Tuesday, November 20, 2007

RFID and Caterpillar

I recently participated in the development of a demo scenario for a project proposal with Caterpillar. The idea of the project is to use RFID tags into CAT engine parts to ease the maintenance of the machines. When the engine of the vehicle is turned on, the ID of all the engine installed parts would be collected by means of RFID readers inside the engine casing. The installing time of the parts and its the number of hours of operation would be stored in a engine master-tag (EPCglobal Gen2 tag with extended user memory bank). The life part information at the vehicle start-up would
be compared with the information stored in the master tag. When a part is replaced, a discrepancy would be detected and the operator would be warned. A history of replaced parts would also be stored on the master tag. By means of this mechanism, we expect for vehicle maintainers to be able to know when parts have been replaced and how long the operation of a certain part has been. This mechanism is aimed to replace the current manual practices that are prone to human error and inaccurate information. Furthermore, even if the engine block is replaced, we still carry the information on the master tag, wherever that engine goes. That can help end-of-life part management. For example, we can know exactly which parts can be reused and which ones should be disposed.
To demonstrate these ideas, I helped to develop a software that simulates the engine start and then reads parts and mater tag. It then compares the information and warns the user about new parts installed, removed or replaced. It also updates the engine master tag. We then had a one-day field trip to a CAT research and development site nearby Cambridge (UK). There we installed tags and readers and tested the software in a real CAT tractor.

I must say that the trickiest part of all was to program the master tag update, because the tags we were using didn't have much memory to play around with.