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Self-contained RFID Cube Helps Keep Out Foreign Material

Access Solutions has devised a turnkey unit that employs EPC Gen 2 tags and readers to streamline the tracking of workers and tools entering and exiting protected areas of power plants and other facilities.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 06, 2011After completing tests of a radio frequency identification system at two nuclear power plants, Oregon company Access Solutions has made its RFID-based Cube available for use in tracking tools, materials and personnel into and out of controlled areas at power-generation facilities. The self-contained turnkey structure can be installed at a site and used to manage the flow of individuals and tools into and out of an area controlled for foreign material exclusion (FME), or for clean conditions.

Since 2005, Access Solutions has provided its FME services to power-generating companies to track which personnel enter and exit a controlled zone, as well as any tools (such as wrenches, pliers or electronic equipment) they bring into and out of the area. Not only does Access Solutions' on-site staff confirm each worker's identity, they also assign lanyards and tethers to that individual, to hold tools in place (thereby ensuring the tools do not drop and break or get lost). In addition, they inspect each tool as it enters and leaves the area, to confirm that no small pieces are left behind. The staff also confirms that no one inadvertently carries foreign material adhered to the bottom of their shoes, and that they have no loose items—such as change in their pockets, jewelry or chewing gum—that could cause a problem for the functioning of machinery within the controlled zone.

Access Solutions' RFID-enabled Cube

The process, however, was a manual one. Therefore, in 2008, the company began looking into employing RFID technology to capture data regarding each person and tool entering and leaving the area, thereby allowing the recording of more accurate data, and making the check-in and check-out procedure faster, says Eric Bergstrom, Access Solutions' director. The firm began piloting its RFID-enabled version of its FME service at two unnamed American nuclear power plants, in order to confirm that radio frequency identification could be employed to effectively track the traffic of tools and personnel. At the two participating power plants, Access Solutions attached Xerafy EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags either directly to tools, or to embedded nylon tethers joined to those tools. Access Solutions' personnel then utilized Motorola RFID readers and S3Edge Spotlight software to capture and store information about the movement of the tools and personnel. Access Solutions also utilizes a variety of other standard UHF tags in addition to Xerafy tags, for situations in which durability is not necessary.

In 2010, based on the experience acquired during those pilots, the company developed the Cube. A steel frame structure insulated against weather and sound, and measuring 8 feet by 8 feet by 9 feet in size, the Cube is designed to function as a self-contained, mobile and fully automated FME center.

The Cube enables Access Solutions to provide RFID-enabled FME service almost immediately, without requiring a power plant to set up an area with furniture and other infrastructure, as it would otherwise need to do in order to accommodate FME personnel and the services they provide. To ensure the RFID technology's functionality under rugged conditions, Bergstrom says, Access Solutions modified the hardware, though he declines to describe what the proprietary modifications consisted of.

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