Tons of Pig Iron + 2300 °C Blasts + Big Trucks: Are U-Safe?

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Nov 11, 2010 @ 12:04 PM

Tags: Ultrawideband, Workplace Safety, RFID

RFID Enhances Safety and More for Steel Manufacturing Plant

POSCOWith more than 1.3 billion tons produced annually, steel is one of the most common materials in the world.  It is a major component in constructing road and railways, buildings, tools, ships, automobiles and many appliances.

As can be imagined, large-scale methods of steelmaking include hazardous work conditions.  Moving tons of raw materials with large machines, operating blast furnaces at temperatures from 900 °C to 2300 °C and experiencing daily risks related to explosions, noxious gas exposure and heavy machinery breakdowns can make for an interesting day at work, to say the least.

Because of these conditions, steel production plants are continuously looking for ways to improve employee safety – and Pohang Iron and Steel Company (POSCO), the world’s second largest steel producers is one of them.  With a focus on reducing job related injuries, POSCO teamed with IBM and Ubisense to develop an RFID-enabled real-time tracking solution to automatically detect and respond to emergency situations.

Are U-Safe?

The U-safety Management System utilizes ultra-wideband (UWB) RFID tags and readers to monitor all areas of POSCO’s Finex production plant located in Pohang, South Korea, including the facility's entrance gate, its 12 manufacturing floors and in stairwells.  Workers and visitors are provided with a helmet outfitted with a UWB tag, allowing users of a central monitoring system to quickly locate individuals in the event of an accident or emergency. 

Providing value well beyond monitoring the location of personnel, the system can also be used for disaster response, man-down detection, safety breaches and visitor escort.  It also offers an alert and alarm system for personnel working with hazardous materials.  For example, if a person enters a restricted zone where dangerous gasses or materials are present, the system detects their entry and triggers a set of event-driven processes that will issue a safety alert if they are in the area beyond a predetermined period of time.

Extending the Value of RFID

Extending use of the solution even further, POSCO has integrated the RTLS capabilities of the u-safety management system with their automatic lighting controls.  When the presence or absence of employees is detected in various areas of the factory, the lighting levels are adjusted accordingly – reducing energy consumption and gaining cost savings.  Not surprisingly, plans to use the system to monitor work-in-process and asset management are also being considered.

Implementing this type of solution seems to be a natural fit to improve safety in hazardous work areas.  Should it stop there or do you think the benefits of such a solution can benefit other types of businesses?

[Photo credit: Small iron ore in a blast furnace Kwangyang ¼ soetmul is making the melt. 
Gimsominui with permission by the author gonggaeham public domain]

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