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CCC Expands RFID Pilot Projects

Consolidated Contractors Co., which is employing radio frequency identification to manage personnel using a combination of passive and active RFID badges, plans to launch new deployments to track pipe spools at industrial construction sites.
By Claire Swedberg

The company has had to consider its processes, as well as the hardware's functionality, in order to ensure that the system functions properly. For example, Al Shami says, to encourage workers to always carry their badges, CCT has linked the tag read data to payroll, to provide payment to staff members automatically—but only if they are carrying their badge to prove they were present. To ensure that no one brings an extra badge for an absent worker, a guard can be stationed at the gate to count the number of individuals within each vehicle, and then compare that headcount against the number of tag reads displayed on a computer running the software.

In Oman, CCC is presently carrying out a pilot project employing passive EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID tags worn by staff members. In this case, workers arrive in buses, not in individual vehicles, and disembark from those buses before walking through a turnstile entrance, where each tag is read at a range of about 1.5 meters (5 feet). This pilot, Al Shami says, is still in its early stages, but will include 3,000 workers at three sites.

Additionally, CCT is working on a project utilizing RFID to manage materials at worksites. The company has begun testing the technology in this use case by applying active RFID tags to pipe spools, which arrive at a construction site in sections that are painted, sandblasted and inspected prior to installation. Tracking each process, as well as locating spools onsite as needed, is critical but can be time-consuming. Prior to RFID's deployment, the company exclusively used pen and paper to manually track which materials entered the site, in addition to which processes have been undertaken on those spools, and when each was used for the construction project at that site.

Initially, the company applied bar-coded labels to pipes and spools to be used at industrial sites, including oil facilities, and workers utilized scanners to create a record of where parts were located, or when they were used for the construction project.

That system, Al Shami says, provided a good record of material arrival or other processes. However, he notes, "There were some limitations with bar codes. The labels could get scratched." What's more, he adds, when stored in laydown yards, the materials could become damaged by humidity or sunlight, or end up covered in snow, ice, sand or mud, making the labels that much more difficult to read.

The spool-tracking solution, called Pipe Guard, is being provided by Dhatec, and consists of active 2.4 GHz RFID tags known as Smart Points, readers called MicroRouters, and a gateway to receive read data and link it to the Web-based Pipe Guard software. Data can be accessed via a smartphone, tablet or PC at any location at which there is an Internet connection. In the future, CCT intends to integrate the Pipe Guard software with CCC's Talisman software for tracking construction materials, so that RFID data could be used to update material inventory and process reports at the construction site. In July 2012, Al Shami says, the firm began attaching the tags to some of its spools, which are then stored in a single laydown yard about the size of a soccer field. There can often be tens of thousands of items within a laydown yard, he notes, that are moved through various processes, such as painting and sanding, before being built into the facility under construction (in this case, a gas liquefaction plant).

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