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RFID Helps Manage Product Inspections

PeakWorks, a provider of safety harnesses, is using radio frequency identification to better manage the process of inspecting equipment critical to protecting employees working at heights.
By Beth Bacheldor
Sep 02, 2008PeakWorks, a Canadian provider of fall protection equipment, training and inspection services, has begun adding high-frequency (HF) RFID tags to all of its products, ranging from harnesses to anchors and lanyards. The RFID tags will be utilized to keep tabs on the products from manufacture to the point of sale and beyond, to help ensure these items are regularly inspected—as well as repaired or returned in the event of a recall.

The company, headquartered in Vaughan, Ontario, is employing an RFID system known as Field ID, provided by N4 Systems in Toronto. The Field ID system includes Psion Teklogix Workabout Pro G2 handheld mobile computers with 13.56 MHz RFID interrogators, HF tags complying with the ISO 15693 protocol, Tracient Technologies handheld 13.56 MHz interrogators that plug into a desktop computer's USB port, and secure, Web-enabled software hosted on servers at N4's offices.

PeakWorks is adding the RFID tags into small, enclosed pockets on the harnesses and other products before they are shipped out to customers. For products too small for the pockets, or that are made of metal (such as anchors), the tags are attached via heavy-duty key chains.

Prior to shipping a product to a customer, a PeakWorks' worker employs the Tracient reader to capture the tag's unique ID number, and to associate it with such information as the customer's name, the item's date of manufacture, the date shipped, an inspection schedule, the type of inspection the product requires and any other information mandated by regulations from the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), as well as such Canadian agencies as the Ontario Ministry of Labor.

"With this, we close the loop of due diligence," says Gabriele Fusco, president of PeakWorks. Before implementing RFID, the company used paper and pencil to track inspections on the products it sells—which it performs for its customers as part of a value-added service. Inspectors would contact a customer, schedule a time to physically inspect the products, carry out the inspection and record results on paper, then return to the office to issue a certificate (if the equipment passed) and send it to the customer.

Now, inspectors can employ the handheld mobile computers to identify the product, and to document the inspection and results. The mobile computer can transmit this information back to N4's servers via a wireless connection to the Internet. If the site lacks Internet connectivity, the mobile computer can be placed in a docking station once the inspectors return to N4's offices. Customers can then automatically access, via the Web, the results of their inspections, along with electronic versions of the certificates.

Not only does the RFID system automate the inspection process, it also helps PeakWorks and its customers track when inspections are necessary. This is because all of the information regarding each product is centrally stored on servers and can thus be viewed by customers.

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