Posts Tagged ‘Technology’

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.

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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!

Fire Door

One of the main issues with fire doors is identifying what a door is when the only information you have available is the door itself, no records and no compliance tag. This problem exists for the manufacturer trying to counter a warranty claim, a service company wanting to undertake repairs, a building/facility owner needing to provide certification to an authority etc.

In relation to passive fire protection, such as fire doors, data is king. Knowing what a door is provides the essential information needed to certify and properly service and maintain the fire door throughout its life.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology is a very flexible technology which in essence provides a truly unique identification to an individual item. Having a means to uniquely identify items then allows us the power to then follow this item throughout its usable life and beyond.

This means that not only can we follow an item but we can also maintain an accurate audit trail of the item and all things which have occurred to it during its life. These things could be original manufacturing details, warranty conditions, approvals, service visits, photos of modifications etc.

Through the utilization of a central data store we can associate any amount of information against the unique identification of an item and not only associate any amount of data against it but also recall the information as and when required.

The ability to combine RFID technology with central data stores is further expanded with the use of an internet based portal providing access to the central data store. This ability then gives rise to information being readily available around the world regardless of location through a standard internet browser or via a portable mobile device.

Examples of what we can achieve with RFID

The following are examples of the application of RFID technology for the fire door industry. This is only a short list of the possibilities of this technology for not only the fire door industry but any industry.

Proof of product
  • Identify an item with a RFID Tag containing a unique identifier
  • Through an internet portal upload documentation relating to each product type
  • Through a portable hand held device, scan the RFID Tag and enter the manufacturing details of the product
    • E.g. Type, size, colour, shape etc
  • Write data directly to the products RFID tag
  • At any time, scan the product RFID tag and retrieve the data relating to the product as referenced against the unique identifier
  • Allow authorities access to read data directly contained on the product RFID tag e.g. manufacturer, compliance details etc
Product Certification
  • Prior to installation scan the product RFID tag and obtain the details of the product and ensure they are correct for the intended installation
  • As details are held in the data store automate the generation of certificates and schedules relating to product evidence and compliance
Proof of Attendance
  • Using portable devices to record the undertaking of inspection activities, the inspection can be designed to only occur if a successful scan of the product RFID tag is undertaken which by default requires the technician to be in close proximity of the products RFID tag
  • If a product RFID tag is not scanned the system can allow the technician to proceed with the inspection but will send a status back to the central data store detailing that the product was not scanned to initiate the inspection activity
Remote data capture and data transfer
  • Individual product maintenance requirements can be provided for each individual product or type of product and held in the central data store
  • By scanning a products RFID tag the device software can communicate with the central data store and display the maintenance requirements for the specific product scanned
Monitoring activities
  • Establish routine inspection dates for a product and have the central data store advise when things should be done or when things are not done when due
  • Get alerts when warranties are due to expire so you an pro actively contact the client and see if they want ongoing service post warranty
Automated reporting and notifications
  • Let the central data store crunch the data so you don’t have to
  • Generate inspection reports based on data captured in the field
  • Generate door schedules based on data held in the data store
  • Automatically generate a report every time an event happens e.g. on warranty expiry send an automated email to the client advising them the warranty period is over and for any future issues contact company x, y or z

Is RFID an answer for the fire door industry? I believe it is.

RFID technology is a way we can finally and comprehensively address identification issues in relation to fire doors and further provide added benefits to all stake holders who are involved with the manufacture, supply, installation, services and certification of fire doors by providing a comprehensive product history from manufacture to disposal.

Through the use of RFID technology we can build further integrity into the industry and protect the safety of people in buildings and facilities and also minimise the risk of premature product replacement.

 


If you found this article useful or otherwise please provide comments or suggestions so I can improve on future posts.

RFID might not save in labor costs to your bottom line but it can increase the efficiency of your business in diverting time away from non income producing tasks.

If you currently spend 2 hours a day in an office preparing reports following service activities on site, the act of preparing these reports, while essential, detracts from the time you could spend on another site generating the income and data for yet another report.

Through the introduction of RFID we can automate the collection and reporting of data. The cost of this is an investment not in saving money on labor but in allowing labour to be diverted to tasks which generate income for the business, time on site actually doing the work.

Just because you don’t have to be in the office for 2 hours a day makes no difference to your bottom line so if I tell you you will be saving money in labor I would be lying. If, through technology such as RFID, you had an extra 2 hours a day that you did not have to spend in an office on reporting you would most likely spend this on site hence no savings in labor costs.

Where the return on your RFID investment comes is it allows for the redirection of labor costs from income draining activities (i.e. time to prepare reports) to income producing activities (i.e. time on site).

Let’s make the following assumptions;

  1. There are 5 days in a working week
  2. The average working day is 8 hours
  3. We spend, on average, 2 hours each working day on report generation in the office
  4. Average income generated from 1 hour on site is $50.00

Now let’s assume we have automated your reporting. This in effect has given you an additional 10 hours of site time (i.e. 2 hours per day for 5 days).

Your labour costs are the same but in having an additional 10 site hours for the week this would translate into additional income of $500.00 (10 hours per week x $50 per hour).

Over a 12 month period this would equate to a potential $26,000 of additional income without having to increase the labor input, just putting your labor to better use in income generating activities.

From this example you can see that there are no savings in labor costs but through smarter utilization of the labour we already pay for we can generate additional income by concentrating labor on activities that generate income as opposed to draining income.

Could you do with an extra $26,000 a year without working any harder than you are already?

Embracing technology is a difficult thing in that it is difficult if not impossible for someone to truly quantify the dollar benefit you will achieve through the technology but I hope this example shows you what could be possible with RFID technology.

Don’t just think in terms of labor cost savings because you probably won’t find them. Think in terms of where your existing labor costs could be better focused and how technology can assist in diverting labor costs from non income producing activities to income producing activities.

If you are interested to know more about how the automation of reporting may benefit your business click here and leave your details and I will get in contact with you to discuss your specific challenges and what I may be able to provide by way of a solution to automate your processes.

If you found this article useful or otherwise please provide comments or suggestions so I can improve on future posts.

Maintenance of assets (and in particular fire services) is a function which if applied effectively can minimize or even negate the premature failure of equipment, loss of property and even loss of life.

All too often, building owners and managers make the assumption that by paying their monthly fee to a sub contractor that their assets such as fire services are being effectively maintained as and when required, but as we all know, there are a lot of unscrupulous operators out there who are providing anything but an effective inspection and maintenance service to their clients.

The building owner or manager assumes that the sub contractor providing the service is in good faith undertaking the duties as and when required and in the same way the service manager of the sub contracting company is assuming that his employee or sub contractor is in good faith undertaking the duties on site required of them as and when required. All in good faith but where is the proof?

Proof of attendance is, I feel, a critical issue in ensuring that any inspection or maintenance program is effective and something that is all too often taken for granted. Having the most advanced and well developed maintenance and inspection program is useless unless there are processes in place to make sure things are done as and when required.

We can’t afford to hire staff to look over the shoulder of the worker and nor should we be expected to, but failing this how can we be sure that what we are expecting to be done is in fact being done? Can we use technology to provide this assurance? Is technology economically feasible? What are the risks of not addressing the proof of attendance issue?


If you found this article useful or otherwise please provide comments or suggestions so I can improve on future posts.