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Zebra's Painter Protection System Helps Prevent Falls at Boeing

The aerospace company is using Zebra's ultra-wideband RFID technology to track the locations of workers painting airplanes, and to verify that they are properly harnessed and working safely.
By Claire Swedberg

Airplanes are painted by a handful of painters at a time, each standing on a stacker—a large, moveable work platform that can rise, drop, or move left or right, thereby providing the painter with access to all parts of a plane's fuselage. Staff members are mandated to wear safety harnesses while conducting the work, which sometimes requires that they reach over the fuselage and interchange safety lines while up in the air on stackers. However, Stelfox notes, even with safety harnesses in place, there are risks. Although spotters are responsible for monitoring the painters, there was no foolproof way for the company to be sure that all personnel were complying with Boeing's safety policy 100 percent of the time. In addition, with multiple stackers moving around a plane at once, and with painters focused on their work and on managing heavy paint sprayers, it was possible for the painters to be unsafe.

The MotionWorks Painter Fall Protection System solution that Zebra developed for Boeing is intended to solve both problems: By continuously tracking the locations of staff members on stackers, the system can ensure that they are harnessed, hooked up and complying with Boeing's safety policy. What's more, the solution enables stackers to automatically shut off in the event that a non-compliant condition exists.

The aerospace company installed Zebra's MotionWorks UWB receivers in the hangars where its planes are painted.
"It took both engineering teams—Zebra's and Boeing's—to put their heads together to keep these guys safe," Stelfox says, including finding a way to ensure that the RFID technology operated in the heavy metallic environment. Zebra also had to spend considerable time learning about the painters' work processes, in order to make the system easy to use for Boeing's employees. The companies started the development work in early 2014 and required about six months to come up with a workable solution. Boeing began using the system in late July 2014 within six of its hangars, located in the Washington cities of Seattle and Renton. To deploy the solution, the company installed Zebra's UWB receivers in the hangars and issued UWB tags to personnel. The location of each tagged worker is represented by an icon on a map of the hangar area, depicted in the MotionWorks software.

"This was outside of the box for us and something we're really proud of," Stelfox states. "They put their belief in us to engineer a solution, and I think they chose us because of our tenacity to get it done."

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