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One Tool, One Application, ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES

Rugged handhelds enable success in a new residential recycling program for a North Carolina public works department.

Kings Mountain, North Carolina uses mobile handheld technology to enable success in a new residential recycling program, and sees many more potential future uses for their new tools.  

Challenge

Create a simple but comprehensive way to gather data on a new recycling program and use that data to help the program find success.

 Solution

A customer-specific package of a Nautiz X7 rugged handheld with RFID and GPS functionality, custom process software from Logic Concepts, and an RFID reader and antenna from A.C.C. Systems.

 Result

Sanitation field workers gather collection data for every recycling container in the city. The department can use the data target low-participation areas for educational efforts, and use the system to gather other useful data as well.

 

There’s an old saying: When you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In less pithy terms, it means if you’ve got a tool or some specific knowledge, you want to apply it everywhere you can. And that can certainly be either a positive or a negative thing. 

In the expanding world of handheld technology solutions, the possibilities are vast – nails everywhere you look. And that’s a very good thing for Kings Mountain, North Carolina, where the public works department is using the powerful combination of a Nautiz X7 handheld computer, a customized Logic Concepts software program and a rugged radio frequency identification (RFID) antenna and reader to maximize their curbside recycling program. And that’s just the beginning. 

It started with a simple sales call. Mack McCarter of Logic Concepts, a creative technology company in Greenville, South Carolina that specializes in data collection systems, contacted Kings Mountain about streamlining their sanitation collection process – “get the right people to the right place, save gas,” McCarter explains. 

He talked to Jackie Barnette, public works director of Kings Mountain, a city of roughly 11,000 people. And while Barnette was open to McCarter’s idea, he had something else in mind, too. “We were just developing a curbside recycling program, with a grant from the state of North Carolina to get started,” Barnette recalls. “The grant indicated a preference for using RFID readers to track recycling participation.” 

Now, Kings Mountain had previously considered using handheld computers for other applications, but hadn’t been able to justify the cost. But a handheld computer with RFID capability built in? Now they had justification, and Logic Concepts offered a solution. 

Jumping from the idea of the initial sanitation application to the RFID recycling application was a common phenomenon for handheld users, McCarter says. “People see our products and the wheels start turning. They see that they push this button and it tracks this thing, and they start thinking, ‘How does this apply to other issues we have? We could make this button do that…’” 

So Logic Concepts put together the ideal tool for the job. It started with the Nautiz X7 rugged handheld from Handheld US in Corvallis, Oregon, a respected provider of mobile technology. “Our software can go on a host of different hardware,” McCarter says, “but we prefer to partner with Handheld. After trying other hardware in the field in the past, now we go with Handheld, because they offer the best product.” 

The Nautiz X7 had everything Kings Mountain would need: A rugged, easy-to-operate handheld tool with an impressive array of functionality and performance. The 17-ounce (490 g) Nautiz X7 has optional RFID capability, integrated GPS, an autofocus 3-MP flash camera, voice-note capability, a non-reflecting touchscreen and a battery life of 12 hours. Plus, it’s rugged enough for field work – it’s impervious to dust and water, it can withstand repeated drops, it operates in temperatures up to 140° F (60° C), and it comes with a three-year warranty. 

Logic Concepts then created a customized software program for Kings Mountain. Their software solutions are based on a simple programmable touchscreen interface, with buttons for different data-gathering functions. “The customer knows the right questions to ask, based on what they need to know,” McCarter says. “We create a process that lets a field worker gather that data easily and consistently, using a simple button-level approach.” 

The final piece of the puzzle was the RFID-specific functionality. Logic Concepts sought out A.C.C. Systems, a Bohemia, New York, company that supplies a full spectrum of RFID equipment for clients as diverse as NASA and NASCAR. A.C.C. provided a RFID reader and antenna combination for the Nautiz X7 that maintained the handheld tool’s waterproof, dustproof, vibration-resistant ruggedness. 

Once the comprehensive solution was created, Kings Mountain put it to work. The recycling program’s overall goals were straightforward – haul less garbage to a landfill, pay less in landfill charges, save money while helping the environment – but at the detail level they needed to know which households were doing what. 

First the city installed RFID chips in each of the approximately 4,200 recycling containers in the sanitation district, attaching a corresponding street address to each. Barnette’s team then split the district into 10 zones – the pickup schedule is once every two weeks, so there are 10 different daily routes. Using the dash-mounted Nautiz X7, field workers check recycling containers as they follow their route. The simple button-based software also enables them to gather detailed information: Is there a container out at each address, does the container match the address, is it full or half-full, are there non-recyclables mixed in, does the container need repair or replacement? 

Using the Nautiz X7’s built-in Wi-Fi functionality, at the end of their shift the field workers upload the day’s data directly to the central public works computer with one touch of a button. The department uses the information in a variety of ways – but most importantly to enable the success of the recycling program. “We’ve been keeping records for six weeks now,” Barnette notes. “The system is really user-friendly, and the workers love it. Already we can tell how much participation there is in each zone. We’ll target the zones with lower participation levels, providing those folks with more education on the benefits of the program. Having the RFID data helps us allocate our resources where they’re most needed.” 

Mission accomplished, then. But now that they have this cool high-tech hammer… 

“Once they got the system in there and accomplished the initial scope, they quickly recognized the ability to do additional data-gathering,” McCarter reports. “The software offers many more options,” Barnette adds. “We can track low-hanging branches, roadside garbage… and now our local gas utility is looking at this.” “The more you work with this technology, the more applications you see for it,” McCarter says. “The gas utility wants to locate all the valves in town, document incidents and solutions, and ensure regulatory compliance. The city could use it for stormwater management, police and fire, asset management… it’s like a library of applications people can share – you can adapt it to any need. It illustrates the versatility of the hardware and software working together.” 

A.C.C. Systems’ Nicholas Addonisio puts it best: “Simple asset tracking and inventory management applications using RFID technology are common today. But Logic Concepts has demonstrated that RFID readers no longer have to remain in a warehouse and perform simple tasks while mounted on a wall. The possibilities for mobile asset tracking and management are endless.”