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North Carolina Transportation Dept. Tracks Precast Concrete and Samples

The agency's suppliers and inspectors are using UHF RFID tags, as well as handheld readers and a cloud-based server, to identify when construction materials are made and then inspected.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 24, 2014

The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) is driving a deployment of radio frequency identification technology that is enabling its own laboratory testing of samples from job sites, as well as inspections of precast concrete materials at the sites of suppliers, to be captured and then managed electronically. That solution, provided by International Coding Technologies (ICT), enables the agency to better manage where materials used in an infrastructure construction project originated, which inspections were administered and the results of the inspections. To date, two suppliers have signed up to use the technology and share data related to RFID reads of their tagged precast concrete materials: Cherry Precast and Concrete Pipe & Precast. They stand to gain visibility into their own inventory-management and inspection processes as well.

Typically, precast concrete objects (a manhole or a noise-reduction panel, for example) are produced by suppliers and inspected by NCDOT inspectors before being sold and transported to the North Carolina Department of Transportation for use on roadways and other projects. To help the state agency keep track of the items, a supplier stenciled its own unique identifier on each asset, in order to indicate the manufacturing date, and an inspector stenciled an additional unique number to indicate that item's place in the production sequence of all objects produced in that batch. Stenciled IDs then also had to be input into an electronic system residing on NCDOT's database.

Before attaching an Idencia RFID label to a mold used to make a precast concrete item, the manufacturer uses a bar-code scanner or RFID reader to capture the label's ID number.
There are numerous shortcomings with this manual tracking method, according to Randy Pace, a materials operations engineer at NCDOT. Stenciling was time-consuming and error-prone, he explains, and could not be accomplished at all if weather didn't permit. Since the system data was manually input after the inspection process was completed, inspectors had no advance knowledge of when specific products would be ready for inspection and delivery, which led to excessive driving to and from sites seeking products to inspect. The state had been downsizing the department as well, and currently has 17 fewer inspectors than it employed in 2008. As such, the agency required a more efficient process.

Around 1998, NCDOT had launched the Highway Construction and Management System (HiCAMS), an online system for monitoring materials manufactured and sold to the agency, along with the inspections related to them. The HiCAMS website managed by the state agency could be accessed by suppliers via a password, enabling them to view data about projects, orders and products delivered. However, all data had to be manually input into the system.

NCDOT began seeking an automated way to feed data to the HiCAMS system, and considered using bar-coded labels on some materials to track the testing of each individual item provided to the agency. At the time, however, bar-coding was not considered feasible due to the cost of such a system, as well as the need for personnel to carry bar-code scanners. What's more, bar-coded labels could not withstand the conditions of precasting, which meant they could be affixed only after the concrete was formed—and, making matters worse, the labels could then be knocked or peeled off after that time.

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