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Stainless Steel NFC Tag Tracks Safety Device Maintenance

Process Systems Engineering released a new NFC-enabled product this year that is helping its customers track the maintenance and inspections of safety equipment in industrial, oil and gas, and chemical environments, to ensure that every item is maintained and tested.
By Claire Swedberg

PSE teamed with Tectus, a German maker of industrial rugged RFID hardware, to create a stainless steel label with a built-in Tectus high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz RFID tag compliant with the ISO 15693 standard. The label measures 2 inches by 4 inches, and the RFID tag inside measures 1.3 inches in diameter and 0.25 inch thick. The tag is designed to operate under extreme conditions that include heat or cold (it accommodates a temperature range of -44 degrees to +60 degrees Celsius [-47.2 degrees to degrees +140 Fahrenheit]), as well as humidity, wind and other weather, salt spray, industrial solvents and chemicals. The labels can be affixed to equipment via the TAG-TITE. To remove a label or safety device, a user would need to cut through the TAG-TITE, which would leave visual evidence that the device had been taken or replaced.

The company using the SIS-TAGs with RFID began applying the tags to the equipment this year, and storing the unique ID number encoded on each label, along with the corresponding device's ID and history, in the company's own maintenance software. When a worker conducts maintenance or inspection processes on a piece of safety equipment, he or she first holds an off-the-shelf passive RFID reader, rated for hazardous locations, near the label to read the tag ID. The worker can then access data from the company's maintenance software that indicates the item's history and service. The data is also written directly to the tag, so if there is no wireless connection to the software, the employee can still access the necessary information, such as when the device was installed, what services have been provided and what the maintenance or calibration frequency for that item should be. The employee then provides the necessary services and inputs that data into the handheld, which forwards it to the software, along with the RFID tag ID, and writes the data to the tag.

A SIS-TAG attached to a safety device
For the petrochemical company, Pranke says, the system ensures that no safety device is ever missed or the wrong device serviced. It also reduces the amount of labor time that personnel would otherwise spend manually inputting data regarding what was being done. While bar coding provided a unique identifier, he adds, it did not enable data to be written to the label. On the other hand, he says, ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID would not work for this purpose in the industrial environment, due to the long read range involved. Users must ensure that they are reading the correct tag, which requires a short read range. In some cases, Pranke points out, the numerous safety devices are installed within close proximity to each other.

PSE's Richard Pranke
By using the RFID-enabled labels, Pranke says, companies can not only identify what services have been provided to each safety device, but also view historical data indicating when that object was replaced. In that way, they can understand the life expectancy of every piece of equipment.

Since the labels were provided to the petrochemical company, a chemical manufacturer has also begun using the SIS-TAGs with RFID. According to Pranke, the company is now marketing the product beyond North America to Europe and the Middle East. "Our labels are fully customizable," he says, including the label's size and color and the information printed on the front.

PSE is also in the process of creating a mobile app that can be used with Android-based devices. With the app, users would be able to utilize a smartphone or tablet (provided that it was intrinsically safe for use in hazardous areas) to read each tag, update and view information, and write data directly to the tag. The app is expected to be made available in 2017.

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