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Chemical company BASF is completing the installation of a wireless asset-tracking system to monitor the location and condition of its fleet of rail cars containing the company's six most hazardous chemicals. The tracking units provide BASF with visibility of approximately 1,000 of its 7,000 rail cars as they travel from chemical plants to customers throughout North America.
An asset-tracking unit contains a GPS receiver, a communications satellite transceiver and a battery (recharged by a set of four solar panels), as well as optional sensors, such as those used for detecting impact and motion, or for measuring temperature. The entire unit measures 2.5 inches by 11 inches by 30 inches, and is bolted to the top of a rail car. Once installed, the device transmits its ID number, its location and any other data at predetermined intervals over a low-orbiting communication satellite, to a server. BASF can then access the information via the internet. According to Steven P. Williams, BASF's logistics technology manager, the software running on the server can also send alerts to BASF and authorized users in the event of a specific incident-such as a rail car collision, an unacceptable temperature fluctuation or tampering with a car's dome (the hatch built into the top of the car, used to access the interior).
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