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Construction Group Improves Its Ability to Find Heavy Equipment

Active RFID tags and readers help work crews to locate machinery, even when obscured by tall grass and deep snow, ensuring that the company doesn't order unneeded assets.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 03, 2009North American Construction Group (NACG), based in Edmonton, Alberta, is deploying RFID technology to track the thousands of high-value assets its crews use at construction sites throughout western Canada. The system will enable the firm to know on a daily basis which assets are where, thereby reducing the need to order or rent new items as replacements for equipment that ca not be located. The system employs software and hardware from Identec Solutions, and is being provided by Libramation, which oversaw the system's installation, as well as the training of NACG's staff regarding its use.

Until now, NACG's workers had a time-consuming task whenever they searched for an asset. Equipment is stored or used at various sites—typically, between nine and 12—across Alberta, British Columbia and parts of Saskatchewan, at construction sites for refineries, pipelines or mines. Tracking assets in a lay-down yard (a large section of a construction site where equipment is stored) was typically accomplished manually, with crews physically checking inventory levels and writing down serial numbers on a piece of paper. In the typical long, cold winters of Alberta, employees often had to dig through the snow in order to determine what was there, says Carlos Lopez, NACG's field engineer for fleet management.

NACG's Carlos Lopez
If a particular piece of equipment is required—such as a bucket, generator, light tower or compressor—locating that item often meant calling different work sites and sending crews to search for it. "Tracking physical inventory can be very difficult because of the multiple sites," Lopez says. If the company could not find that item, it sometimes had to purchase and ship another piece of equipment to replace it, thus leading to excess inventory.

The company had already been utilizing a GPS tracking system to locate its trucks in real time, with Google Earth software that allows management at the NACG office to view an image of each vehicle on a map of the multiple job sites. This GPS unit employs GPRS cellular connections to report the vehicles' locations. However, tagging each piece of equipment with such a GPS/GPRS device would have been expensive.

In spring 2009, following an especially snowy winter, the company began searching for an RFID solution for tracking assets. Libramation—which originally had focused on providing RFID technology to libraries and, more recently, to the oil industry—presented its solution to NACG. The construction services firm then contracted with Libramation to begin testing the system with approximately 40 assets on one site, says Frank Mussche, Libramation's president.

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