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Malaysian Propane Supplier Fills Up on RFID

The system, specially designed for use in explosive environments, has enabled the company to increase worker productivity by 93 percent.
By Dave Friedlos
Dec 08, 2008Malaysian liquid propane gas (LPG) supplier Elpiji is using radio frequency identification to automate the process of filling gas cylinders, attaching low-frequency (LF) passive RFID tags to several hundred such cylinders at its Penang plant. The technology has enabled the company to reduce the time required for workers to process cylinders from 30 seconds down to two.

To implement the RFID system, Elpiji enlisted the help of New Zealand RFID reader developer EDiT iD, which believes it has created the world's first RFID interrogator certified for use within an explosive environment.

Elpiji provides gas cylinders to domestic customers for use in household kitchens, says Geoffrey Lee, special assistant to the company's executive director. When a cylinder is returned to Elpiji, two critical pieces of information must be determined before it can be refilled. The first is the tare weight, or weight of the empty cylinder. Some cylinders are returned containing residual gas, and if the tare weight is inaccurate, the system will overfill the cylinders, thus wasting gas, or underfill them and distribute a partially filled cylinder to customers.

The second piece of required information is the cylinder's date of manufacture. Most countries have a requirement for cylinders to be tested 10 years after manufacture, and some gas companies also require cylinders to be refurbished every five years.

Previously, when an empty cylinder arrived at the refilling plant, an operator manually read and keyed in the cylinder's tare weight, then visually verified it was within the requirements for testing or refurbishment. If the cylinder had passed its use-by date, it was manually removed from the conveyor. The process could take an average of 30 seconds per cylinder, thereby creating bottlenecks on the filling line.

"We wanted to develop a system that did not require staff to manually input information such as the tare weight," Lee says. "RFID is more accurate when reading information and, unlike bar codes, will not be damaged as easily."

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