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Diablo Canyon Power Site Uses RFID to Track Items

The nuclear plant has attached EPC Gen 2 tags to tens of thousands of reactor parts at its warehouse, in order to document their locations and maintenance status in case they are needed. The facility will soon tag tools as well.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 02, 2010Managers at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP) know exactly where the plant's back-up equipment (used to maintain two reactors) is, even if it hasn't been utilized for five years or more, thanks to an RFID system designed and installed by a team of students at California Polytechnic State University's RFID laboratory group, the Cal Poly Laboratory for Global Automatic Identification Technologies (PolyGAIT).

The group, led by industrial and manufacturing engineering professors Tali Freed and Larry Rinzel, who serve as PolyGAIT's directors, installed the system for the nuclear facility's warehouse approximately one year ago. Mike Krist, a graduate student and the project lead, interned at DCPP. Krist developed the software and its required reports, and integrated the RFID system with the plant's existing back-end system. Since then, says Del Ritchie, DCPP's supply chain manager, the facility has increased accuracy, reduced the time employees spent taking inventory of its entire warehouse from 2,000 labor hours down to just 300, and decreased the time workers spent searching for missing items from several days to a few minutes. Based on that success, the power plant's tool-management group is also preparing to install an RFID system later this year, to track the tools that enter and exit its tool room.

Parts, as well the shelves on which they are stored, are fitted with EPC Gen 2 passive UHF RFID tags.

PG&E, the California utility company that runs the Diablo Canyon site, first began looking into RFID technology at the PolyGAIT lab in 2008. PG&E maintains a close relationship with Cal Poly, partnering with the college for engineering services, for example. "They had the RFID lab, and we had seen their scanning and reading capabilities and asked, 'Is there something we could do with that?'" Ritchie says. "We had to think a while, and determine how to use the technology with a reasonable ROI."

PG&E decided that RFID would be best utilized at its DCPP warehouse to track some of the 70,000 pieces of back-up equipment for the two nuclear reactors. About 40,000 of those assets are considered "just-in-case" items that are unlikely to be used, but are critical to have on hand. Many of them are highly specialized, so if a piece of equipment on a reactor fails and the proper replacement is not immediately available, the reactor would have to be shut down until an alternative item was located or built.

Tali Freed, PolyGAIT's codirector
With RFID, Ritchie hoped the warehouse would have greater visibility into what is on hand at any particular time, when equipment needs to be maintained, and where it is located. The facility has a 100,000-square-foot warehouse, with $100 million worth of inventory, and each piece of equipment must be inspected every two years. "We decided the best option was to put tags on the inventory items that don't move," Ritchie explains. Those 40,000 items consume large amounts of staff time spent counting and ensuring the assets are in hand and in proper working condition. "We don't expect to use them, but they're priceless if we need them."

Most inventory counts take place during a refueling outage, when a reactor is taken off-line to be refueled. The outages occur every 18 months for each reactor. In 2009, one reactor underwent a refueling outage in February; the other, in October. When a reactor is shut down for refueling, all of its parts are checked and maintained to ensure they work properly, with items retrieved from the warehouse, as needed, to replace those deemed to be worn out. Typically, around 10,000 parts are moved from the warehouse every month during a single outage.

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