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Tool Tracking Goes Mobile

A new mobile trailer uses radio frequency identification to enable companies to track tools used on industrial sites.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 18, 2009When contractors at power-generation facilities and other industrial sites borrow tools in what is often a fast-paced environment, the tools often go missing or are not returned in a timely way, and are thus unavailable for others who need them. This can cause production delays and additional expenses.

Typically, on a job site with multiple sub-contracting companies and dozens or hundreds of workers entering and exiting a trailer leased by the owner of a power-generation facility, a supervisor is tasked with manually tracking the coming and going of tools, using pen and paper. But this system is inefficient, and can be complicated by jobs that continue around the clock. Rarely is a tool manager in place to track the movement of tools 24 hours every day, so some tools leave the trailers without being properly accounted for.

An employee selects the tools required for a specific job, then walks out of the trailer, passing through a portal so that his badge ID and the tool tag IDs can be read by an RFID interrogator.

Two companies specializing in RFID solutions—WinWare Inc. and Jobsite Resources, the latter a spin-off of tool-trailer leasing firm Leasco Equipment Services—have teamed up to develop a solution known as CribMaster RFID Mobile Tool Facility (MTF). The solution consists of a 53-foot trailer loaded with tools and fitted with RFID portals in the doorway through which contractors pass as they enter to pick up and then leave with the tools. The RFID tags on the employee's badges, as well as those on the tools, link each item with a particular employee in the software, thereby allowing job-site managers to track which tools have left the site, as well as who has them at any given time, and which tools or consumables need to be replaced or replenished.

When Jobsite Resources was established in 2008, the company began working with WinWare, which offers CribMaster, an RFID-based hardware and software solution for tracking tools within a fixed setting. Jobsite Resources and WinWare worked together on a portal that could be attached to a trailer, making the solution portable.

Leasco began employing RFID-enabled trailers fitted with CribMaster portals early this year, says Mike Green, Jobsite Resources' president, and the solution is slated to be made commercially available by the end of 2009. Leasco has trialed the trailers at several of its Ohio Valley customer sites, enabling the company to know who has its tools, as well as if and when they were taken and returned.

With the solution, says Robert Holmes, WinWare's marketing director, each employee on a job site who will be using tools is provided with a badge containing an ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) Gen 2 RFID tag embedded inside. When a worker approaches the locked tool trailer, a Motorola interrogator, with three antennas at the portal, captures the unique ID number on his or her card. The ID is then sent via a wired connection to a PC located in the trailer, linked to that employee's name and authorization information. If that individual is, in fact, permitted to access the trailer, the door lock disengages and he can then enter.

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