EI Systems Logo
Home Rail Products Staffing Services Case Studies Company Info Contact   281.286.8000   
 
   
 

And now, a word from our clients.
Some of the world’s largest and most respected brands have entrusted
EI Systems to help them capitalize on the latest advances in technology
and maintain their competitive edge. Here’s their take on the vital role
EI Systems plays in their continuing success.

RFID Applications
Manufacturing Process System
Access Control System
Project Control Systems
Safety Observation Tracking System
Clinic Management System
 
   
     
 

Scale Weight Stations

Description:

This Automated and real-time Railcar Tracking and Identification System (ARTIS) utilized Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), Automatic Equipment Identification (AEI), and wireless technology to automatically identify and digitally record both the railcar number and its loading location. The system integrates this information with the manufacturing Digital Control System(DCS) and the local silo/car inventory system to allow effortless and perfectly accurate data collection. This vital information is necessary to proper delivery the right product to the right customer at the right time.  The system eliminates human errors caused by manual data entry, prevents railcar receiving or shipping errors from occurring, reduces shipment planning and scheduling costs, and helps assure customer satisfaction. Since implementation in Spring 2001, the customer at this facility has not had any single incident of shipping a wrong car due to transcription errors. This system saves the company hundreds of thousands dollars annually.

 

System Architecture:

Technology Employed:

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), Automated Equipment Identification (AEI), Ethernet Serial Provider (ESP), Visual C++, MS ASP.NET, HTML, JavaScript, Oracle database, Web server (IIS), Email Alert System, and wireless network (IEEE 802.11).

AEI Readers

The system utilizes fixed AEI readers to read the RFID tags from railcar. RFID technology is adopted by the American Association of Railroads (AAR). In 1991, the AAR began a three year plan to outfit each railcar in North America with RF tags to allow automatic railcar identification using track side readers. Each rail car has two Radio Frequency (RF) tags located on both sides of the car. Each tag is preprogrammed with car ID, number of axles, etc.

The Reader systems are installed at strategic locations to record the passage of the tagged equipment. AEI reader’s RF Module transmits an unmodulated (850-950Mhz) signal in the direction of a tag. The tag reflects a modulated signal back to the RF Module where it is received and relayed to the reader. The Reader decodes the RF information into a specific data format for use by the host computer, which can then identify, track and schedule the tagged objects.

Reader communication

The system uses Ethernet Serial Provider (ESP) to communicate with AEI readers and remotely retrieve railcar ID through Local Area Network (LAN).

The ESP is an IP-based device (also called Serial Port over IP) that provides multi-interface serial ports (RS-232/422/485 protocols). Each port is connected to an AEI reader. Application can transparently access AEI readers through serial COM ports as if they are installed within the server locally

Wireless Network Communication (IEEE 802.11).

 

Applications

This chemical facility produces over 100 different products, employs 18 different loading locations and loads over 10,000 railcars annually. Proper identification of each product lot, from production through railcar loading, is critical if we are to avoid sending the wrong product to a customer. An inventory system provides accurate traceability up to railcar loading, but the match between product and railcar remained manual.

Operators had to manually document the product, loading location and railcar number for each car, record it on a tracking board in the control room, document it in a paper record, and then transcribe all of it to a computer. Much of this data was also recorded manually on labels for each of the 40,000 sample bags collected annually. This was tedious and time consuming.

The manual process was also relatively high risk. The numbering system for loading location was different at each unit, creating a risk of confusion for operators when they changed locations.  In addition, each railcar has a 10-character identifier, many of them quite similar, and transcription errors could and did take place.

Procedures were implemented to help catch these errors but none were entirely effective. Undetected errors resulted in delivery of incorrect product to our customers. Each such incident incurs rework, delivery delays, claims, costs and, most importantly, puts future business at risk.

Business process risk assessments and operating experience both confirmed that we had a serious and recurring problem. A multi-disciplinary team began exploring other industries and examining new technologies for solutions.

Discovery of new technologies in Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and recently established technology in the railroad industry brought the breakthrough that allowed us to address this business challenge.

The North American railroad industry requires that all cars be equipped with Automatic Equipment Identification (AEI) transponders, and these were already in place.  Railroads use these to track cars as they move cross-country. They employ a high-cost reader that broadcasts a radio signal. This signal activates the AEI transponder and causes it to respond back with the car number.

New technology was being commercialized for these readers which significantly lowered costs. We determined that these could be adapted for use in an industrial facility and could be developed to meet our needs.

An Automated Railcar Tracking and Identification System (ARTIS) was developed by EIS to integrate railcar information with the Digital Control System (DCS) and the local silo/car inventory system (PTAS) . The plant’s Digital Control System (DCS) tells ARTIS which loading position is currently active, ARTIS pulls the car number at the active loading position and routes it to DCS and PTAS.  DCS tells PTAS which product silo and loading position is active and PTAS matches the appropriate material to the car being loaded. 

 

Benefits

Prior to implementation, this facility shipped on the average one to two wrong railcars per year to customers.  These costly mistakes were caused by loading personnel entering incorrect rail car number into the railcar inventory system.  There was need to automatically capture car number during the loading process.  With EIS’s knowledge in Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, specifically Amtech Automatic Identification Equipment (AEI), the team put together a hardware/software solution that electronically delivers the car number to the loader at the start of the loading process. Since implementation Jan 2001, this facility has not shipped any wrong railcar to customer due transposition error in entering railcar number. The system also helps speeding up the process of loading/unloading the content of railcar.