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RFID Tracks Safety Equipment

FrenchCreek Production now offers a mobile RFID reader that connects to a PDA for on-site inventorying and inspections of tagged fall-protection devices.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 28, 2007FrenchCreek Production (FCP), a maker of fall-protection safety harnesses, lanyards and other safety equipment, has released the second generation of its Tracker RFID system. Companies using FCP safety products, including construction firms, utilities and municipalities, will now be able to inspect and inventory these products utilizing a PDA with an RFID reader.

The previous version required RFID interrogators to be plugged into computers to operate, but few users carry laptops around a job site. In order to use the Tracker system conduct inspections and inventory counts, therefore, they had to bring the safety devices into an office or trailer. "With the last generation," says Ron Adams, an FCP sales engineer, "we were getting tons of customers saying they would like to buy [the system], but it wasn't portable. They couldn't carry a laptop around the job site."


Ron Adams
To RFID-enable the safety devices it sells, FCP sews a Texas Instruments (TI) 13.52 MHz RFID tag into each device's nylon fabric. The tags comply with the ISO 15693 standard and will still be readable with the new interrogator, which connects to a PDA and enables inspectors or managers to walk around the site.

Users of FCP safety products can purchase products, Adams says, either with or without the RFID tag. Each tag comes encoded with its own unique ID number, as well as the product's model number and serial number, its size, the types of materials used and the date the equipment went into service. This information cannot be altered by the end users.

Once personnel begin using a safety device, an employer can add such data as the name of the employee using it, when it was last inspected, when the next inspection is due and any comments about the device, by inputting information in the PDA and following touch prompts to encode this data onto the RFID chip. The PDA also offers a separate field for more extensive notes, which can be stored on the PDA and later downloaded to a PC. After downloading the data, office personnel can print the entire history of a piece of equipment, something regularly requested by OSHA or other safety inspectors. Employees can also walk through job sites with OSHA inspectors to provide inspection results on equipment in use, employing a PDA to call up data instantly.

FCP is selling the Tracker handheld reader through distributors. The device includes a Hewlett Packard (HP) iPAC PDA with a plug-in RFID interrogator and software provided by FCP. The handheld can read RFID tags attached to safety devices at a range of about 2 inches. The PDA comes with a holster for wearing the PDA on a belt, the cabling necessary for downloading data from the PDA, and software. The wholesale price is $950.
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