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Hybrid RFID Tag Links Worker Safety to Access Control

Extronics' new safety badge, which combines active Wi-Fi RFID and passive HF RFID technologies, will allow oil and gas workers at a Southeast Asia refinery to gain site access, as well as have their location tracked, without requiring them to carry multiple devices.
By Claire Swedberg

When employees report to work, they will be wearing the worker-safety tag, either on a belt, in a pocket or on a lanyard around the neck. The refinery already has existing access-control readers installed at entrances, which previously required a dedicated HF RFID badge. Now, personnel will be able to simply tap their worker-safety badge near the reader, and the access-control software will engage the turnstile or gate to open, thereby updating their status as having arrived.

As staff members move around the facility, each worker's tag ID, linked to his or her identity in Extronics software residing on the company's own server, is captured by Wi-Fi nodes. The tags typically beacon at a rate of every 15 seconds, though that frequency can be adjusted as required by the company. The tag also comes with a built-in motion sensor. If it detects that the tag has remained motionless for a specified period of time (say, 20 minutes), it will transmit less frequently (such as every hour). That function will help to preserve the life of the badge's built-in battery.

John Hartley, Extronics' CEO
The software calculates the user's location based on the node receiving the tag transmission, the signal strength and triangulation (in the case of multiple node reads of a single tag). The density of Wi-Fi nodes determines location granularity, Hartley explains, but typically, companies like to track workers within a given zone, with a less dense Wi-Fi node installation, rather than spend the money necessary to create highly granular location capability.

The software can then accomplish a few things. It knows, for instance, if a worker enters an area in which a person is not authorized to be, and an alert can be issued to the appropriate managers. In the event of an emergency, the software ensures that workers can be pinpointed. They are typically assigned to a mustering site when alerted to evacuate. Managers can next access Extronics' Evacuation Manager software dashboard, or use an iOS- or Android-based app to view, on a mobile device, the names of any workers who have not reported to their mustering site. If a manager clicks on an individual's name, the software will display an icon on a map of the facility, indicating where that person is located, based on his or her tag transmissions.

The next-generation tag will not only come with the access-control functionality and ID and picture for worker identification, but also offer a fall-alert feature using a built-in shock sensor to identify if a worker has possibly fallen. Extronics has been providing worker-safety solutions since 2005, Hartley says, but the link to access control is new for the company and for the industry. "It represents a convergence of two systems," he states. "It's a very significant win for the industry," enabling the use of a single badge for both safety and access-control functions.

In fact, says Susie Adam, the firm's marketing communications manager, it may be the only product on the market that offers both features in a single tag. The tags can come with an emergency call button as an enhanced feature. They can also use a low-frequency (LF) exciter at a gate or exit that will turn the tag on and off, so that it will not continue beaconing if someone leaves the work site.

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