POSCO: Forging a safer and more efficient workplace with intelligent RFID

Published on 30-Nov-2010

Validated on 16 Dec 2013

"What we’ve done with the help of IBM and Ubisense epitomizes the progressive vision we, as a company, are trying to achieve." - Han Ku Park, RFID project executive, POSCO

Customer:
POSCO

Industry:
Energy & Utilities

Deployment country:
Korea - Republic of

Solution:
Business-to-Business, Business-to-Consumer, C-Suite Framework, Energy Efficiency, Openness, Optimizing IT, Service Oriented Architecture, Smarter Planet

IBM Business Partner:
Ubisense

Overview

Ensuring worker safety is important in any workplace. However, experience and intuition tell us that there are some workplace environments where the issue of worker safety is at the forefront, not just a background consideration.

Business need:
To address the signal challenges posed by POSCO’s decidedly “RF-unfriendly” environment, IBM designed the solution to employ sensors (provided by IBM Business Partner Ubisense) that use ultra-wideband (UWB) RFID, a technology whose properties all but eliminate RF interference.

Solution:
The core of the solution’s impact on worker safety is its ability to pinpoint the location of personnel with a degree of accuracy measured in centimeters; but it goes well beyond that. By combining real-time, three-dimensional location tracking with analytical models, the POSCO solution can identify movement patterns that signify danger, risk or even injury.

Results:
Incorporating 3-D location readings, algorithms apply business rules that indicate a high likelihood of an employee falling, becoming immobilized or other hazardous situations.

Benefits:
-Ability to detect and proactively respond to potential safety hazards, resulting in a safer workplace - Ability to remotely detect workplace accidents such as falls, enabling POSCO to mitigate their severity and cost - Estimated 25 percent reduction in lighting-related power costs through sensor-driven lighting control capabilities - Overall increase in production efficiency due to minimized disruptions

Case Study

Smart is...

Combining granular employee location tracking with intelligent business rules to detect workplace hazards and keep workers safe

With its new workplace safety solution, POSCO (South Korea’s largest steel maker) proved to be an industry pioneer by overcoming the formidable challenge of RF interference in a steel mill. POSCO’s RFID-based location awareness system can pinpoint an employee’s whereabouts to within a foot. Sophisticated business rules also enable the solution to determine when potential hazards arise or accidents have happened, and then trigger a fast, automated response. By combining employee tracking with industrial controls to enable smart lighting, POSCO expects to reduce its lighting costs by more than 25 percent.

"The combination of real-time sensing and intelligence has given us a level of visibility and responsiveness that makes our FINEX plant safer and more efficient.” —Han Ku Park, RFID project executive, POSCO

Ensuring worker safety is important in any workplace. However, experience and intuition tell us that there are some workplace environments where the issue of worker safety is at the forefront, not just a background consideration. These are places like offshore oil platforms, chemical plants, petroleum refineries and coal mines, to name just a few. What they have in common is an abundance of risks and potential hazards that are endemic to the operation. More often than not, such risks are associated with the “extremeness” or harshness of their environments, measured by parameters like depth, weather, heat or flammability.

In their efforts to mitigate these risks, companies have rightly focused on prevention through safety programs, training, and changes to their operations and practices. While essential, such initiatives are only part of the equation for improving workplace safety. Since hazards and risks in such businesses can’t be eliminated—only mitigated—the ability to respond rapidly and effectively to workplace safety incidents is just as important as prevention. Developing the capability to detect such incidents promptly enables companies, first and foremost, to save lives and safeguard the health and well-being of their employees. On a business level, fast response also helps companies to keep their operations running continuously, efficiently and cost effectively.

Safety in the changing steel business

Steel manufacturing is a good example. Although it has advanced since the days of Andrew Carnegie, high temperatures and heavy equipment remain central to the process. One important way that steel manufacturing has changed is through a vast increase in process automation, with unmanned machines and transport vehicles at the core of the operation. As a result of automation, workers have become less directly involved in steel production and more involved in the inspection, maintenance and management of sophisticated equipment at different points around the plant—tasks often undertaken by a single individual. So although automation might reduce production-related hazards and accidents, monitoring the well-being of solo employees in often isolated parts of the facility has emerged as the new workplace safety challenge.

For South Korea-based POSCO (www.posco.co.kr ), the third largest steel maker in the world, addressing that challenge was a top priority. The company had already burnished its innovation credentials when it introduced FINEX, a radically new approach to iron production that cuts both cost and pollution. POSCO’s leadership was intent on bringing the same innovative spirit to bear on workplace safety. Its vision was to implement a personnel-tracking system using advanced RFID technology that would provide real-time intelligence on whereabouts, safety and well-being. Such a solution would establish POSCO as an industry pioneer in applying technology to workplace safety.

But when it comes to wireless technology, few places are harsher than a steel plant. Metal causes RF interference, and in a steel plant, metal is everywhere. After looking at a number of options, POSCO learned of a similar RFID-based location solution that IBM had developed for BP’s Cherry Point oil refinery in the state of Washington. A warren of metal pipes, valves and storage tanks, Cherry Point had presented the same set of RF challenges. IBM’s solution showed how these challenges could be overcome with the right technology, deployed in an architecture optimized for a harsh environment. To solidify the case, IBM and POSCO deployed a pilot solution that successfully met a series of stiff technical requirements. A subsequent demonstration of the Cherry Point solution in action further strengthened POSCO’s conviction that IBM’s RFID personnel tracking solution was the right fit.

The inside story: Getting there
IT builds the case
Within POSCO, the fact that the safety initiative was driven by a task force within the IT organization reflected a realization at the very top of the company that choosing the right technology and provider was crucial to the success of the project. To make the case, the IT task force had to first develop it. Their first and most important step was to conduct a wide range of interviews with line-of-business managers and safety and security personnel. Although the safety benefits themselves were considerable, the team also found a powerful and measurable economic argument to the business case. Put simply, early detection of accidents or potential hazards would enable POSCO to respond faster and minimize their impact. This would not only minimize the costs related to disrupted productivity, but also the magnitude of compensation claims that such accidents tend to generate.

Sending a message of innovation
After giving the go-ahead, executive management also gave guidance about how the implementation should proceed. The most important question was where. Two key considerations drove the decision. The first was POSCO’s desire to extend the track record for innovation it was developing in the industry, the marquee example of which is the FINEX process. The second, more practical consideration was to create a reference implementation that could be replicated across all of its plants. This meant, in short, doing the most challenging plant first. POSCO met both conditions when it decided to first deploy the solution to its Pohang facility, a 23-story manufacturing plant where its FINEX process is employed.

Projecting use cases and planning ahead
After this decision was made, POSCO undertook a comprehensive assessment of its processes and infrastructure to determine the solution’s functional requirements. Developing detailed use cases was an essential part of this effort because they would determine, among other things, the level of RFID tracking detail that would have to be enabled to meet the needs of each usage scenario. This exercise required POSCO to examine the movement and activities of its employees, suppliers, business partners and visitors to the plant—all of whom were built into POSCO’s workplace safety plan.

Lessons in avoiding interference

To address the signal challenges posed by POSCO’s decidedly “RF-unfriendly” environment, IBM designed the solution to employ sensors (provided by IBM Business Partner Ubisense) that use ultra-wideband (UWB) RFID, a technology whose properties all but eliminate RF interference. The core of the solution’s impact on worker safety is its ability to pinpoint the location of personnel with a degree of accuracy measured in centimeters; but it goes well beyond that. By combining real-time, three-dimensional location tracking with analytical models, the POSCO solution can identify movement patterns that signify danger, risk or even injury.

For example, if an employee falls, a cluster of sensors in that area sends back a series of 3-D location readings to the central rules engine. Using rules-based algorithms developed in the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center and based on IBM technology known as IBM Active Middleware Technology (AMIT), the engine can detect a sudden and significant change in vertical position, typically indicative of a fall. The same type of rules can be applied to detect a potential “man down” situation. When a potential accident is detected, the system automatically notifies supervisory and safety staff and provides a graphic depiction of that employee’s location to speed response. On a more cautionary level, suppose an authorized visitor to the plant wanders off from his escort, or an employee forgets to carry safety devices into an area where they’re needed. The system’s rules instantly detect such conditions and issue corrective instructions to the appropriate safety personnel.

Because the solution employs active RFID technology, on-site personnel can be located anywhere on the plant premises at any time. This means that in the event of a disaster or emergency, POSCO can locate or account for all of the employees of its FINEX plant. POSCO took its solution in an entirely new direction by extending it to enable intelligent power consumption. When the solution detects an absence of personnel in a particular zone or on a particular floor, business rules initiate a message to programmable logic controllers to shut off or dim the lights. The reverse occurs when personnel enters the area. In areas where this capability has been deployed, power costs have been reduced by up to 25 percent.

Keeping in front and on track

In implementing South Korea’s first sensor-powered safety-monitoring system, POSCO has added to its reputation as an industry innovation leader in a company committed to its employees' safety in the workplace. To Han Ku Park, the POSCO project executive behind the RFID project, the initiative has also strengthened the company’s competitiveness by making it even more efficient and improving its ability to mitigate the costs of accidents through fast response. “The combination of real-time sensing and intelligence has given us a level of visibility and responsiveness that makes our FINEX plant safer and more efficient,” says Park. “What we’ve done with the help of IBM and Ubisense epitomizes the progressive vision that we, as a company, are trying to achieve.”

For more information

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Products and services used

IBM products and services that were used in this case study.

Hardware:
System x

Software:
WebSphere Sensor Events

Service:
GTS ITS Integrated Communications: RFID Services, GTS Enterprise Services

Legal Information

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2010 IBM Corporation 1 New Orchard Road Armonk, NY 10504 U.S.A. Produced in the United States of America November 2010 All Rights Reserved IBM, the IBM logo, ibm.com, Let's Build A Smarter Planet, smarter planet, the planet icons, System x and WebSphere are trademarks of International Business Machines Corporation, registered in many jurisdictions worldwide. Other product and service names might be trademarks of IBM or other companies. A current list of IBM trademarks is available on the web at ibm.com/legal/copytrade.shtml This case study illustrates how one IBM customer uses IBM products. There is no guarantee of comparable results. References in this publication to IBM products or services do not imply that IBM intends to make them available in all countries in which IBM operates. ODC03177-USEN-00