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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
Over the course of one year, the time spent on inventory-tracking (including the retrieval of parts during the February and October refueling outages) was reduced from 2,000 hours to about 300. Thanks to this savings in labor, Ritchie says he expects to recoup the cost of the RFID hardware and software within 18 months of the system's installation.

Based on the warehouse system's success, DCPP is also deploying an RFID solution in its tool room. The tool-tracking system, designed and installed by PolyGAIT, is expected to be in full operation at the end of 2010 or early 2011, says John Gutierrez, the nuclear plant's tool-management group supervisor.

Several RFID reader antennas are installed on the forklift so that it can capture the ID numbers of tagged items regardless of the height of the shelf on which they are stored.

"We have had some occurrences where M&TE [maintenance and test equipment] is removed from our tool room, by unknown users without documentation," Gutierrez says, adding, "I am hoping to be able to track who took the M&TE, as well as what piece of M&TE was removed from the area." Typically, M&TEs are used around the clock, but the tool room is manned only during the day. After hours, the room is still accessed by staff members who need tools, and they manually record the items they are taking on a piece of paper. With RFID, Gutierrez hopes to set up a system that automatically tracks which personnel check out which tools, thereby eliminating the need for employees to use pen and paper, and preventing occurrences of undocumented M&TE removals.

Staff members will wear badges containing RFID tags, with an ID number encoded to each tag that links to the identity of the employee in the stand-alone RFID software being provided by PolyGAIT. Then, if a worker takes tools that are needed and walks out the door, a reader portal would capture the ID number of the employee's badge, as well as that of each tagged tool as it exits the tool room. The software would then update the tools' status as "checked out," and link those items to the responsible party. The system should reduce shrinkage, Gutierrez says, "which is a cost savings. And it should reduce labor spent retrieving tools, because we should know if something is in the tool room—and, if it's not, who has the tool."

The system, using Xerafy PicoX tags and Sirit readers, has been tested in the PolyGAIT lab, but not yet in the DCPP tool room. Xerafy's PicoX tag, Freed says, proved to be the most durable UHF tag, with the most reliable performance. According to Freed, the tag is encased in a capsule to withstand the harsh conditions at DCPP. Students will attach the tags with tape or zip-ties.

In addition, DCPP's Foreign Material Exclusion Group (which works to ensure, for safety purposes, that everything that enters the reactor room is ultimately removed) is working with Cal Poly to develop a system whereby the company can automatically monitor which personnel enter a reactor area with which tools, and ensure they exit with those same items, rather than leave something behind that could pose a hazard. That system has not yet been piloted, Freed says, though a prototype has already been designed, and is slated to soon be tested at the PolyGAIT lab.

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