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L'Oréal Italia Prevents Warehouse Collisions Via RTLS

An active RFID solution ensures forklift operators are alerted when they near another vehicle or pedestrian, as well as providing data analytics about any near-misses.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 18, 2014

One year after cosmetics company L'Oréal Italia installed an RFID-based system to prevent forklift-related collisions in its busy warehouse, the company has not had a single such accident. The solution, provided by systems integrator Deles Matic, is known as the Traffic Collision Assistance System (TCAS) and leverages RTLS technology from Essensium. Essensium provides its SafeTrack collision-avoidance RTLS systems throughout Europe, including at an Antwerp port terminal, to reduce the risk of injuries that result from automated or manned vehicles coming too close to another vehicle or worker. The L'Oréal Italia system consists of Essensium's battery-powered RFID tags, readers and software residing on the company's server, as well as Deles Matic's integrated warning system consisting of stop lights at intersections and warning lights and buzzers on each forklift.

L'Oréal Italia's facility in the city of Lainate has a busy and highly complex warehouse in which employees, on foot or in forklift vehicles, move up and down aisles where products are stored prior to shipment to customers. The company puts considerable emphasis on safety at its facility, and its managers want not only to prevent any accidents but to hear about and learn from any near incidents so that they can be researched and addressed.

The warehouse typically has a high volume of pedestrian as well as forklift traffic on any given day, and on "hot days," when shipping volume is at its greatest, traffic can increase further. The warehouse is designed with two lanes between each row of shelves, one dedicated to pedestrians and another for vehicles. It also has barriers in some areas such as conveyors and "bull bar" fencing that protect pedestrians from forklift traffic. In areas without barriers, or when barriers are not used by pedestrians, collisions could potentially occur if either a pedestrian or forklift operator is not paying attention or visibility is blocked. L'Oréal Italia brought the problem to Deles Matic, which then selected the Essensium solution, says Riccardo Chersoni, Deles Matic's operations director.

L'Oréal Italia had previously looked into an infrared (IR) system to sound alerts when a vehicle entered a specific area, as well as one that used active RFID tags to generate an alarm if a person was too close to a vehicle. However the results of both solutions were disappointing, since there were numerous false alarms (such as warning of a potential collision in the case of pedestrians who were in fact behind a bull fence or in another traffic lane), causing staff to ignore those warnings.

With the TCAS technology, which was installed in August 2013, each staff member wears one of Essensium's proprietary 2.4 GHz RFID tags, fastened via a Velcro strip to the shoulder of a safety vest. In the future, the tag will be integrated into the vest itself.

To enable a longer transmission range, the tag uses a transmission pulse designed to transmit a unique ID similarly to the way data is transmitted over ultra wideband technology, but in this case the unique identifier is sent over a narrow 2.4 GHz band, explains Dirk Devisch, Essensium sales and marketing director. The unique ID numbers on the tags are received by readers, known as SafeTrack Reference Nodes, which then forward that data, via a gateway, to a server where software uses time of flight and signal strength measurements to determine the location within about 30 centimeters, with a read distance up about 250 meters.

Each worker at the L'Oréal Italia warehouse wears one of Essensium's SafeTrack 2.4 GHz RFID tags fastened to a safety vest.
A similar tag is attached to each forklift vehicle and powered by the forklift battery (while the personnel badges require their own rechargeable battery). Essensium software identifies the location of the forklift as well as determines when an alert may be necessary, based not only on the location of the tags in its vicinity but also on the perceived speed at which the forklift is traveling based on the transmissions from the vehicle's tag. The alert responses could then be configured according to the rules Deles input to the system.

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