Keeping Track of Test Equipment

The scope of the project

The customer wished to reduce testing down-time caused by equipment availability issues and failures. RFID and mobile computer technology will be used to simplify and automate the data collection process and reduce input errors such as miss-keying.

Due to the nature of the vehicle test programmes the assets are often be away from the central store for months at a time, and in that period will be exposed to extremes of temperature. The assets are assigned to an individual vehicle, but may be returned as one.

Collected data will be processed and left in a shared folder such that downstream applications can pick up and import. Further integration into their existing asset management system was out of scope for this part of the project, but is likely to be included at a later date.

Codegate development

RFID Tags:

The solution was to use "hard cased" RFID tags (Rigid UHF ISO 18000-6c EPC Gen 2) which were attached to the equipment by glue, rivet, self-tapping screw or nut/bolt as appropriate. These tags were selected because they will function on any surface including metal and won’t be affected by water droplets on the case. Further benefits of hard tags are that they are also least susceptible to shock and vibration

Hand Held Terminals:

The tags were used along with a hand held terminal which runs the data collection application. In this case we recommended the Motorola MC3190Z computer. This runs the Windows CE platform and has an integral UHF RFID reader, colour touch screen, barcode reader and camera. Charging and communication is via a single cradle, which also has a spare battery charging slot.

Additional system components:

A ‘low specification’ PC was required to receive the collected data via the communication cradle and save it to a shared folder. Codegate is able to access this remotely for upgrading purposes to further reduce the burden on the client. A shared folder was set up so that collected data can be dropped into the folder, from where downstream applications can collect and manipulate the data.

A Codegate ‘RFID Starter kit’ provided a low cost desktop near field RFID reader for USB connection to the PC. This is used with the set-up application software to associate the tag ID with individual items of test equipment.

Outline of functionality:

The data collection sequence is outlined below:

RFID tags were fitted to each piece of test equipment and to each cable asset, with a special tag being fitted to the vehicle.

The HHT is used to collect data from multiple tags simultaneously. Tag selection was critical here to ensure good readability with minimal interference from tags in adjacent vehicles.

Collected data is stored on the HHT until it is docked, at which point the data is automatically downloaded to the PC. The PC application allows the user to edit data before it is saved to the shared folder.

Handheld software functionality:

The software provides a fixed sequence of data collection screens with the ability to move back through the sequence at any time. Prior to initial use the HHT is docked, allowing a database of tagged assets and descriptions to be uploaded from the PC.

Once logged in the following memory options can be provided:

  • Issue – used to record the deployment of equipment to a vehicle;
  • Return – used to record the return of equipment to a central store location;
  • Audit – used to conduct inventory checks for specific locations;
  • Status – used to change the status of individual assets (return / issue / scrap).

PC software functionality:

  • The set up software is used to associate RFID tags with equipment asset data;
  • The desk top near field reader is used to pick up the tag ID;
  • Each tag in turn is then placed on the reader, the ID being saved into a new equipment asset record;
  • The user enters a description and TS/IS number;
  • New records are saved to the application software database and also the shared folder so that additional related information may be imported from the CID system;

Normal Operation:

The PC software automatically receives data downloaded from the HHT.

Each asset record downloaded has the following fields:

  • Asset ID
  • Vehicle / rig ID
  • Employee ID
  • Issue date
  • Return date
  • Job reference number 
  • Location 
  • Status

Not all fields will be populated for each record. For example an ‘Issue’ transaction will not contain a Return date. Once the data has been downloaded the user is able to browse through the data and edit any record, for example to change the status of an item from ‘Returned’ to ‘Scrapped’.