RFID Solution Tries to Put the Brakes on Warehouse Accidents

By Claire Swedberg

Several consumer goods manufacturers are testing technology from Transmon Engineering to alert forklift drivers when they come within range of a pedestrian.

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A half dozen global consumer goods manufacturers are trialing an RFID-enabled solution to reduce the risk of warehouse or yard vehicles colliding with pedestrians. The Pedestrian Alert System (PAS) is being used for this trial, provided by British materials-handling technology firm Transmon Engineering, which has sold warehouse-safety solutions utilizing RFID technology for the past five years.

Lift trucks and other vehicles typically operate at speeds of 5 to 7 miles per hour, and can be accident risks for pedestrians inadvertently walking into their paths. The noise levels within such environments, as well as insufficient safety training of either vehicle operators or pedestrians, can lead to accidents. Despite continued efforts by companies to improve safety, however, the rate of deaths from accidents involving vehicles in the workplace, such as forklifts, is approximately 11 annually, while the injury rate can be as high as 9,400 each year, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Many companies have attempted to segregate trucks and personnel by setting up specific traffic routes for those on foot, OSHA reports, but it is often impossible to separate them entirely. Therefore, Transmon’s solution was designed to create an “electronic perimeter” around a vehicle, in order to give its driver sufficient time to apply brakes before a collision can occur.


Workers wear battery-powered RFID tags that alert drivers to their presence.

With the PAS system in place, a Transmon RFID reader is mounted on a lift truck or other vehicle. Each staff member is provided with a 2.4 GHz RFID active tag, in the form of a key fob. A Transmon AC-50 reader, mounted on a vehicle, can be set to interrogate tag IDs at a specific distance, based on signal strength. That distance can typically be adjusted from 0.5 meter (1.6 feet) to 6.5 meters (21 feet) in the front or back of the vehicle, and up to 4 meters (13 feet) on its sides, thereby providing 360-degree coverage. In that way, enough space is provided to allow the lift truck to be stopped safely before it can reach a pedestrian. The interrogator is attached to the vehicle’s battery supply for power, while the key-fob tags use their own lithium batteries.

Each T-10 key fob transmits a unique ID number several times a second. That ID is not linked to the individual carrying the fob, since the system is intended only to detect collision risks and then prevent such accidents, not to store any records of events. In the event that a forklift’s reader detects a tag within the specified distance, it can either sound a buzzer, illuminate a light on that vehicle, or automatically decelerate or apply the truck’s brakes.

The T-10 tag also comes with a manual push button that a pedestrian can press if a vehicle approaches within 15 meters (49 feet), to alert the driver even before he or she reaches the preset read-range threshold. Drivers are also issued key fobs to use when walking through their workplace. While aboard their vehicles, however, the drivers place their fobs within a device mounted inside, thereby disabling the tags while driving, and thus eliminating the risk of a false alert that would result if the truck’s interrogator read the driver’s fob.


Transmon’s Paul Sercombe

To date, the companies employing the technology have asked to remain unnamed, says Paul Sercombe, Transmon Engineering’s sales director. Each firm is testing the solution on a single vehicle, and is providing workers with RFID fobs that they can carry to ensure against collisions. By reducing the risk of pedestrian accidents, Sercombe says, users can not only achieve a higher level of onsite safety, but also save money by reducing the need to pay compensation for accidents. Although large manufacturing companies are currently testing the technology, he notes, “it works anywhere the technology benefits can justify the cost and improve safety.” The system costs about $3,000 for a single vehicle, Sercombe says, including the reader and antennas, as well as multiple key-fob tags for employees.

Transmon Engineering was launched about 16 years ago, initially to provide speed-control systems for warehouse and yard-management fleets. The solution has since evolved into fleet-management software solutions, which are currently in use worldwide. Approximately five years ago, the company first introduced 21.5 kHz RFID tags that authorized drivers could utilize to start machinery.

Transmon’s technology can also provide monitoring of engine conditions, such as oil pressure and coolant levels, as well as the frequency of gear-shift temperature changes, and forward that data to a company’s server via Bluetooth, active RFID or Wi-Fi technology.