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Can RFID Track Gas Cylinders?

Posted By RFID Journal, 07.21.2009
We would like to inquire about using RFID to track more than 50,000 gas cylinders, from our filling line to storage, and on to shipping from our premises. We need a full solution and information regarding procedures and prices. Thank you.

—Nabil, United Arab Emirates

Dear Nabil,

This is a common application for radio frequency identification. There are companies that make passive high-frequency (HF) and low-frequency (LF) tags designed for cylinders, but these have a relatively short range and require that an interrogator be located within 1 meter (3 feet) of the cylinders. Ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) offers a longer read range—20 feet or so. I am not aware of a company currently making passive UHF tags designed for cylinders, though these could be custom-made. You could also use semi-passive or active tags, which provide a longer read range but are more expensive.

Typically, companies set up a reader at a fill station to record which cylinder has been filled. If there is a portal or gate, the filled cylinders pass through it on their way to storage, so set up an interrogator at that location. One challenge is if the units come out of the same portal by which they enter storage. Generally speaking, readers tell you only that a tag was sensed, not its direction (Mojix, Alien Technology and Impinj have developed UHF systems that can determine tag direction). You can get around this problem by setting up two antennas or interrogators. If reader A reads the tag before reader B, the tagged item is determined to be entering storage. If reader B reads it first, however, the unit is determined to be leaving storage.

You could use handheld interrogators to identify the cylinders being put on trucks, or if the there is a staging/dock area where the cylinders being delivered are stored, you can set up a reader there. It also makes sense to record when the units return, so you know which have not come back. So a reader needs to be set up in the area where returns are stored temporarily. If the cylinders go through routine washing and maintenance, it makes sense to set up a reader in that area as well. That way, you can track the last time the cylinder was washed or inspected, and pull it from inventory when it needs routine maintenance.

There are numerous off-the-shelf software systems, such as Intelligent Insites' Enterprise Visibility Platform, that will enable you to utilize the captured RFID data to track the assets throughout the filling, storage, shipping, receiving and maintenance processes. The cost of the system really depends on the cost of the tags, the number of interrogators required and the systems integrator you hire to put it all together.

Here are some other articles that might be of interest to you:

Manufacturer to Track Half a Million Gas Cylinders

RFID to Ensure Safe Refueling of Natural Gas Vehicles

Malaysian Propane Supplier Fills Up on RFID

New Belgium Brewing Rolls Out RFID to Track Kegs

—Mark Roberti, Editor,
RFID Journal

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