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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
Hammers, grinders and other tools are all tagged with CribMaster tags of multiple sizes and shapes, depending on the tool to which they are attached. An employee simply selects the tools required and walks back out of the trailer. On his second pass through the portal, his badge ID and the tool tag IDs are read by the interrogator. Those items, linked to the ID numbers on their tags, are then recorded as being removed by that particular worker.

The software translates the data, connects staff members with tools, and provides that information for others seeking a specific tool. The software can also transmit alerts to a company's management if a tool is not returned, as well as send automated purchase orders when a predetermined threshold of consumables has been taken, thus necessitating replenishment. In addition, the software allows management to analyze tool use at a specific job site, and to have better information regarding tools and consumables that will be required—and in what quantity—for a similar future project.

"In the past, the cost of tool replacement has been a necessary evil," Green says. "Now, as people are starting to realize their margins are tighter, I think you will see a change in that attitude."

According to Green, the portals can be retrofitted on existing trailers, or his company can sell 53-foot trailers fitted with the RFID portal. He expects users to be both tool-leasing companies, such as Leasco, and job-site owners, such as power-generation, petro-chemical and construction firms, as well as other industrial sites. "It expedites the process," he reports, "while increasing accountability."

WinWare and JobSite Resources also intend to offer the technology on 40-foot steel shipping containers that can be moved to a job site where a trailer's mobility would not be necessary, Green says, though they have not yet utilized the system on containers.

Developing the system took more than a year of design work, Green says, with WinWare providing RFID hardware and software, and JobSite Resources supplying the trailer and installing the hardware to work in an environment containing a high level of metal, which reflects RF energy. The greatest challenge, he notes, involved ensuring that the portal interrogator did not pick up stray reads from tagged tools within the trailer.

The companies accomplished this by creating the portal with a door separating the shelves stored within the trailer from the interrogator and antennas. RFID consulting company Atlas RFID also provided integration support, adding trigger controls for the doorway, and warning buzzers in case an unauthorized person attempted to enter the trailer. "Power-generation companies have a lot of interest in this technology," Holmes states.

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