A worker location tracking system is an integrated solution for monitoring the location and safety of employees while at work. The use case can vary from location to location, but often the business goal is to achieve continuous improvement as part of a wider digitalisation strategy. There are many worker tracking products on the market, most of which can be configured to address multiple use cases. Selecting the right system depends on the needs of your application and will influence the extent of the infrastructure required. This article aims to address the basic working principles of worker tracking systems and to explore typical use cases in the process industry.
Worker tracking systems are composed of three core components: location tags, or badges; a tag reader (a device or infrastructure to relay location information back); and visualization software.
Tracking tags and badges come in all shapes and sizes, using a range of underlying technologies to convey information. They are worn by workers throughout shifts, and they communicate with readers or infrastructure strategically placed about the worksite. Data is offloaded wirelessly typically, to the location engine and visualised using front-end software, such as Mobileview.
There are many use cases across the process industries where worker location tracking is useful.
Take chemical processing plants, as an example: Sites often cover large areas consisting of multiple zones with their own unique set of challenges associated with worker location awareness. Many workers need to travel around the site, or within their area of operation daily. Tracking workers manually in such an environment is almost impossible, so automated systems are required.
Certain use cases only require zone location accuracy and others require sub-two metre accuracy. The latter will require a higher level of infrastructure, but the level of additional infrastructure needed will depend on your existing wireless infrastructure and specific quirks of individual applications.
Here we look at some of the more typical use cases seen at almost all process industry sites:
During planned maintenance, sub-contractors are often brought in to provide specialist skills and support, or to help bolster existing resources. It is important that management have oversight of critical issues, such as:
Managing these metrics ensures maintenance is kept on track, workers remain accountable and work is within budget. This can typically be achieved via zonal tracking, whereby workers are issued a location tracking tag. The tag communicates with access points and the data is sent back to a control platform to monitor worker location.
The alternative would require a labour-intensive manual process of registering everyone at various checking points throughout the allotted timeframe.
Various technologies exist to achieve this, but traditionally, process industries have leveraged their existing WiFi networks and issued WiFi or RFID tags to workers to identify and locate their position. For instance, a WiFi RFID tag such as the iTAG100, uses active RFID technology to communicate with RFID readers and Wi-Fi Access Points These readers can be placed at choke points, access and exit points, and strategically positioned throughout the working zones. The data is sent back to the location engine via the existing WiFi infrastructure, and the user can quickly identify who is where, and how long they spent in each location.
A typical process industry site will have hundreds of personnel entering and leaving throughout a typical work week. A manual sign-in process for large teams of workers is slow and poses a safety risk should someone forget to sign-in.
Worker location tracking can provide automated sign-ins when a tag passes through a defined area. For example, an entrance gate or on-site check point can be established with tag readers to identify when a tag has passed through the area. The data can then be offloaded via existing Wi-Fi infrastructure and monitored in a platform like Mobileview.
This system can also be used as part of a zone monitoring system to ensure the right number of workers are in the areas they need to be. Tags can be assigned user status, such as supervisor to make sure each team has the right level of oversite during critical tasks.
Bottlenecks can cost millions over time and are generally avoidable with location tracking. Time spent at gates, toolrooms, moving in between areas, and so on, can be tracked using location tags to see where time is lost and to optimise workflows. Information on how many individuals are in one area can be relayed back via tag readers over wireless connections to a visualisation platform. This allows more effective planning and people management to increase worker productivity.
Equipment reduction through fleet activity monitoring can also be achieved. The location system can be used to identify unused or underused equipment. The information on worker location can be integrated with asset tracking data using the same system to see who has certain tools or equipment ensuring it is in the right place at the right time.
Worker safety is often one of the main reasons a process industry site deploys a worker location tracking solution. Sites such as chemical processing plants contain harsh and hazardous environments, with workers often operating in confined spaces, on elevated platforms, or in hazardous areas. It is critical that these sites have clear data on where each worker is at any given moment in the event of an evacuation or emergency response.
Worker location tags can incorporate emergency call buttons to alert first response teams to a person in distress. In the event of an evacuation, automatic mustering records which workers have safely made it to a muster point allowing first responders to identify missing personnel.
Some tags incorporate man-down functionality alerting emergency crews to personnel who have fallen and are unable to activate an emergency call button for assistance.
Many process industry sites cover large areas. Some of the largest areas are away from the main processing units and office building. Areas such as tank farms or storage yards can cover vast areas, meaning personnel are often working in isolation or in a small team for long periods of time.
Locating personnel in these areas is a challenge that cannot be easily resolved by installing lots of access points, as that would be extremely expensive.
Real Time Location Systems (RTLS), such as the iTAG X30 from Extronics, offer a hybrid of technologies suitable for large open areas like those described. GPS can provide sub-ten metre accuracy of a worker’s location. If the person wearing the tag has a clear line of site to the sky a location can be determined. This means facilities only need deploy access points to backhaul the data to the location engine. This significantly reduces the cost of ownership and ensures workers are kept safe in these areas.
With so many different people entering a site throughout a typical year, it is important that security is kept to a high standard. Sites may use a location tracking solution with incorporated access control to help increase security. High frequency (HF) RFID chips can be integrated into worker location tags to provide access control functionality and secure access onto site.
Extronics is an expert in hazardous area RTLS for worker location tracking within the process industries. Our range of products are highly configurable and offer customers the flexibility to customise their solution to match their location tracking needs.
For more information about the Extronics range of tracking solutions, please contact one of our experts today on +44 (0)1606 738 446 or email us at email@example.com.
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