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Asphalt Company Uses RFID to Manage Safety Equipment

Passive high-frequency RFID tags and readers track the inspections of eyewash stations, fire extinguishers and other pieces of equipment at its 16 plants.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 02, 2009A manufacturer of asphalt products is employing radio frequency identification at its 16 locations throughout the United States, to improve the inspection process of eyewash stations, fire extinguishers and other safety equipment. The company is also using the RFID system to ensure the inspections are conducted on time, and that the results are available electronically.

The system, provided by CASE Inc., based in Tuscaloosa, Al., was installed in December 2008. According to Thomas McKane, CASE's CEO, the system has already yielded two results. First, it has made the inspection process faster and simpler, saving inspectors an average of approximately 30 percent of their time. What had previously been managed on paper, with reports manually handwritten and filed in a folder, is now available electronically. A secondary benefit has been that the RFID system ensures inspections are conducted according to schedule, and that the results are available when required. With the paper-based method, on the other hand, inspections were sometimes simply not performed—and tracking those missed inspections was time-consuming and, therefore, rarely accomplished.

The RFID system has already proven to address those problems, McKane reports. The company is using Ferroxcube's 13.56 MHz high-frequency (HF) passive RFID tags, handheld RFID interrogators from Tracient Technology, and Motion Computing's F5 tablet PCs with built-in readers, along with CASE software to help the firm track data related to inspections at multiple sites.

The asphalt manufacturer (which McKane says has asked not to be named) has thousands of pieces of safety equipment that must be inspected weekly, monthly or annually. The regular inspections are intended to ensure the equipment is present and available for employees at all times, as well as being in working order. Prior to utilizing the RFID system, inspections were manually recorded on paper and stored in file cabinets to be accessed by management or government agencies, when necessary. When inspectors wrote their reports on a piece of paper using pen and clipboard, however, not only was the process slow, but the results were often sketchy and sometimes inaccurate. The RFID system improves this process by automating the reporting of inspections, and by making data available electronically on the same day that the inspections occur.

In November 2009, after testing several types of RFID readers and tags, CASE selected Tracient's and Motion Computing's devices, as well as Ferroxcube's RFID tags. According to McKane, the Ferroxcube tags, which comply with the ISO 15693 standard, operate well in metallic environments and were less expensive than other tags, making them the best tag choice for this project. Nearly every tag in such applications, he says, is mounted directly on metal. Ferroxcube tags contain antennas made of ferrite—a material that can concentrate the magnetic component of radio waves, thereby making the antenna highly sensitive. McKane says it was the tags' cost and high functionality that persuaded him to include them in this solution.

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