High Tech Fire & Safety Manages Equipment Inspections via NFC

By Claire Swedberg

A solution from Tap Report enables inspectors and maintenance workers to access and write data about a piece of safety equipment with the tap of a phone against an NFC RFID tag.

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Canadian inspection, maintenance and service company High Tech Fire & Safety has adopted Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID technology to help it monitor the life-safety equipment services that its employees provide to customers’ fire extinguishers, fire hoses and emergency lighting. The solution, supplied by Toronto technology startup Tap Report, consists of NFC tags on equipment, as well as an app that users can download on their Android or BlackBerry NFC-enabled phones. Data related to inspections and services is then stored on a cloud-based server for seven years or longer.

High Tech Fire & Safety took the solution live at its customers’ sites this fall, after nearly two years of planning and testing. As a result, inspections and maintenance tasks have been carried out more quickly at those locations, and with fewer errors or omissions. Moreover, customers can more quickly access important information regarding which equipment will require maintenance, and when.

High Tech Fire & Safety’s employees use an NFC-enabled phone to read the Tap Report RFID tag attached to each piece of equipment they inspect, and then follow the prompts displayed by the Tap Report app.

Traditionally, High Tech Fire & Safety has used pen and paper to manually record the services its employees provide, as do many similar companies. This method of tracking such activities can leave gaps in details about what has or has not been inspected, and when any inspections occurred. Paper-based forms might not be filled out, or might be difficult to read or locate, after the fact. In addition, inspectors could miss some equipment during a visit.

High Tech Fire & Safety has begun using Tap Report’s technology for its annual inspections of customers’ fire equipment. It also utilizes the system to manage health and safety inspections on first-aid kits, eye-washing stations, hearing protectors, ladders and other equipment, says Steve Buck, High Tech Fire & Safety’s owner.

The company sought to reduce the amount of time it took for it to receive the results of inspections and then share this information with its customers. Faster reporting would not only enable customers to increase their safety, since they would be more quickly alerted in the event that equipment had expired, but would also allow High Tech Fire & Safety to quickly estimate the budget those customers would need for servicing, and provide a timeline for when such services would need to occur.

High Tech Fire & Safety’s workers can simply take their NFC-enabled devices with them on their rounds as they visit customers. Attached to each piece of equipment they inspect is a Tap Report RFID tag made with an NXP Semiconductors NTAG 214 13.56 MHz chip. When an inspector taps his or her smartphone to the tag, the phone’s NFC reader captures its ID number, which the app then uses to access data regarding the tagged item.

The inspector can follow prompts in the app to indicate the item’s condition and what services or inspection he or she is providing. That data is stored on the cloud-based server, where it can be viewed by the customer, as well as by High Tech Fire & Safety. Tap Report’s app on the inspector’s device can also forward alerts to authorized parties.

High Tech Fire & Safety’s Steve Buck

“If deficiencies are found,” Buck says, “it is easy to report on the app and have [those] deficiencies automatically sent to the right people, eliminating the need for manual input of inspection results.”

The NFC solution has reduced the likelihood of human error, the company reports. For instance, the cloud-based software knows which equipment must be serviced at any particular site, and can display those items for the inspector so that he or she knows, before leaving, that all items have been inspected.

“High Tech Fire & Safety plans on continually finding new ways to leverage the Tap Report app to streamline routine inspections,” Buck states. An example, he says, would be to use the system to document the inspections of vehicles utilized by his staff, as well as to track clients’ assets and inventory.

Tap Report was founded in 2011 by Paul Amendola, the firm’s president and CEO, and as his partner, Matthew Aceto. When the company first opened for business, it launched an evacuation solution known as Rapid Evac, and operated under its official name, Rapid Evac Emergency Communications Inc. The Rapid Evac system, Amendola says, did not employ any RFID technology and was intended to simplify building evacuations so that all personnel who should have left a building could be notified via an automated calling system.

The product failed to gain much traction, Amendola reports. “Although everyone loved the concept,” he recalls, “they didn’t want to be first to try it out.” So the two entrepreneurs began looking into other types safety-related services, and ultimately created Tap Report. “We pivoted our idea and used our backbone [Rapid Evac] system to track assets instead of people. The demand was so high that the product was sold even before we started production.”

Tap Report’s initial customer was a Toronto hospital that was experiencing challenges related to the monthly inspections of its large volume of fire equipment. The facility had tried using bar codes to monitor inspections and maintenance, but found such systems too difficult for service providers to use effectively. “This was a great experience for us,” Amendola says, “because it helped us to deeply understand our customers’ pain points even further.” The hospital, which first deployed the Tap Report solution in November 2014, has now expanded its use of the system to include the tracking of equipment in its inventory.

Tap Report’s Paul Amendola

According to Amendola, Near Field Communication has proven to be the most cost-effective technology for his company’s customers. NFC enables users to employ the Android devices they may already have on hand, he says, and the tags are affordable. Bar codes can be difficult to scan under some lighting conditions, while EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags and readers can be expensive. A solution that uses Bluetooth beacons also requires some financial investment, due to the cost of the beacons, as well as the batteries required to power them.

The company continues to innovate, Amendola reports. “We plan to continually release new versions of the Tap Report app,” he says, “to capture more data that can be useful to our customers, while making it super easy for the inspectors.”

In the future, Tap Report hopes to offer a solution utilizing virtual reality, for instance, to provide a two-way, real-time assistance channel for inspectors on a customer site. If an inspector were to identify extraordinary conditions during rounds, he or she could connect with an expert staff member, such as an engineer or manager, who could remotely walk that person through what steps to take to rectify the issue. Another emerging technology that interests Amendola involves unmanned drones. Rather than sending human inspectors, a company could deploy drones to complete a majority of inspections, especially in dangerous or hard-to-access areas.