John McGee, product manager for identification products at HellermannTyton, looks at some of the latest identification and tracking techniques and how these can be applied to ensure the best results
While labelling and tagging plant and equipment is a process that has been performed for many years, manufacturers are still innovating new ways for electrical engineers to more easily identify and track vital equipment that needs ongoing maintenance and periodic inspections.
Electrical installations deteriorate over time and legislation requires that these installations are maintained in a safe condition. Added to this factor though, is the prevalent issue of accountability, which has meant that there is now a greater need for effective labelling and marking.
There is currently no legislation that governs the use of particular identification solutions – it is very much down to a company’s own systems. However, keeping track of equipment as well as recording when and where important actions such as essential service and maintenance are carried out, have become an everyday requirement for those responsible for the care of business assets.
Using security labels, printed ties and even luggage tags is still considered acceptable in order to keep account of equipment, however, there has been significant developments within tracking technology.
Innovation and development
Special tags have now been introduced that enable users to manage equipment or assets requiring periodic inspections on-site, while recording when the activity is executed.
An example of these products is the Tracker Tag which features a specifically designed fixing head and provides simple and quick fastening of the tags to themselves and to the item requiring identification. The tags can be custom printed and are available in a range of colours to allow for easy recognition.
These tags are compliant with building regulations and are manufactured from a low smoke halogen-free LSHF polyolefin, which means they can be used in environments such as aerospace, rail and petrochemical, ship building, oil and gas and power generation. The material used also means that they are suitable in areas used by the public. The material is durable enough to withstand vibration, movement or impacts in a manufacturing environment, and are flexible enough to minimise any potential for damage to assets.
A further development is the permanent laser marking of cable ties manufactured from stainless steel. While this increases durability and tensile strength, it also means that identification is not easily removed as the lettering is embossed into the steel, so there is no chance that the code, wording or message will rub off or fade over time. These ties can be used for securing and marking equipment in specialised or hazardous environments.
An example of such a system is the M-Boss Lite. The embossing process is carried out via a marking machine which can be situated in a workshop or factory and can easily be transported to a different section of a manufacturing facility or even to a different site altogether. The computer driven machine is able to emboss characters directly onto the stainless steel markers, which are then secured to the equipment that needs identifying.
Finished marker plates can then be tied in place and it is normally recommended that a proper cutting tool is used to ensure the correct tension and cut the ties, leaving no sharp edges. As most will know, over tensioning of cable ties can cause damaged cable insulation and compressed conductors, and can lead to power or data impedance.
Machine readable solutions
Although there will probably always be a need for human readable identification, machine readable solutions have become more and more popular. From the humble barcode to the 2D data matrix, technology moves on. New RFID chips are now small enough to be encapsulated within cable tie heads or even label tags, making data collection and asset management more efficient than ever.
As there is an increasing need to work more efficiently and save time wherever possible, the ability to print identification markers at another area of the business can be a major advantage. The use of thermal transfer desk and bench top printers enable all markers to be produced as and when required, avoiding trips back and forth to obtain the required labels. Having the use of an on-site printer also enables last minute work to be completed and changes to be accommodated at short notice. This can reduce waste and any down-time, which ultimately result in cost savings for the business.
Often the simplest ideas deliver the most effective technical solutions and many recent product developments provide time saving answers to electrical engineering problems. It’s also a case of not just accepting the solutions available. Many manufacturers are opening up their research and development doors by encouraging engineers to come forward with problems where they may need a bespoke solution. Working with equipment manufacturers and suppliers to find the right tools for the job will pay dividends in the long run.
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