Archive for March, 2011

RFID Tags give identification to things. Once identified, the tag can be used for many different purposes.

Let’s look at an example.

  1. An RFID Tag is installed in a fire door for the purpose of identifying the fire door. The fire door is located on the toilet entry door in a commercial high rise building.
  2. The building has on site security guards who during the course of their day undertake patrols throughout the building.
  3. There are cleaners on sub contract at the building to ensure that the toilets are cleaned on a regular basis, the paper and soap is replaced and available and the toilets are cleaned.
  4. A building manager is also located at the building and regular performs audits of sub contractor performance such as fire service companies, security personnel and cleaners.

With the RFID Tag in the fire door we have not only an identification of a door but also the identification of a location.

The fire service technician can scan the RFID Tag and be displayed a maintenance routine for the fire door, a security guard can scan the same tag to confirm he has patrolled the specific location, the cleaner can scan the RFID Tag on entering the toilet area and then on exiting the toilet area showing how long they were cleaning the toilet area and the building manager could scan the same tag and obtain the details of the last inspection/patrol or attendance of sub contracted service providers. An alternative for the building manager is to see all this information which can be remotely fed back to a central data store so at any time they can assess the performance of the sub contracted service providers.

If we look at the situation at the moment, a fire service company may place a bar code or other identifier on the door, the security company may place a touch tag on the wall adjacent to the door, the cleaners have a piece of paper on the back of the door and the building manager needs to review all returned information such as event logs and service reports to know what has or has not been done or if the information is required sooner attempts to contact the sub contractor supervisor via phone or email to find out what is going on.

The other disadvantage as there is no common link between the different identifications such as the fire companies label, the security guards touch tag and the cleaners piece of paper. Reconciling all the information from various service providers can be nearly impossible.

If all services utilised the same common RFID Tag, the building manager would have a simple means to know precisely what occurred at a specific location or to a specific asset.

One of the benefits of this type of arrangement is minimising the unsightly marking of things and standardising the means of identification. If the building owner mandates the use of RFID Tags for identifying things within their building they can reuse the RFID Tag for other purposes such as those we have detailed in this example.

Another benefit is that a change in the service provider does not mean yet another numbering system and yet another unsightly label. Data from one service provider for an asset can be easily matched, via the RFID Tags unique ID, to the data provided by another service provider giving a more robust and clearer picture of the status quo.

This is by no means a comprehensive look at what can be achieved with RFID Technology and if you want to know more about the potential benefits of this technology contact me to discuss or leave your comments below.

In looking at the current Australian Standards, and having recently drafted an article on the history of fire door tags in Australia (to be possibly published in the Fire Protection Association of Australia publication “Fire Australia”), this question has been running over and over in my mind.

Some would say I need a life and I would tend to agree with you but never the less I intend to delve into this in a little greater detail.

If a tag is on the edge of a fire door, what does it mean to the average Joe public? Does it give them any assurance that the door is in fact a fire door? Would average Joe public know what the details on a tag mean or would they simply assume that it is a fire door regardless of what the tag stated?

My opinion and one which others may disagree with is that the tag on a fire door is not for average Joe public, it is for the Authorities and Service Companies who actually know what the details on the tag are supposed to mean, and what direction it provides in the ongoing maintenance and assessment of the particular fire door.

Without going into too much detail, the fire door tag provides the context, the picture of what kind of fire door it is, who made it, who tested it, what its performance level is etc.

If I walked up to the average person on the street and asked “what does AS1905.1 mean?” I am pretty sure I would receive a perplexed look and rightfully so. There is no reason why the average Joe needs to know this sort of information that is why there are professionals who provide the inspection and assessment of these assets, people who do know what these things are and more importantly what they mean and why they are so important.

Now if you agree with me so far then let’s take this a little further. The current Australian Standards require a metal tag of a certain size with certain information on it to be fitted to each fire door. The tag is generally fitted to the hinge side of the door approximately 1.5m from the finished floor level. Along comes the painter and 9 times out of 10 the tag is painted over negating any information provided as it is covered over and the tag installed was not made in accordance with the requirements of the Standard (i.e. embossed or recessed numbers and letters).

Tags also have the misfortune of falling off or being removed.

Painting a tag, tags falling off or tags being removed all have the same effect, it basically removes the information required to properly inspect, maintain and assess the fire door, the doors identity.

The question I asked myself some time ago was “Is there a better way to tag a fire door?” and the answer I came up with was a resounding yes. Technology has come a long way since the 1970’s when we saw tag requirements in an Australian Standard for fire doors (CA57.1-1972). Computers and technology in the 1970’s was vastly different to now. Where a computer may have taken up an entire floor of a building, now we can hold them in the palm of our hands. Things are just getting smaller and smaller and smarter and smarter.

One such advancement in technology has been the identification of things. We went from metal identification tags or simple labels to Bar Codes. This advancement enabled the beginning of the automation age with respect to data capture in which information could be attributed to an asset by reference to an identification method that could be read by a machine thus speeding up the process of data gathering and reporting.

While this provided some benefits, the fact that a visual line of sight was still required to enable reading of a barcode, many of the problems with metal tags still remained, namely requiring the visual identification of information to be read either by person or by machine. As with metal tags, bar codes could be rendered useless if painted over, scratched or dirty and could just as easily be removed or fall off.

The other down side to bar codes in asset identification is the ease in which they can be replicated. This ease of replication is not conducive to the identification of assets in which life safety is an issue. If an identification tag can be easily replicated then it fails on the basic level of integrity. For this reason it would not be reasonable to to replace the current method of tagging with bar codes as there is no improvement in relation to identification of the asset and no improvement in the ability to ensure life safety.

The technology I am currently heavily involved in the development of Radio Frequency Identification, in essence a bar code on steroids.

Unlike bar codes, RFID Tags do not require a line of sight i.e. you can paint right over the top of it or hide it within the asset and still be able to identify the asset by a unique identification number which is almost impossible to replicate.

The RFID tag is a tiny microchip with an integrated antenna which is read from, and written to via an RFID reader. The ability to not only read from but write to an RFID Tag gives an additional benefit which metal tags and bar codes could never provide, information about the asset at the asset.

Because we can have the tag out of sight or can paint over it, this allows the design of a housing which can be more secure and less susceptible to removal either on purpose or by accident. RFID tags are not bullet proof but they do provide a substantial number of benefits which metal tags or bar codes simply cannot match.

So in regards to improvements on the current tag specification in the Australian Standards, I see the following improvements;

  1. Can be painted over
  2. Through design can be almost impossibly to remove
  3. Can hold information about the asset at the asset
  4. Can be read from and written to

There is a down side however and that is that in order to read the RFID Tag you have to have a RFID reader and an application which allows you to obtain the details from the tag. This in essence restricts who can obtain the information, but if we consider who really needs to obtain the information then is this really an issue?

RFID Tag does cost more than a bar code or a metal tag, or at least they do at the moment, but if we look at the cost of replacing a door because the tag (i.e. a metal tag on the edge of the door as opposed to a RFID Tag fitted into the door in some manner) is missing then the initial cost of an RFID Tag vs a metal tag is quickly negated.

If my arguments at the start of this blog are correct, and a tag is really there for an authority or a service technician, then there is no real need for average Joe public to even know there is a tag there, simply because it really has no meaning for them.

The critical thing is to have the right information available to the right people (i.e. authorities and the service technicians) so inspection and assessments can be properly undertaken to ensure life safety is not compromised.

There could be an argument that you cannot force people to implement technology as this is an additional cost but are we doing ourselves an injustice by not at least considering this technology as an alternative to the existing tagging methods. Do we have to have one or the other or can we have both?

Closed systems where data is only able to be obtained if you pay a particular company a ridiculous amount of money can be counteracted by being smarter in the design of our Standards. Instead of mandating a certain type and size of an identification method why can we not have a specification of what information the tagging method needs to provide, who it needs to provide it to and further if this does take the form of electronic recording of information, specify how this data is to appear so it can be available to anyone authorised to obtain the information.

There is no reason why life safety cannot be assisted through advancements in technology. If we have a tag that is difficult if not impossible to remove then we have the essential details available at the door which guide how that door should be inspected and assessed and we further mitigate the possibility of having to replace the door just because of a missing identification tag.

I came across a very interesting term, “disruptive technology”. The term disruptive technologies (later amended to “disruptive innovation”) was coined by Clayton M. Christensen and introduced in his 1995 article Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave (Bower, Joseph L. & Christensen, Clayton M. (1995). “Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave” Harvard Business Review, January–February 1995).

A simple example is the fax machine. Business used fax machines for years then along came email. Email was a disruptive technology as it nearly overnight, changed the way we communicate in the business environment. Who is to say that RFID technology is to metal tagging what email was to the fax machine?

Technology should not be put on the back burner because it is different to the current norms, it should be properly assessed and if found to provide additional benefits which enhance the current methods and improve life safety then I feel it is our obligation to outline the potential benefits that technology may be able to provide and seek acceptance of the technology as an alternative to the existing norms.

Not many of us ride a horse to work any more!