Beyond basic AEI

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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Class I railroads have been seeking a rugged mobile AEI (Automatic Equipment Identification) application that will provide them with detailed railcar inspection and maintenance functions in addition to asset tracking. Several are currently evaluating a promising new device offered by Trimble, a manufacturer of rugged handheld computer devices.

Global Attributes, Buckeye Mountain, and the Mobile Computing Solutions Division of Trimble have collaborated on the Trimble Juno T41, a one-piece handheld AEI reader. The Juno T41 is also a crossover device that will read standard EPC (Electronic Product Code) UHF tags that railroads around the world have employed for many years.

“Until now, most companies have offered a two-piece handheld solution that requires the user to manage two separate batteries and two separate chargers,” says Buckeye Mountain’s Matt Hunter. “These readers use a sled-based system that requires the user to snap the handheld into an AEI sled. They’re difficult to manage because the batteries are of different capacities and tend to run out of power at different times. In addition, the handheld has to be mated with the AEI reader via Bluetooth, which sometimes experiences connection problems. The Trimble Juno T41, which is a rail-specific version of the Juno T41 with added functionality, has been designed from the ground up as a one-piece solution. It provides a safety range of eight feet or more for reading AEI UHF RFID tags. It’s also available in Windows Mobile or Android operating systems to provide flexibility for whatever application environment the user chooses.”

“The new Juno T41 will allow us to fully automate our yard process software, utilizing high-precision GPS functionality,” says Global Attributes President Steve Johnston. “We will be able to provide customers with instant access to railcar yard locations. Combined with inspection and loading processes, complete car status will be visible at all times. The Juno T41’s small form factor allows the user to be mobile, and its versatile platform will provide a host of features and functions not currently available in the industry. We believe the ability to read a railcar AEI tag and deliver master data and event-based data to the user in a real-time environment will have a significant impact on how work is completed, and on the speed that issues or problems are communicated and resolved. We now have the ability to bring true real-time processes to the field—quick asset verification and better data that results in improved decision processes, which in turn improves safety and profitability and, potentially, the environment.”

Global Attributes and Buckeye Mountain collaborated with Trimble to develop, test and perfect this technology. “It’s an excellent example of how two rail-service-based companies helped to define and make available technology like the Juno T41 to the industry,” says Johnston. “This device, combined with our ability to provide a flexible software platform, will allow our users to start utilizing the benefits of this technology immediately. We believe it will allow some smaller operations to eliminate or reconsider expensive trackside AEI readers. All inbound and outbound scanning can be done via this device, communicated instantly and made available via our portal. It’s a step change rather than an evolution.”

Ottawa, Ontario-based Global Attributes is a provider of “sophisticated and flexible inspection-centric railcar management systems” for yard management, integrated maintenance and fleet tracking. Its software is configured to locate cars using onboard GPS or proximity beacons using Bluetooth-smart technologies. Changes in car locations are displayed on live maps and dashboards inside the company’s Cloud services.

Niwot, Colo.-based Buckeye Mountain is a specialist in railroad mobile and wireless technology, “providing rugged, reliable computing and communication hardware.” Customer equipment is managed through the company’s Kansas City Service Center. Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Trimble is a global supplier of outdoor handheld computers “that help users collect accurate field data and work more productively in any outdoor or service-related application.” The company’s Railway Solutions combine GPS/GNSS, optical, imaging, scanning and monitoring technologies with customized software and wireless communications to capture data needed to maintain and construct railways as well as manage rail vehicles.

Trimble’s products meet MIL-STD-810F/810G military specifications for impacts, vibration, immersion and temperature extremes. With IP65 to IP68 ratings, they’re sealed against water and dust.

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