Honeywell’s Safety Products Division Helps Automate Inspections, Equipment Tracking

By Claire Swedberg

The company's Enabled Safety Products solution uses EPC Gen 2 RFID readers and tags to track the assignment and servicing of equipment at worksites.

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Customers of Honeywell Safety Products, a division of consumer products company Honeywell are field-testing the firm’s new RFID-enabled safety gear tracking and management solution, known as Enabled Safety Products (ESP). The system is designed to enhance safety for equipment users, by enabling them to collect and store every item’s inspections records, as well as details regarding where and how each piece of equipment is being used, and by whom. By reading passive EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags attached to equipment, a user can know, for example, at which site that equipment is located, as well as its condition and the employee assigned to it.

By utilizing the ESP system, a safety equipment user—such as a construction, oil and gas, or utility company—can maintain an electronic record of the history of its equipment, and thereby improve safety by ensuring that no asset misses inspection or is assigned to the wrong individual, says John Roth, Honeywell Safety Products’ senior product marketing manager. “It provides a safer work environment.”

Honeywell is now attaching tags to many of the safety products that it manufactures, including fall-protection equipment and eyewash cartridges. Users can also track their older Honeywell products, or those produced by other manufacturers, Roth says, by simply attaching an RFID tag and then entering that tag’s unique ID number into a secure, centralized, Web-based hosted database.

Most businesses that use safety equipment, such as construction or utility companies, generally document their equipment, and its inspections, on paper, and manually input those records into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. The ESP system, however, is designed to automate that process, by storing data linked to a unique ID number on an item’s tag.

When Honeywell Safety Products manufactures an item to be tagged, such as a safety harness, the tag is attached at the point of manufacture. At its factory, its staff can then interrogate the tag using an RFID reader, linking the ID number to the product’s date of manufacture, serial number and description. Enabled Safety Products can then allow the customer to use that information to manage the product’s lifecycle. In this way, not only can a customer better manage equipment safety on a work site, but in the event of an audit, that user can then show an electronic record of the equipment’s manufacturing and inspection histories.

Once a company purchases the product—which typically occurs through a distributor—that customer can opt to enroll in the ESP system for an annual fee, based on the number of items to be tracked. To enroll, a user would visit the ESP Web site, select the login prompt and set up an account. The customer would employ a handheld mobile reader, or a tethered reader that can be supplied by Honeywell—the make and model would vary—as well as a PC or a laptop, in order to read the tag’s unique ID and press the “register” prompt. Honeywell Safety Products has designed the enrollment process so that it can be completed within five minutes, the company reports. Because Honeywell Safety Products commissioned the tag at the point of a product’s manufacture, the user will automatically see the item’s history, such as its manufacturing date and description, on that user’s Web-based account, or on a Wi-Fi- or cellular-enabled handheld reader, upon reading the tag.

As the equipment is stored and then used by personnel, a company has a variety of options for managing data about those items. Employees can enter details into the system by inputting information into the handheld or computer, such as indicating if they are moving the item into storage, transporting it to a specific worksite or assigning it to a particular worker at that location. If the object is being assigned to an employee, the solution also enables the user to input information regarding that worker, such as when he or she was most recently trained to use that equipment, as well as when that individual will be due for additional training. If the item is being inspected, the staff can use the system to indicate the inspection date and results.

Additionally, the system will operate with products that did not arrive at the customer’s facility already tagged. For example, a user could apply tags to older Honeywell Safety Products equipment, to items manufactured by a competitor, or to any other assets that are not safety-related, such as a ladder. For this purpose, Honeywell Safety Products provides retrofitable RFID tags that can be attached to those objects. A user would attach a tag, read it using an interrogator and then input that item’s details, such as its manufacturer and inspection history. The object can then be managed in the same way that Honeywell’s newer safety products are managed.

According to Roth, some of Honeywell Safety Products’ customers are already testing the system, which was released in late October 2011. Most, he says, are opting to use a combination of tethered readers attached to a PC (which is less expensive than a handheld interrogator) in an office or trailer, as well as a handheld that can be carried by inspectors or auditors to either inspect equipment on a worksite, or perform audits, by searching for items scattered throughout worksites, hanging on hooks or piled in trailers. In areas in which there is no Wi-Fi or GPRS signal, a user can operate the handheld reader, and then take it to a docking station to download the collected data.

Honeywell Safety Products works with several hardware vendors supplying its tags and readers, Roth says, including Alien Technology, which provides the Higgs 3 UHF chips embedded in labels provided by a variety of companies. In some cases, the tags are designed to withstand extreme conditions, such as heat or cold, for use in specific markets—for instance, oil and gas. The solution also operates with 2-D bar codes, in which case bar codes printed on the RFID tags would be scanned, rather than the tags being read.

Honeywell Safety Products considered employing low-frequency (LF), high-frequency (HF) and UHF RFID technologies, before determining that UHF would be the most efficient. Typically, Roth says, there can be dozens of tagged items stacked or hanging within a small space at a worksite at any given time, and it would be too time-consuming to read tags with a very short read range, which would be the case with HF or LF tags. To date, he reports, the field trials and demonstrations are going well, with customers now beginning to realize the technology’s benefits in many areas, including time saved in filling out paperwork, or hunting for items and their paper records, and reducing the potential for errors caused by the paper-based manual tracking system.