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Dow Monitors Hazardous Rail Shipments in Real Time

The system employs an RF-based auto-ID system that uses sensors, satellite communications and GPS to track the location and status of 650 tank railcars in North America.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 02, 2008Dow Chemical is using an RF-based auto-identification system to monitor in real time the status and location of its fleet of tank railcars that it uses to transport chemicals that pose a toxic inhalation hazard (TIH). The system employs Salco Technologies EverSee2 transponders, which combine sensors, two-way satellite communications modem and GPS positioning. Information transmitted by the device is sent to the Savi Technology SmartChain Asset Management platform and software, enabling the chemical company to receive regular updates of the railcars' locations and alerts in the event that something goes wrong. Dow can also share that data with any necessary agencies.

Dow Chemical has multiple projects underway for tracking products and containers. About four years ago, "We developed a strategy with 50 different projects to be implemented over the course of 10 years," says Craig Casto, Dow's global auto-ID and label technology leader. This included tracking trucks, barges and railcars and the multiple containers that are carried on any kind of vehicle. In 2005, Dow installed a Savi tracking system for TIH cylinders with a backbone software application that allows them to be tracked by means of bar-coded labels and Savi 433 MHz active tags throughout the supply chain (see Dow Reveals a Chemical Attraction to RFID). Now, the company is leveraging that Savi platform for the new EverSee2 system to help it locate railcars carrying hazardous chemicals. Of Dow's 26,000 railcars in North America, about 650 are carrying TIH chemicals, and Dow is in the process of installing the EverSee2 devices on those 650 cars. By the end of the year, Casto says, the entire fleet of TIH railcars will be using the new tracking system.

Dow Chemical's Craig Casto
Every freight railcar today has two passive 915 MHz or 2.45 GHz RFID tags to comply with the American Association of Railroads' requirements for car-location tracking. Some railroad stations include RFID interrogators that capture the tag ID numbers as the freight passes, providing limited data as to the locations of railcars and freight. "For the majority of our shipments, that is sufficient," Casto says. However for hazardous products, Dow was seeking a real-time location system.

In 2006 Dow teamed with the Chemical Transportation Emergency Center (Chemtrec) to develop a Dow Chemical Company Railcar Shipment Visibility initiative to test wireless tracking of railcars, sharing data between Dow and Chemtrec on a Web-based platform (see Dow and Chemtrec's RFID-Based Rail Safety Project). That initiative has since led to this new railcar deployment, Casto says.

The EverSee2 transponder, attached to the top of a tank railcar, is wired to sensors for monitoring the status of the tank and the chemicals within.

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