RFID – The Long and Short of it

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) has fast become the norm across many industrial sectors from retail to oil and gas. Although this technology has been around for several decades, to many, the potential of it is only now starting to be fully explored. RFID infrastructure can operate at short or long range; however, it is important that the range fits the application. This article will focus on one example of why this is important.

Electronic mustering and personnel on board (POB) within the marine and oil and gas industry is one industry sector which has embraced RFID technology. It is in essence ‘asset tracking’ with the assets being your personnel. Crew, vendors, contractors, and visitors all carry a RFID tags, usually in the form of a smart card. These tags are scanned at key points, usually choke points between different platforms or vessels, allowing monitoring software to record numbers on location, thus keeping within the safe allowable limit set by the lifesaving appliances (LSA). During an emergency, the same tags are scanned at muster points, effectively counting the personnel present, and allowing the identification and last known whereabouts of missing or not mustered personnel.

The most common RFID tags and readers are split into three frequency groups. These frequencies are then split into two read ranges – short range and long range. Short range has a read range of up to 100mm (although can be up to 500mm) and usually requires the tag wearer to present their card to a reader. Long range has a read range between 1m and 10m (although can be more with certain technology tag/readers) and is usually known as ‘hands free’ where the tag is not required to be presented directly to a reader.

The main advantages and disadvantages of each are as follows:

Short Range

There are two main advantages of short-range tags, the primary being they have extraordinarily little susceptibility to interference from the environment since the read range is small and usually requires the tag being presented or swiped at the reader head. The other main advantage, especially when it comes to the human factor, is because the card must be presented, the chances of missing a tag (or person) is almost eliminated because each acknowledged swipe provides some form of feedback (success or fail) to the tag holder. The main disadvantage of short-range tags is the increased time taken to                                                                                                                                 physically present a tag at a reader.

Long Range

The advantage of using long range tags is the ‘hands free’ approach to scanning them. Tags can be read from a distance as they pass a reading head without the need to be physically presented at that reader. This can reduce the amount of time taken to read each tag and multiple tags can be read simultaneously. However, the disadvantage of this method is that long range tags can be very susceptible to interference especially from an environment that includes metal or liquids (including human bodies). Thus, there is an increased possibility of a tag not being read, especially when you consider the ‘human factor’ of how the tag is being carried or blocked by something being carried on that person. For example, a UHF smartcard worn directly in contact with the human body such as on a lanyard around the neck reduce the transmission range of the antenna from 10m to 2m and therefore may not be recognised by the receiving antenna.

EPIC’s Approach to Both Solutions

Because the “EPIC Smart-Trac” POB and mustering system is primarily a safety system designed to look after personnel working in hazardous environments, careful consideration is given to how we use RFID technology to ensure risk is minimised. EPIC insist on the deployment of short-range RFID technology during the mustering of personnel for several reasons. Ensuring personnel to present themselves to the muster checker and scan their tag at the reader is particularly helpful during a real emergency as this interaction between tag wearer and reader (or muster taker) can have the extra factor of enforcing reassurance to the tag wearer that a trained person and system has taken control of the situation.

EPIC offer long range scanning of tags for zone control and gangway/bridge movement, but only when the placement of the antennas for the readers can be in such a manner that the chances of interference from the tag is almost eliminated. Again, for high security areas including access control, EPIC will always recommend the use of a short-range scan head to ensure the tag is presented at the reader.

EPIC will be attending this year’s ADIPEC in ABU Dhabi, displaying their RFID based technology that is currently deployed in over 50 offshore assets worldwide. Feel free to visit Stand 13535 in Hall 13 to discuss any mustering and POB management challenges you currently have.

Learn more about EPIC at www.epicpob.com

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