Keeping on track with RFID

30th March 2017
Joe Bush

Mary Butler, Product Manager at HellermannTyton, discusses RFID technology and why it is the smart choice for electricians. Radio-Frequency Identification or RFID systems are widely used across a range of industries and have been in use for a number of decades. Used in all kinds of applications, from microchips for pets to goal-line technology, global RFID sales are consistently on the up, with a projected global market value of $17.6bn by 2018.

Despite its popularity in other sectors, uptake in the electrical market has been less impressive, largely due to low levels of product awareness. That being said, RFID offers a plethora of time, cost and productivity related benefits. Here is a selection of reasons why electricians should embrace RFID.

How does it work?
Comprised of three main components, a scanning antenna, a transceiver with a decoder for interpreting data, and a transponder that has been programmed with information, RFID technology works by transmitting signals within a given radius, which are then picked up when antennas enter the vicinity. In its simplest form, RFID is a way of ‘remotely’ transmitting data, via two-way radio transmitter-receivers, with information stored electronically via the tags. The data is then tracked via software and can be managed as part of a database for all kinds of purposes.

Established technology
One of the earliest forms of RFID technology was used in World War II to identify aircraft as friend or foe. Since then the technology has been developed primarily for identification purposes, from vehicle registration plate recognition software points to electronic swipe card systems, with a plethora of potential applications. The growing popularity of RFID can be seen as an endorsement of the technology and its suitability for purpose.

Data management
For electricians, RFID can be used for a variety of purposes but where it can add particular value is in asset tracking, testing and inspection. On-site tool theft is a significant problem for the construction industry, resulting in significant additional cost in replacing stolen tools. RFID is a great way to tackle this issue, by providing a full audit trail of who has used a particular item of equipment, RFID provides complete transparency, enabling electricians to pinpoint any irregularities. It also offers greater accountability, so that in the event of faulty equipment it is clear how it has been broken, helping to identify any instances of misuse or mishandling.

In the context of testing and inspection, RFID allows electricians to extract the relevant data by simply scanning a microchip with the reader, while information is automatically logged via a database. This approach is significantly less labour and time intensive than collecting data manually, since multiple devices can be tested within a matter of milliseconds by simply entering within the radius of the antenna signal. Overall, this results in greater efficiency and therefore, profitability.

While speed is undoubtedly a concern for electricians, data is only useful when accurate, hence robust data collection practices must be encouraged where possible. When testing is carried out manually, the potential for human error is greatly increased, as information may be noted down incorrectly or may be lost in translation as the data is manually transferred onto a spreadsheet. Furthermore, it may be difficult to read data that has been written down due to illegible handwriting or even damage to documentation by dust and debris or rain. Unsafe equipment poses an unacceptable risk to the safety of personnel and so potential mistakes must be eliminated at all cost. With a typical accuracy of 100%, RFID is an effective way to maximise the impact of testing and inspection procedures.

RFID devices have been specifically designed to withstand harsh environments, making them perfect for construction sites and other locations where electricians carry out their work. Able to withstand a wide range of temperatures, electromagnetic interference and water ingress, a key feature of RFID is its robustness. Since the tags are passive i.e. they do not require a power source, there is no risk of potential loss of power and so they are expected to remain operational for up to 100,000 readings. HellermannTyton RFID tags also come with a two year guarantee.

In addition to their impressive lifespan, RFID tags can be easily reprogrammed depending on the application, providing a flexible solution that can be adapted and tailored, as requirements evolve over time.

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