Eldorado Research Institute Project Saves Lives via RFID

An RFID system to ensure the correct usage of security equipment in the electrical sector won the Best Poster award at this year's IEEE conference, which was co-located with RFID Journal LIVE! 2019.
Published: May 3, 2019

The Eldorado Research Institute, located in Campinas, Brazil, had its poster chosen as the best among its worldwide competitors at the IEEE RFID 2019 event. The event was held in partnership and in parallel with the RFID Journal LIVE! 2019 conference and exhibition, which took place earlier this month in Phoenix, Ariz. The poster showed a system to ensure the correct usage of safety equipment in the electrical sector.

The Eldorado Research Institute’s Jean Baracat and Flávia Costa

With the solution, the choice of individual protection equipment (EPI) or certain collective protection equipment (EPC) for each service performed in high-voltage electrical networks, as well as the appropriate use of these devices, is monitored via RFID readers and tags. The result is a reduction in the number of occupational accidents and the elimination of deaths, the cost of which has reached close to 2 million Brazilian real ($508,000) annually in that country.

“For a given intervention in high-voltage electrical networks, the EPIs and EPCs to be used are defined at the beginning of the procedure,” explains Jean Baracat, the project manager and head of the Eldorado Research Institute. Tags are attached to security equipment, with sensors that validate and monitor the correct usage of the devices, and also alert operators and supervisors in the event of any errors.

According to Baracat, the inclusion of the RFID system in the EPIs and EPCs required during the field operation of the electric sector reduces the number of accidents caused by the non-use or incorrect usage of the protection equipment. “A fatal accident costs an average of 1.8 million real for an energy distributor,” he says. “It is common to have more than two or three accidents of this type per year at a distributor. Thus, it can be concluded that, in addition to the project saving lives—on which a price tag cannot be put—on the tangible side, it is economically viable.”

The system is already being used by Companhia Electrica do Pará (Celpa), experimentally and in a controlled manner, using the proofs-of-concept and prototypes developed by the Eldorado Institute, to validate the results of the applied research and experimental development phase, which was completed in August 2018.

Celpa, which is piloting the system, is among the members of the Equatorial Group, which supports the Eldorado Research Institute’s RFID project and has four electric power distributors in the north and northeast sections of Brazil. These are Celpa, Cemar, Cepisa and Ceal. The project is being sponsored by the research, development and innovation fund of Brazil’s National Electric Energy Agency (Aneel), and is technically coordinated by Celpa and Cemar. Driving and development are under the guidance of the Eldorado Research Institute.

The IEEE Award

The first round of investments, which includes experimental development and applied research, reached 3.2 million real. According to Baracat, the RFID system applies to all areas in which it is necessary to ensure the correct use of EPCs by workers. “Other potential areas of application,” he notes, “are oil and gas, mining and civil construction, among others.”

Flávia Cabral da Costa, the project’s technical lead at the Eldorado Research Institute, says the RFID antennas were designed internally at the institute and were made, in part, by domestic manufacturers, such as FR4 and Alfapress, and by a Chinese manufacturer, involving flexible materials such as polyamide. “In the current version,” he states, “for the proof-of-concept, we use RFID technology with an RFID transceiver module from Impinj.”

The Eldorado Research Institute

With the project’s scope agreed with its partners, the institute has designed a custom RFID chip that includes a temperature sensor, as well as a provision for control of up to three more external sensors. RFID chips from several manufacturers, such as Impinj, EM Microelectronics, Farsens and NXP Semiconductors, were used for the initial concept validation phase.

The project’s major challenge, according to its creators, was to obtain high-gain tags by combining a well-tuned antenna design with RFID chips offering stable impedances and high gain. From a reader’s point-of-view, the challenge was to select compact, high-gain antennas and define their best positioning.

“In principle, the system works by alerting the operator locally about not using or misusing the equipment,” Baracat explains. “After a certain number of alerts defined in the control application, the system records the deviations and, if media is available, that information is automatically sent to the Control Center, which can then take whatever action it deems relevant.”

Watch a video presentation about the project.

The goal is to integrate the RFID solution with the user company’s enterprise resource planning system. “This integration is planned and will be addressed during the second phase of the project,” Baracat says. “In principle, the database will be local, but it is predicted that it will use new cloud-computing technologies in the future.”

According to Flávia, the middleware collects, processes and stores data received by a gateway (a reading device installed by the energy distributor). “After the information is collected from the tags, the data is sent to a central office that will produce the exception lists, graphs and statistics of the results,” Baracat explains. “Management and control applications were developed during the first phase by Nodetech, a partner company on this project. “During the next phase, new features will be added and development will be conducted by Eldorado.”

“The Best Poster award received at the IEEE conference at RFID Journal LIVE!, as well as the recognition of the project as an innovative solution for the area of personal protection equipment,” Flávia states, “encourages the partnership between the Eldorado Research Institute and the Equatorial Group.”