFID technology to the military sector, as well as to the automotive and other manufacturing industries, according to Sylvain Crozet, Beweis' technical director. Throughout the past year, Be-Tag—which the company refers to as a weld anti-counterfeiting system—was developed for use on pipe welds, to link a particular welded pipe joint with data regarding the inspection, including the radiographic imaging data, the time of the weld and the location of physical radiographic film of that weld. In that way, users not only can accurately locate a particular weld, but also authenticate the identity of that pipe and welding.

To verify that a radiographic image is matched to the appropriate weld, Beweis places two brass squares, each marked with a letter of the alphabet, into every pipe tag. Shown here is the tag's interior, which is normally sealed shut.
As pipes are laid for the construction of a new or expanded facility, a welder joins them together onsite. Each weld is then tested via radiography to ensure its integrity, says Romain Knezevic, Beweis' software engineer, and an image is taken. Without an RFID tag to identify that pipe weld, a worker typically marks the weld via a lead plate, on which a serial number is stamped.

If a pipe is not properly welded, it poses a risk of rupture—which is of extreme concern during the movement of highly toxic or volatile liquids. To better identify each weld's integrity, radiographic images in a view bundle (a bundle of the films created by the radiography) are stored in an envelope that protects it from light and dust.

With Be-Tag, an RFID tag containing an Alien Technology Higgs-3 chip is strapped to the welded section of pipe, and the tag's unique ID number is linked in Beweis' software to information about the weld, including the date, the welder's name and the pipe's diameter. To accomplish this task, welders carry a Motorola Solutions Psion Workabout Pro 3 handheld computer to read the tag and input necessary data. The location information, based on GPS data derived from the handheld, is also stored in the software, as well as on the tag itself.

The software resides on a local server hosted by the end user—which, in the case of the pilot, is Areva. Authorized users, including inspectors and film developers, can then access that information.

Once the weld is completed and the tag is attached, the radiographic images are taken and the tag's unique ID number (known as the Secret ID) is printed on a unique, non-RFID paper label, known as a view-label. The label is then attached to that bundle.

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