Fire and Rescue Services in common with all elements of ‘Blue Lights’ have ever been reliant on the availability of mission critical assets in a timely fashion at the point of need; namely the right equipment – where and when it is needed. And when that equipment is not there – people’s lives are at risk.
At the same time the sophistication and cost, therefore size of investment in those assets is an increasing consideration on the overstretched budgets.
The requirement for improved asset visibility and management to provide better outcomes at lower cost was self evident, and Pen Mobile have been working with many areas of F & RS across the country for the last four years to address solutions.
The initial ‘use case’ being looked at by most F & RS authorities related to the assets that need to be on a tender before it can respond to an incident. Typically there are some 300 items on the average tender, but the profile of incidents varies widely from RTAs to major conflagrations – and the asset profile – even the nature/design of the tender used – varies likewise. The historic manual process to monitor these assets had a significant resource cost. One F & RS authority estimated savings of up to £250k per annum could be captured and there are over 40 authorities across the UK.
A solution based on RFID technology offered advantages over any other form of auto data capture. But this particular use case and environment is not without its challenges.
- The design of the storage receptacles (in this case various lockers and fixing points on a fire tender) could not be tailored to suit optimum RFID scanning. Data capture of assets had to be locker specific.
- The nature of the tagged assets varied significantly in size and material construction, including metal and non metal assets, rigid and non rigid. Some of the materials both of the assets and within the tender itself were not ‘RFID friendly’.
- The tags needed to be of a particularly robust nature to ensure that they survived the hostile working environment and tough treatment you would expect in dealing with a major fire, or rescue operation. Those environmental factors would include high temperatures and significant water immersion, exposure to caustic chemicals, oils and other substances.
- They also needed to be mounted unobtrusively to ensure that they did not impact day to day operational use of the tagged asset.
- A mobile hand held scanning device was preferred over fixed position scanning. This was in part due to the challenges in scanning multiple ‘aspects’ of the tender (with storage on left and right sides, rear and roof mounted), but it also supported a phased migration to automatic data capture (ADC) via an interim stage of bar code scanning for F & RS authorities at different stages of ADC adoption.
- Various dominant Asset Management Software packages for this sector had to be supported, so RFID device selection had to take into account not only good RFID performance, but also appropriate processor capability and memory if the software architecture was based on an embedded application as opposed to thin client. Rugged and robust with good drop spec and IP rating were required.
- Retrofit internal antennas within the storage compartments linked back to a cab mounted tablet was undertaken as a high level feasibility. We are confident that this will be pursued one day possibly by the tender manufacturers – assuming the cost (especially of installation) can be justified by the returns.
Getting the optimum solution requires expertise from across a range of suppliers; the tag manufacturer, the ADC hardware, comms and processing – and the asset management software. Clear requirements analysis and definition plus the ability to bring together and coordinate multiple suppliers leads to successful projects.
This article might be (mildly) interesting if you are in Fire Services Management (or Ambulance Services or the Police) but the underlying challenges are relevant to projects across a number of private sectors. Increasingly industry is becoming aware that RFID is breaking the traditional perceived limitation of what auto ID can deliver. Whether you are in manufacturing, field service, utilities, or extraction industries RFID is playing an ever more important role.
About Pen Mobile Solutions
Supporting some of the largest Retailers, Manufacturers, Transport and Logistics, and Public Sector organisations Pen Mobile Solutions Ltd offer a range of solutions in mobility computing, data capture, wireless, network technology, cloud and telecomms (Network Services, VOIP, UCaas, CCaas, Cloud based computing and Data Centre Services)
Our partner network is based on global leaders in their field which allows us to work with the latest technology in each of these areas. Our ‘customer focus’ ethos and a policy of being ‘vendor agnostic’ ensures that our recommended solutions are always predicated on what is best for our customers.