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RFID Can Stop the Presses

Researchers at the University of Córdoba have developed a passive RFID system to protect workers from mechanical injuries.
By Beth Bacheldor
Oct 01, 2008—Thousands of workers are injured on the job every day, in some cases gashing hands or losing fingers while operating cutting machines or hydraulic presses. While many of those machines have manual stop devices that can be used in an emergency, often they're activated after the accident has occurred. Re­searchers at the University of Córdoba in southern Spain have developed a passive RFID system that's designed to prevent such accidents.

The prototype system includes a wristband with a passive RFID tag that communicates with an RFID reader antenna attached to the machine. When a worker's wrist gets too close to a dangerous area, a specific code imprinted on the tag's chip is read by the antenna, which instantly communicates that code to a printed-circuit board that sends a stop signal to the machine.

To prevent accidents, a worker wears a wristband with an RFID tag that communicates with an RFID reader antenna attached to the machine.
The idea to use RFID technology in an industrial safety application came from Cosigein, a Córdoba-based company that specializes in safety measures in industrial applications and settings. The researchers developed and tested the prototype system in the university lab in 2007 and on a hydraulic press installed at Cosigein.

"We had to overcome several challenges," says Mario Ruz, an engineer in the university's Department of Com­puting and Numerical Analysis. At the top of the list was dealing with all the metal on industrial machines. Metal interferes with the RF waves between an RFID tag and RFID interrogator, resulting in weak or failed read rates. To combat that interference, the researchers used a low-frequency system that operates at 134.2 kHz, which is less subject to interference by metal, Ruz says. The researchers also went through several processes to tune the RFID reader for maximum performance.

There's still a lot of work to be done, and Spain's National Institute of Safety and Hygiene at Work (the Instituto Nacional de Seguridad e Higiene en el Trabajo) has granted the university funding for the project. Ultimately, the researchers would like to develop a commercial product. "Córdoba is famous for its jewelry market," Ruz says, "and some manufacturers have told us our system would be suitable for their cutting and pressing machines."
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