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Milwaukee Cylinder Offers RFID Tags for Documenting Maintenance

Customers in industrial environments can use a handheld RFID reader to capture data about a cylinder's inspection and repair history, then write comments about the latest service being provided on it.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 23, 2015

Milwaukee Cylinder, a manufacturer of hydraulic and pneumatic tie rod cylinders, has begun selling a radio frequency identification function for its products to help users manage each cylinder's maintenance schedule. With an RFID tag attached to each cylinder, a user can track inspections and maintenance, write data about those processes on the tag, and view not only a particular cylinder's maintenance and inspection history, but also which part numbers would be needed if the seal or another part needed to be replaced.

Milwaukee Cylinder's products are used in a variety of industrial industries, the company reports, including oil and gas, aerospace, automotive and foundries. They are installed in machinery used to run those companies' operations, and periodically require inspection and maintenance.

Balluff's BIS M-150-02/A HF RFID passive tag, incorporated into a bracket that Milwaukee Cylinder designed for mounting the tag to a cylinder
In most cases, however, shutting down equipment for maintenance is a major operation that must be carefully timed so that nothing remains offline longer than necessary. Douglas Lacina, Milwaukee Cylinder's global marketing and engineering leader, says he conceived of the RFID solution based on his own experience as a submarine officer in the U.S. Navy's nuclear power program, in which maintenance activities had to be run like clockwork in order to prevent unnecessary downtime. If, during that maintenance, parts were unavailable when needed, or if the required replacements had not been anticipated, the shutdown period could be extended, thereby creating a major problem for operations.

Traditionally, equipment such as a cylinder comes with a tag printed with details that include the item's serial number, bore size, pressure rating and date of manufacture, but reading that information can be nearly impossible if the printed data is oriented such that it faces into the machine, or if it is obscured by equipment, or is dirty or painted over. A cylinder's identification information is absolutely essential when parts or repair kits are ordered, Lacina says. "If you can't read the serial number," he explains, "you can't order parts."

This year, Milwaukee Cylinder began working with Balluff on a solution. "Our role [at Milwaukee Cylinder] is to look at problems in the market and try to think through solutions," Lacina says. The two companies determined that a high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz passive RFID tag, compliant with the ISO 15693 standard, would be the best solution, since the tag would not require a battery (meaning no battery replacements would be necessary). What's more, an HF tag would have a relatively short read range, ensuring that a reader would capture data only from the specific RFID tag that a user wanted to access.

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