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Equipment Inspectors Find Safety in RFID

Construction equipment suppliers use N4 Systems' RFID-based solution to track inspection records of equipment in the field, at work sites and mines.
By Claire Swedberg
May 09, 2008A growing number of construction product management companies are employing an RFID system known as Field ID, provided by N4 Systems, to allow their inspectors to create documents automatically in the field. Elko Wire Rope & Mining Supply, located in Elko, Nev., plans to begin utilizing the N4 Systems solution in June, while Hercules SLR deployed its new RFID system with N4 in February of this year.

Elko Wire Rope & Mining Supply provides steel rope, rigging and hoists for workers in the mining industry, as well as for drilling and construction companies. The company also provides an inspection service, sending staff members to job sites to examine equipment in use, and to report that equipment's condition to the customer. The service submits reports to such regulating bodies as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

Somen Mondal
At this point, says Neely Hammond, Elko's wire rope facility manager, "everything is done on paper." The company's two inspectors travel to mines and other work sites in Nevada and Utah, where they inspect equipment and write paper reports that they then return to the Elko office. Administrative workers either store the documents in a file cabinet, input them into a computer system or summarize the details in reports e-mailed to customers.

Hammond notes several weaknesses inherent in this approach, however. Paper reports can get lost and be hard to track, and retyping them into the computer system is labor-intensive. What's more, it takes time for the customer to receive a paper copy of the inspection, and that customer must store the paper inspection records and ensure they are easy to access in case government agencies want to review them.

In addition, inspectors spend a great deal of time filling out forms. Just visually checking the serial number written on a particular piece of equipment can be difficult in a dusty environment such as a mine. The serial number can be recorded incorrectly, in which case a link is lost in the equipment's inspection records. "When any mistake is made, you can lose the audit trail," says Somen Mondal, N4 Systems' CEO.

With the N4 system, Mondal says, much of that process is automated. Elko's inspectors will be equipped with two Psion Teklogix Workabout Pro G2 handheld mobile computers with 13.56 MHz RFID interrogators. Each piece of safety equipment is tagged with one of several types of high-frequency (HF) tags complying with the ISO 15693 standard, including tags provided by Holland 1916 that are attached by chain to large pieces of metal equipment.

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