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Trapping 'ghost' workers with RFID

Leslie D'Monte  |  Mumbai 

Unity Infraprojects recently bagged a huge order from the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai to replace two pipelines as part of the Tansa Pipleine Construction project. Much is at stake. Tansa is one of the largest lakes supplying water to Mumbai. Any delay could even attract a penalty besides costing a loss of goodwill.

Unity Infraprojects has the necessary experience but faces a hurdle that hounds most developers. Some contract labourers do not turn up for work, yet these 'ghost workers' get paid their daily wages with the connivance of the supervisors. It results in loss of revenue and productivity. The company, however, plans to use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to catch these 'ghosts'.

Provided by Mumbai-based EssenRFID, each construction worker will be given an RFID tag. The tag will contain unique ID details of the worker including that of the contracting agency. Each worker's image will then captured by a power-over-ethernet (POE) camera and stored in a database on a server. At the end of each day, when the worker comes to collect his daily wages, the information on the tag will be matched with that in the database to verify if the worker attended duty. Only then will the wages be paid.

Unity Projects has implemented a similar solution at its office headquarters and at a site at Cooper Hospital too. “The solution eliminates any potential duplication of worker data, and thus gets rid of 'ghost workers' and misuse of substituting low-skilled workers for highly-skilled workers,” says Apurva Parekh, managing director of EssenRIFD.

Parekh’s company has also implemented a Visitor Management System at Unity’s Mumbai headquarters. When the visitor passes through the hall, an integrated reader/antenna (Xtenna) picks up the signal and retrieves the information from the server in real-time to pass it to the host, informing him about the arrival of the guest and also the expected time from the entrance to the conference room located in an adjacent building premise. The information can also be sent via SMS to the host’s PDA / mobile should s/he not be available at the desk at that particular time.

EssenRFID's future projects include a "laundry clothes tracking" solution for a large laundry house in Mumbai's suburbs involving 20,000 clothes per day. Laundry representatives will visit housing societies with a handheld reader to key in the details. The clothes will then be put onto a master bag affixed with a RFID tag which has the customer ID details. The bag will then be sent across to the factory wherein an RFID reader would pick up the identity. The clothes will then be re-tagged using smaller laundry RFID tags-ACQUA. These tags are capable of withstanding wash, spin and dry cycles and a temperature of up to 150 degrees centigrade. After de-tagging, the entire process will take up to 24 hours.

These are but cases in point. An RFID tag, for that matter, can be attached to or inserted into any product, animal or person. The tag transmits data which is then read by a reader and processed according to the needs of a particular application. The data may provide identification or location information, or specifics about the product tagged -– such as price, color, date of purchase. Passive tags are those that require no internal power source, whereas active tags require a power source -– hence are more expensive.

In 2010, three key factors drove a significant increase in RFID usage -- decreased cost of equipment and tags, increased performance to a reliable 99.9 per cent and a stable international standard around UHF passive tags. Passive ultra-high frequency (UHF) tags from EssenRFID, for instance, cost anywhere between Rs 30 and Rs 80 per tag but can last for up to two decades. Similar Chinese tags cost Rs 12-20 but their range and durability could be lower.

The estimated market size of the RFID industry in India is pegged around Rs 450-500 crore and said to be growing at 30 per cent per annum. EssenRFID, Gemini Traze, STMicroelectronics and Bartronics are some of the major players in the RFID space in the country. The potential is huge. The value of the entire RFID market -- tags, readers, software/services and labels -- is expected to touch $5.63 billion in 2010, according to a recent survey conducted by IDTechEx. An increase from last year’s value of $5.03 billion, IDTechEx credits the growth to an increase in use of passive ultra high-frequency tags used for asset tracking.

The biggest contributor to the growth is expected to be government entities that are able to implement large RFID schemes such as animal tagging, transit ticketing, and people identification. In India, for instance, a Nandan Nilekani (head of India's UID project too) committee recommended adopting passive RFID of ETC to address delays and congestion at toll collection points, besides plugging the nearly Rs 300 crore annual revenue leakage of the NHAI. The proposal has been accepted.

Further, Pune University’s Jayakar library uses RFID tags on its books as well as library cards; the Chitale Dairy in Maharashtra has installed Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to monitor the feeding patterns of cattle and bisons; Pantaloon Retail India and Shopper’s Stop have RFID tags in their factories (time saved in scanning items is said to be around 80 per cent).

That’s not all. More than 45 colleges in Pune have introduced student identity RFID cards that allow students access to hostels and monitor their classroom attendance; and ITC uses RFID to track what goes into the manufacturing of its cigarettes.

Ashok Leyland (tags in the engine-testing area) and Madura Garments (garments that find their way into the central warehouse) are other examples. Indian suppliers to retail majors such as Wal-Mart, Metro, Target and Tesco have already been issued directives to replace bar codes with RFID tags. While this may lower margins of these suppliers, it is also expected to create a demand for RFID tags in India.

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First Published: Thu, July 15 2010. 00:51 IST