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RFID Automates A-Plant's Tool-Rental Trailers

The British company has adopted an RFID system from 4hSolutions that tracks the drills, grinders, saws and other equipment it provides to construction workers.
By Claire Swedberg
Upon returning a tool kit, a construction worker can attach it to any available reader within the trailer, and the reader will capture that kit's tag ID number and forward it to the back-end system, where the software updates the kit's status as having been returned. If a worker determines that a tool kit or an item in that kit requires repair or maintenance, he can instead place the item on a quarantine shelf designated for collecting tools deemed unusable. A reader at that location captures the ID number of the tag on the kit, and the system is then updated to indicate that a kit is awaiting maintenance. When A-Plant employees then plan their visits to construction sites to service equipment, they already know which items need servicing, and how many. In that way, if a large quantity of items require servicing, the staff can be alerted to make that the next stop. If no items need to be serviced, the workers can skip that stop.

Each member of A-Plant's maintenance staff carries a Psion Teklogix Workabout Pro handheld computer with an attached 4hSolutions RFID reader that he or she can use to update data regarding the item being serviced. First, the individual reads the tool kit's RFID tag. The handheld, which stores data about each ID number and the kit to which it is linked, then provides a series of drop-down menu prompts that the employee selects while proceeding through the maintenance or repair process.

One customer benefit results from having greater visibility into which tools are being utilized. Traditionally, construction companies are billed for all tools in the trailer, whether or not they are used. A-Plant chose to employ the system to change that policy. Because the system knows what has been checked out, at what time and for how long, the firm invoices the end user accordingly. If a tool is not used, it is not invoiced. If it remains in the trailer for many months without being used, however, A-Plant may bill for the depreciated value—which, Davies notes, is considerably less than the cost of renting it.

Moreover, if A-Plant finds that a piece of equipment is missing or has been damaged, the company can bill the customer, who can then, in turn, determine which worker last had that piece of equipment when it became broken or went missing.

Initially, A-Plant has begun providing the 27-foot trailers to several of its customers, though Latief indicates that the trailers could eventually be provided to several hundred sites.

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