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RFID Helps Control and Organize Construction Sites
Germany's University of Wuppertal has developed a hardware and software platform that provides managers with up-to-the-minute information regarding materials, tools and individuals entering and leaving job sites.
Jul 08, 2010—Constructions sites are beehives of activities, with vehicles dropping off materials, workers arriving and leaving, and tools being dropped off and picked up when they are no longer required. Activities must take place in carefully timed sequences to ensure each part of a project is completed as the next begins. Orchestrating all of this activity is difficult and time-consuming, but the Construction Management and Industry Department of Germany's University of Wuppertal believes radio frequency identification can help.
Researchers have combined several RFID applications into a single "control center" designed to monitor and document personnel and materials as they enter and exit construction sites. The so-called RFID Construction Logistics Control Center combines RFID hardware, software and related computer systems within a freight container designed to be placed at the entrances and exits of construction sites.
Manfred Helmus, the chair of the Construction Management and Industry Department, says the control center will soon be commercially available. Development began in March 2008 and lasted until February 2010, when a two-month testing period of the project's single prototype was completed at a construction site in Essen. The university is currently in negotiations with the project's partners about producing and selling the containers. According to Helmus, each RFID system in a container functions independently of the others, and users can customize the combination of applications they need.
A fully equipped control center container can be used for four types of people-tracking RFID applications, as well as three that track goods. People-tracking applications include an RFID-based access-control system for the construction site, restricted areas within that site, an RFID-based system for tracking the work hours of employees and contractors, and another that ensures workers wear the proper protective clothing. The control center monitors the delivery of materials by recording when trucks arrive and leave the site, and tracks the tools workers carry into the site. In addition, RFID is the basis of an automatic, self-service kiosk at which employees can purchase small amounts of missing supplies, upon demand, on the construction.
Construction-site managers must oversee dozens—and sometimes hundreds—of contractors on a single construction site every day. In order to know who is on the construction site at any given time, as well as the amount of time spent on the construction site, managers must track who enters and leaves. With the control center in place, a worker must present his RFID-enabled ID card at one of two RFID-enabled turnstiles in the container, and have the fingerprints on each hand read in order to validate that individual's identity before entry is permitted.
According to Helmus, due to the high number of illegal workers in the construction sector, the fingerprint reader is important for ensuring that workers do not share a badge. He and his team designed the system to work with two fingerprint readings instead of one to increase the system's accuracy, since initial tests showed that it was occasionally difficult to get an accurate fingerprint reading for those with dirty hands or scarred fingers. Once an employee is identified, the turnstile opens and the system begins tracking the time spent on the construction site. The information can be used by employers for calculating pay for workers.
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