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Jan 06, 2011

Self-contained RFID Cube Helps Keep Out Foreign Material
Source: Claire Swedberg

After completing tests of a radio frequency identification system at two nuclear power plants, Oregon company Access Solutions has made its RFID-based Cube available for use in tracking tools, materials and personnel into and out of controlled areas at power-generation facilities. The self-contained turnkey structure can be installed at a site and used to manage the flow of individuals and tools into and out of an area controlled for foreign material exclusion (FME), or for clean conditions.

Since 2005, Access Solutions has provided its FME services to power-generating companies to track which personnel enter and exit a controlled zone, as well as any tools (such as wrenches, pliers or electronic equipment) they bring into and out of the area. Not only does Access Solutions' on-site staff confirm each worker's identity, they also assign lanyards and tethers to that individual, to hold tools in place (thereby ensuring the tools do not drop and break or get lost). In addition, they inspect each tool as it enters and leaves the area, to confirm that no small pieces are left behind. The staff also confirms that no one inadvertently carries foreign material adhered to the bottom of their shoes, and that they have no loose items-such as change in their pockets, jewelry or chewing gum-that could cause a problem for the functioning of machinery within the controlled zone.

The process, however, was a manual one. Therefore, in 2008, the company began looking into employing RFID technology to capture data regarding each person and tool entering and leaving the area, thereby allowing the recording of more accurate data, and making the check-in and check-out procedure faster, says Eric Bergstrom, Access Solutions' director. The firm began piloting its RFID-enabled version of its FME service at two unnamed American nuclear power plants, in order to confirm that radio frequency identification could be employed to effectively track the traffic of tools and personnel. At the two participating power plants, Access Solutions attached EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags either directly to tools, or to embedded nylon tethers joined to those tools. Access Solutions' personnel then utilized RFID readers and S3Edge Spotlight software to capture and store information about the movement of the tools and personnel.

In 2010, based on the experience acquired during those pilots, the company developed the Cube. A steel frame structure insulated against weather and sound, and measuring 8 feet by 8 feet by 9 feet in size, the Cube is designed to function as a self-contained, mobile and fully automated FME center.

The Cube enables Access Solutions to provide RFID-enabled FME service almost immediately, without requiring a power plant to set up an area with furniture and other infrastructure, as it would otherwise need to do in order to accommodate FME personnel and the services they provide. To ensure the RFID technology's functionality under rugged conditions, Bergstrom says, Access Solutions modified the hardware, , though he declines to describe what the proprietary modifications consisted of.

When a company uses the Cube, Access Solutions provides RFID-enabled ID badges with a photograph of each worker authorized to enter a controlled area. The unique ID number encoded to a badge's built-in Xerafy EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tag is linked to the employee's name, title and picture in the company's back-end system, using the S3Edge software as the engine to record and display the information when needed-and, if requested, to integrate that data with the customer's existing plant-management software. Access Solutions also utilizes a variety of other standard UHF tags in addition to Xerafy tags, for situations in which such durability is not necessary.

Facility personnel are also provided with several lanyards that can be attached to a belt or wristband. The tool tethers are then clipped to that lanyard, thereby ensuring that if a worker drops a tool, it will not fall far. This safety precaution can be important in an environment in which employees may be working on the top of a turbine or generator, in which a tool could fall many feet and get lost or break into small pieces. Each lanyard is fitted with its own EPC Gen 2 RFID tag, the ID number of which is linked to the ID of the individual to whom that lanyard has been assigned.

Upon arriving at the entrance to a controlled area, workers stop at the Cube, located next to that entrance, in order to check in and hand over personal items (such as jewelry, wallets and cell phones) for storage in cubbies within the Cube. Each individual then receives tethers and lanyards, as well as an ID badge, assuming he or she has not already been provided with one.

The RFID interrogator at the counter captures the ID numbers of the tools, tethers and lanyards as they are placed on or located near the counter. For sites where workers are not issued ID badge, an RFID tag can be attached to each individual's hardhat. The tags' ID numbers are then captured, linked to data about the tools, and stored in the software.

Whether a tag is attached directly to the tool, or to a tether attached to that item, its ID number is linked to information regarding that tool in the software, along with a picture of it. In that way, as each tag is read at the FME station, Access Solutions' staff members seated within the Cube can view a photograph of the tool on a touch screen computer with either a wired or wireless connection to the reader, and can easily determine whether it is the appropriate tool, and whether there are any missing pieces.

When leaving, each worker again stops at the Cube, and the tags are read once more. The system can then confirm whether that individual is removing the same tools he or she came in with-or, when entering, ensure that a tool being brought into the zone is properly tagged, and assign that item to that individual in the software.

If a worker leaves without all the tools that person brought to the site, the software is designed to indicate which items are missing when his or her badge and tools are read at the Cube or FME site. If someone takes a tool off-site that was assigned to a coworker, that action is also indicated by the software at the time that the badge and tools are read, and the coworker assigned that tool is informed, upon exiting, that the item was removed, and by whom. At that point, the coworker can then indicate whether permission was given to take the tool.

Access Solutions' staff must still visually inspect each tool as well, to be sure that no pieces are missing. By using RFID, however, the process of monitoring which tools are carried into or out of the zone, and in whose custody, is now automated. That, Bergstrom says, means a check-in procedure that, for example, previously required three to 15 minutes per person now requires only 30 seconds to three minutes. On average, he estimates, the processing time is reduced by 83 percent.

The Cube, which the company displayed last month at the Power-Gen International (PGI) 2011 conference, will increase efficiency further, Bergstrom says, because it comes with all equipment necessary to launch and run an FME service. While customers needed to supply Access Solutions with tables and chairs in the past, and an RFID reader then had to be set up on those tables, the Cube is now simply delivered to the site by crane (for outdoor use) or towed into an indoor location. It comes with heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC), as well as lighting, and has one or more RFID readers (depending on each end user's particular needs) that can be used on a counter top, or the reader's antenna can mounted to the Cube in such a way as to facilitate the reading of RFID tags attached to hardhats.

Since the PGI conference, Bergstrom says, Access Solutions has been in discussion with potential customers in the United States, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and several South American countries. In some cases, he notes, customers could include oil and gas companies, as well as power plants. The technology could also be employed for servicing wind turbines.


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Thanks to the outstanding work of the entire consortium team, we have successfully piloted the new system to track blood products as they move from fixed and mobile donation sites, through the blood center and to distribution. After 24 weeks of running the system in a pilot mode here at the BloodCenter of Wisconsin, we have seen process efficiency and traceability gains, as well as marked improvements in reconciliation

Lynne Briggs
Vice President and
Chief Information Officer,
Blood Center of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

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"S3Edge is a key partner in developing packaged solutions that fully utilize the capabilities of the Microsoft BizTalk RFID platforms to address real-world customer need. Their Spotlight product is a good example of how partners are innovating to deliver complete end-to-end solutions for customers on the Microsoft Application Platform, across the globe"

Sudhir Hasbe

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The S3Edge's RTVS based WiP (work in process) solution delivered on the promise of real visibility, real time in record time to enable GKB (Carl Zeiss Vision JV partner) to continue to raise the bar in the level of service .The WIP solution was delivered at ZEISS Brand Lab at Goa (a Carl Zeiss "Star One" accredited lab). In addition to enabling fewer delayed orders, and a multi-fold increase in customer satisfaction with a RFID based solution on the manufacturing floor, S3 is also closely working with us on designing innovative solution for our retail stores in India to further increase our customer value.

Manish Soni
General Manager
GKB Hi-Tech Lenses Pvt. Ltd.

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S3 Edge’s unique capabilities and deep understanding of Microsoft’s Mobile RFID platform was crucial in deploying a turnkey solution at RiteCare pharmacy for warehouse visibility – their ability to go from design to fully operational in 60-90 days at the customer site is a testament of their abilities to show demonstrable ROI and lower the barrier to rapid solution deployment.

Judy Huang
Product Manager RFID
Unitech Electronics Co., LTD

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S3Edge continues to raise the bar in the area of software innovation to address customer needs. The support for Android-based devices for our transfusion medicine RFID applications will give healthcare professionals in our field an easy, well-understand interface to quickly adopt a new set of auto-ID applications aimed at cutting costs and eliminating errors in the blood supply chain. This new-paradigm is going to be the game-changer in the adoption of RFID based applications in Healthcare.

Clive Hohberger
RFID Systems Architect,
Blood Center of Wisconsin

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S3Edge has helped Motorola take our partnership with Microsoft BizTalk RFID to the next level.

Matt Eschbach
Global Strategic Alliance Manager
Motorola Enterprise Mobility Business

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"The expertise and credibility of the S3Edge team made it an easy choice for us to engage with them to build out our device provider capabilities for the BizTalk RFID platform. In addition, their ability to deliver ‘80% done, 20% customizable’ software solutions via their rich RTVS solution framework is a much needed piece of the puzzle in enabling our integrators to deliver high-value, complex solutions in a repeatable cookie-cutter manner, with lesser custom code"

Sal Scafidi
Strategic Business Manager
Omron RFID Division
United Technologies

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"We selected S3Edge after evaluating solution providers based on their experience, and ability to deliver a mission-critical, large-scale enterprise application focused on the operator and the flow of work in our existing processes. Thanks to this approach and S3Edge's focus on delivering to commitments, the project benefits were realized within three months of launch with little to no re-engineering required. The system has been running live in a high velocity, dynamic manufacturing environment for over a year with no issues"

Balaji Suresh
Materials Manager, and project sponsor
United Technologies

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We are extremely pleased to team up with S3Edge to put this exciting system development into the hands of our clients. Our unified, best-of-breed approach, which brings together Access Solutions’ deep domain expertise in the FME industry and S3Edge’s Spotlight technology for RFID-based asset tracking, as well as their systems integration bench strength and expertise, will deliver unparalleled levels of efficiencies across the enterprise

Kelvin Mann,
President  & CEO, Access Solutions

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The RFID system provided equivalent capabilities to those of IPR in terms of detecting and resolving process errors. It additionally provided the blood bank staff real-time visibility for blood products in transit from the hospital blood bank to the point-of-care and in remote storage in our emergency department.

Dr. Thomas J. Raife,
MD, Clinical Professor & Medical Director,
UIHC DeGowin Blood Center

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S3 Edge's RTVS capabilities enabled RiteCare Pharmacy to envision, design and implement game-changing business processes. The S3 Edge RTVS software built on Microsoft BizTalk platform has enabled us to cut down our cycle times to ship by 50%, eliminate errors due to mis-ships, and double our throughput times. This innovative real-time visibility platform for warehouse ensures RiteCare can now scale rapidly in the future to fulfill our promise of a quality pharmacy in every neighborhood with wide variety of medicines.

Seshu Guddanti
Managing Director of RiteCare

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S3Edge's packaged asset tracking software has enabled us to go from assessing technical feasibility to building out a set of applications that address the operational needs of blood centers and hospitals in a relatively short period of time. Their technical abilities and experience in deploying enterprise-ready applications has helped the consortium deliver on the promise of a packaged mission critical solution to improve the safety and efficiency of our nation's blood supply

Tina Chang
CEO, SysLogic Inc.

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"S3Edge's commitment to quality, flexibility, and RFID domain expertise in deploying enterprise-ready software in an operationally challenging environment using a variety of devices, is second to none. Their approach to deploying a scalable Real-Time Visibility & Control System has allowed us to take a complex, emerging technology and convert it into a competitive advantage for our business and customers"

James Chan
General Manager

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We are extremely pleased to team up with S3Edge to design, and develop this innovative application for the transfusion medicine industry. Our collaborative, best-of-breed approach, which brings together the domain expertise in Transfusion Medicine practices and S3Edge's software strength, will deliver unparalleled levels of efficiencies for blood centers and hospitals across their supply chain operations

Rodeina Davis
Vice-President & CIO, BloodCenter of Wisconsin

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Our strategic partnership with S3Edge allows Microsoft BizTalk RFID users to exploit the Speedway® reader’s advanced capabilities and performance. I highly recommend S3Edge as a partner to work with in building end-to-end solutions on the Microsoft RFID platform.

Daniel Bowman
Sr. Marketing Manager, Impinj, Inc

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S3 Edge is our most preferred RFID technical partner

Kian NG
SOA, Process Platform & RFID Solutions Sales - ASIA Lead
Microsoft Asia Pacific

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  Spotlight based RFID Software provides an automated method of identifying the movement of assets across various locations by deploying a packaged inventory-tracking solution across various devices, that can then be customized for specific business-process workflows.