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Electric Company Gases Up on RFID

Horizon Utilities is using a low-frequency RFID system to monitor and authorize usage at its two Ontario fueling stations.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 18, 2010Ontario hydropower distribution company Horizon Utilities Corp. has begun utilizing an RFID-powered fuel-management system to enable and track the fueling of its vehicles. The system was developed by Israeli firm Orpak Systems Ltd., and was provided by Complete Innovations' Fuel Fast division. Horizon Utilities took the system live in November 2009.

Horizon Utilities' maintenance crews that service power lines drove approximately 150 vehicles throughout the Hamilton, Ontario, area. The company had used an aging fuel-management system to track the fueling at its stations, and sought an updated replacement, says Joseph Botas, Horizon Utilities' fleet manager. With the older system, users would go to one of the firm's two fuel stations (either in Hamilton, or in St. Catharines) and enter data into a keypad, including a driver and vehicle ID number and the pump to be used, as well as the vehicle's odometer reading.

David Goodman, VP business development at Fuel Fast
That information was transmitted via modem to the company's back-end server, where it was stored in a software application separate from the firm's fuel-management system. The problem, Botas says, was that the modem transmission often failed, and he was unable to have a real-time view into the amount of fuel being used. What's more, there was no way to ensure that the company's vehicles were the only ones being fueled, because someone could input an ID number and then fuel an unauthorized vehicle.

With Orpak's FuelOPass technology, each vehicle is equipped with a passive 125 kHz low-frequency (LF) RFID tag, embedded in a ring snapped around the fuel inlet. The ring tag is encoded with a unique ID number and possibly other information, including the type of fuel the vehicle uses, according to David Goodman, Complete Innovations' VP of business development for Fuel Fast. The gas nozzle at the station has an RFID reader attached to the handle. When the handle's interrogator comes within 3 to 4 inches of the vehicle's tag, it captures that tag's data and forwards it via an 802.15.4 IEEE wireless ZigBee protocol to a wireless gateway that is then connected to a computer/controller with Orpak software.

The software serves two functions: It captures data and compares it to authorized information in the system before allowing the pump to operate, and it also transmits information once the fueling is completed (including the amount of gas pumped from that nozzle) to Horizon's fleet head-office (FHO) software, also developed by Orpak. The FHO software integrates with Horizon's existing fuel-management system so that managers can receive an alert when the tank reaches a specified minimum level, based on the amount of fuel pumped from that tank on that particular day. In the future, the company intends to capture odometer readings through a vehicle's existing GPS system, and that data would be integrated with the FHO software.

Since the system was installed, Botas says, he keeps the software screen displaying activities at the stations open at all times. This provides him with real-time visibility into what is happening with each pump at both of Horizon Utilities' fueling stations, and also enables him to know when fueling is taking place, who is doing the fueling and the amount being pumped. "It provides better security," he states. "I'm more confident that the vehicles getting fueled are the right vehicles." The system is considerably easier for employees, he notes, since they no longer have to key in ID numbers or other data. Botas estimates that the system saves 45 seconds per person to fuel a vehicle—which is a considerable amount throughout the day, he says, with 300 people fueling daily. In the future, he also plans to attach RFID-tagged rings to the fuel tanks of generators or other fuel-powered equipment.

Orpak Systems' North American division, Orpak USA, based in Hackensack, N.J., sells the company's RFID-enabled fuel-management system to end users and resellers in the United States and Canada. But other Orpak divisions and resellers market the system in Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia and Australia. Thus far, says Moshe Shaked, Orpak USA's VP of marketing, 2.5 million vehicles worldwide are using the company's system, in 30 countries at 11,000 fuel stations.

In fact, the deployment is so successful that Complete Innovations is now working with Canadian municipalities, government agencies and fuel companies to deploy a retail solution in that country that would allow businesses to establish an automated-payment system for fuel purchased by their staff. In this case, the credit card number for a company's fueling expenses would be written to an RFID tag on the gas tank. Employees could then simply go to participating fuel stations, Shaked explains, and when the fuel nozzle is placed in the tank, the reader at the station would capture that credit card number and the user could then begin fueling. Such a system, he says, is already in place in Israel.
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Brittany Kapps 2010-03-26 11:22:10 AM
RFID Readers RFID Readers are growing more useful as companies are seeing how much they are an asset. This story is a great example of how RFID tags were convenient when employees were fueling. As RFID grows this technology will be seen in all products.

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