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Mat Maker Embeds Tags for Traceability

Composite Mat Solutions is placing a tag in each mat it manufactures in order to improve its manufacturing records and track each mat, either to the point of sale or throughout its rental lifespan.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jul 24, 2006Composite Mat Solutions (CMS) manufactures mats used by firms in a wide range of industries, from energy and oil extraction companies to entertainment and sports arenas. The high-density polyethylene used to manufacture the mats provides durability in extreme temperatures and in very wet or dry conditions. The mats are often used as temporary flooring for storing heavy industrial equipment. For example, the Alaska Department of Transportation uses them at an airstrip maintenance shop that houses snow-removal equipment.

To identify the batch in which a mat was manufactured, CMS has historically stamped a metal tag, embossed with a batch number, into each mat's sidewall. The company tracks the date and time each batch was made, as well as the temperature and humidity level at the time of manufacture, by associating this data with the batch number. But reading the number stamped on each mat sometimes becomes difficult once the mat goes through years of heavy use. The metal tag can get soiled beyond readability or, in some cases, may fall off. CMS needed a more reliable way of identifying its mat products. Plus, it wanted to find a means of serializing the IDs, so that the mats could be tracked individually, rather than just by batch. This would provide the company with great visibility into its inventory of mats, which it both rents and sells.

Last year, the company decided it wanted to embed a passive RFID tag in each of its two main products: the large (8 foot by 14 foot) Dura-base mat and the smaller (4 foot by 4 foot) Bravo. It is would use a serialized ID encoded to each tag to track its manufacturing records and to link tagged mats to their respective rental or purchase orders.

To integrate tagging into its manufacturing process and begin tracking the mats, CMS turned to RFID Logic, RFID systems integrator based in Marietta, Ga. RFID Logic spent nearly two years testing RFID tags and configuring the interrogation zones needed to track the mats' movements. It tested six different passive RFID tags before finding ones that met CMS' criteria: The company wanted to be able to read each truckload of tagged mats with 100 percent accuracy as the truck passes through the yard gate on its way to its renter or purchaser.

"For the large Dura-base mats, we were getting 100 percent read accuracy from the get-go," explains Andy Shapira, vice president of operations for RFIDlogic. But only 38 Dura-base mats fit in a truckload, as opposed to the 430 that comprise a truckload of the Bravo mat. Reading 430 tags in a matter of seconds as the truck moved through the gate proved much more challenging and required the careful placement of three antennas mounted on each side of gate to reach 100 percent read accuracy. CMS also added a speed bump to the gate, in order to ensure that the trucks would drive through the interrogation zone slowly.

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