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Dutch Consortium to Track Steel Plates via RuBee Tags

The system, from Visible Assets, will enable Eagle Eye Innovation—a consortium of 30 rental agencies—to track the locations of plates at construction sites.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 22, 2016

Approximately one million steel plates are rented out for construction projects each year in the Netherlands. These plates are used for temporary roads, as well as trench covers, or to prevent soil erosion where buildings, roads or other infrastructure are being built. The plates, which weigh half a ton to one ton apiece, are provided by more than 30 different plate-rental companies within the country, and are billed on a monthly basis. Tracking the sheets of steel is often complex, and has caused numerous challenges to the plates' owners and their customers, who could be renting them from multiple companies.

To resolve these challenges, a consortium of the rental companies has created a business known as Eagle Eye Innovation BV (EEI) to manage the plates for all of these firms, as well as rent them to customers and track them via RuBee readers and battery-powered tags provided by a New Hampshire company called Visible Assets. While RuBee works at a frequency of 131 kHz, a RuBee reader or tag emits virtually no RF power, according to Visible Assets, and instead relies on magnetic waves to communicate with a RuBee tag, using a protocol complying with the IEEE 1902.1 standard. The company describes RuBee as an alternative to RFID technology that works in places where RFID cannot operate reliably. That includes sites at which transmissions must pass through steel, mud and water.

Testing by Visible Assets has shown that it would take no more than a minute to identify as many as 100 RuBee-tagged plates stacked on top of each other.
In the Netherlands, the width and length of steel plates vary from 150 centimeters by 250 centimeters (5 feet by 8 feet) to 250 centimeters by 600 centimeters (8 feet by 20 feet), and they can be 11 or 15 millimeters (0.4 or 0.6 inch) in thickness. The dimensions of a typical plate, however, are 150 millimeters by 600 millimeters by 15 millimeters (6 inches by 23.6 inches by 0.6 inch). Rental companies struggle with ensuring that the plates they rent out—which are typically installed in muddy, wet and sometimes remote locations for varying lengths of time—are returned to them.

"All the companies suffer from the same challenge," says Gjalt Loots, a principal business consultant for applied research firm TNO, which served as the systems integrator for the Plate 20/20 solution that Visible Assets is supplying to Eagle Eye Innovation. Because companies use so many steel plates, often from multiple vendors, and because the plates tend to look alike, making sure they are returned to the proper owner is not easy. Plates are individually marked with printed or etched serial numbers, but those numbers are impossible to see if the plates are stacked on top of each other, as they often are while in storage or transport. Since they weigh up to a ton apiece, they can be lifted (so that employees can view their serial numbers) only by means of construction equipment. In addition, the IDs can be covered by mud and various other materials found on a worksite, making them difficult to read.

Since reinforced steel is of such high value—the plates can often be sold for more than they were purchased for years prior—they are also at a high theft risk.

To solve these problems, the group secured the assistance of TNO and launched Eagle Eye Innovation, which will act as a service provider that will draw from a pool of steel plates from the rental companies and manage them as they are provided to and return from customers. The consortium—located in Heerenveen, in northern Netherlands—offers its own storage area for some plates, while others are shipped to and from the rental businesses directly.

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