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Aker Yards Uses RFID to Ramp Up Worker Safety

At its shipyard in Turku, Finland, the company installs interrogators alongside gangplanks so administrators can determine who is on board a vessel and in danger in the event of a fire or other risk.
By Rhea Wessel
Nov 07, 2007More than 5,000 people work in and around the world's largest cruise ships as they are assembled at the Aker Yards shipyard in Turku, Finland. Therefore, the shipyard operator needed to be able to track which workers were on board a ship at any given time in case of a fire or other problem.

The 5,000 people working on a vessel can hail from 40 different nations, and some 2,500 may be subcontractors. The fact that workers are employed by dozens of companies and speak a variety of languages made it especially difficult for Aker to track personnel and provide for their safety.

Antti Virkkunen
The company sought a solution for its tracking needs for nearly a decade. It considered guards, but they were too costly. It also looked into employing a standard key fob application using passive RFID, but decided against that because workers coming on and off ships often carry large loads, and key fobs would likely get damaged or be difficult to use for a person with full hands.

The tracking system needed to be wireless and able to inform administrators how long a worker had been aboard a vessel, said Antti Virkkunen, CEO of Vilant Systems, on Wednesday at RFID Journal LIVE! Europe 2007 in Amsterdam. "The main idea was to have a tool you can use in a fire emergency on a ship," Virkkunen told attendees.

Vilant Systems designed and implemented the RFID system, using Motorola interrogators to track workers wearing RFID-tagged helmets as they move on and off a ship. The company mounted readers alongside each of the ship's gangplanks, with one interrogator used on footbridges measuring 1 meter (3.3 feet) across, and two on those spanning 3 meters (9.9) feet across.

The readers contain internal heaters and small drainage pipes that can be used to siphon off water from rain and melting snow. The devices comply with EPCglobal Gen 2 standards and function at temperatures ranging from -40 to 50 degrees Celsius. The only cable attached to the each interrogator is an electrical plug; internal batteries allow the reader to function for about 30 minutes after the plug is pulled. In the event of a fire, firefighters customarily cut off electricity to the ship immediately. The readers communicate with the back-end system via a wireless LAN connection.

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