TimberWest turns to RFID tech to avoid human and machine interactions

TimberWest has numerous large mobile machines working at its sort yards and logistics facilities.

The specialized machines perform a number of tasks such as unloading trucks, transferring logs within the facility and moving logs shipside for loading.

When you see the machines in motion, the sites look like a well-orchestrated ballet. Every machine operator knows his or her part in the dance, and every member of the ground crew understands the importance of maintaining the prescribed separation of human and machine.

Given the nature of TimberWest’s work, safety is critical. Whenever possible, the company removes risk, which is complemented by clear standards and procedures that rely on compliance with appropriate supervision.

Proximity sensors

When TimberWest learned of new proximity sensor technology, manufactured by ScanLink and distributed through Finning, designed to help avoid unplanned human and machine interactions, they were eager to try it out. The new technology adds a secondary layer of precaution to the already standardized back-up alarm outfitted on every industrial machine from mail delivery trucks to wheel loaders.

They selected their logistics facility in Crofton, B.C., known as the South Island Logistics Facility, to pilot the technology.

How it works

The sensor technology is mounted on the mobile equipment. It becomes triggered by an RFID chip miniaturized down to a sticker, which is easily applied to the hard hat of the ground crew. The RFID tech is similar to the technology that allows you to pay by tapping your credit card, but it works across longer distances.

The proximity sensor includes software that permits the user to adjust the range on the sensors magnetic field generator (MFG) which will only trigger when an individual is in the designated proximity range. When the sensor is triggered by RFID, a distinct and unique alarm will sound both inside and outside of the operator’s cab. This unique alarm has the intended effect of warning both the machine operator and the ground-crew to immediately vacate the area and move to safe ground.

Take the example of wheel loaders, one of the most common mobile industrial machines operating at TimberWest’s facility. They are constantly moving through the jobsite, unloading logs from trucks and maneuvering from one end of the facility to the next. It was a natural decision for TimberWest to pilot the new safety technology with one of the CAT 980K wheel loaders, and learn from the operators and ground crew about how they felt the system added to their overall safety experience.

When the machine arrived, Doug Scott, an operator with our contractor Spuzzum, was the first to try it out. He liked that the loader loudly sounds the unique beeping alarm both inside and outside of the cab.

“The thing is, I am sitting in a cab about 8 feet above the ground. When you back-up a machine this size, the rear window doesn’t allow you a full view of what is on the ground below,” Scott said. “While we have clear rules that prevent ground crew being around the machine, the sensor makes a world of difference in helping make sure there are no mistakes.”

Customized machines

Scott became a champion for the technology and began working closely with his team — led by Jesse Stromquist, head of Spuzzum Contracting.

“We really got to customize the CAT 980K all thanks to Finning. We decided to add a camera to the sensor, and a screen inside the cab giving the machine operator a real-world view of what was happening behind him,” Stromquist said.

“I love it. And I really like that Finning hears us when we tell them how we want to tailor the technology to meet our needs,” Scott added. “We got the camera system in place, and then tested it out and asked that we widen the camera view. Finning worked with us to get the appropriate app set-up which gives us control of the view we want to achieve on the screen.”

Stromquist would now like to see the RFID stickers equipped to more objects on the jobsite.

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“The RFID stickers are really great,” Stromquist said. “We would like more of them on site, because as the crew suggested, it makes sense to add these stickers to objects that may be out of the operator’s field of vision and cause damage to the machine. The more tools we have in our belt, the better off we are at the end of the day. Now, the RFID stickers not only help us protect our workers, they can also help us avoid damage to items and equipment in the yard.”

Feedback from the crew on the new system has been positive.

“Everyone on site really likes knowing that an extra level of safety has been added to one of the most active and important machines in the yard,” said John Shearing, contract manager of the South Island Logistics Facility for TimberWest.

“Our goal at TimberWest is to provide all of our workers with a safe and healthy workplace. With the help of industry partners and innovative technology, we have taken a proactive step in that direction.”

TimberWest is excited for the future; safety innovation and technology go hand-in-hand, and this pilot project has demonstrated how beneficial new technology can be on the work site.

Jeff Zweig, president & CEO of TimberWest, calls the RFID technology a “home run” for the jobsite.

“With this type of innovation, and others that are emerging, we can expect a step-change improvement in safety performance,” Zweig said. “There is nothing more gratifying than that.”