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Unirope RFID-Enables Inspections for Industrial Slings

The Canadian provider of slings used by cargo-lifting cranes has deployed a passive-tag system to track the maintenance and safety inspection process.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Ricci declines to disclose the tag's providers but says the tags attached to the chain sling can be read from a distance of less than an inch, while those on the synthetic fabric slings can be read from about 4 inches. One of Unirope's main requirements for the RFID system was that the tags be tightly integrated into the slings so they would not impact the profile or function of the devices.

The tags used to identify the fabric slings are embedded in molded plastic and placed behind the leather label sewn onto each sling. The metal ID plate attached to each chain sling is composed of two thin aluminum sheets, sandwiched together. Unirope and N4 devised a system for separating the two pieces, machining out a small indentation in one plate, then inserting a glass-encased tag and reattaching the sandwiched sheets onto the sling.

Unirope has deployed an RFID-based system called FieldID, for tracking the maintenance and safety inspection records of its products.

To read and encode the tags, N4 provides a Workabout Pro handheld computer manufactured by Psion Teklogix. An Agrident AIR200 low-frequency ISO 11784/5 reader is attached to the handheld via a serial port.

N4 developed a software platform called FieldID for the Unirope application. In the future, Ricci says, the firm plans to work with other companies requiring a system for tracking maintenance or safety inspections, both for industrial and non-industrial goods.

When a sling is first tagged, whether a new sling or one used in the field, the tag ID is accessed to create an electronic file for that sling in the main FieldID database. At that time, a safety inspection is also performed. The inspector keys the results of the inspection tests, comprised of a series of stress and weight tests, into the sling's electronic file, along with the date and time. The next time that sling comes up for inspection, the inspector will read its tag to call up the electronic record, then perform the inspections and save the results in the record, along with the date and time. The FieldID software can send commands to a nearby printer to make paper copies of the inspection report and, if the sling passed inspection, issue a certificate.

Ricci says one thing that makes FieldID attractive is that since they are Web-based, the sling inspection records are easy to call up from any Web-enabled computer. Moreover, he adds, it's a hosted application, so Unirope does not need to worry about troubleshooting or maintaining the database.

Thus far, Unirope has tagged and generated FieldID records for 70 percent of its chain and synthetic slings. The remainder is currently in service, says Buschman, and will be tagged as they are returned to Unirope. Once Unirope has completely deployed FieldID, the firm will begin offering it to customers that do their own testing.

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