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Tracking Concrete Cubes for QA

More than 1 million concrete samples are tested in Singapore each year. BuildNow's CubeInfo system uses RFID to dramatically improve the process.
BuildNow has patented its streamlined process. CubeInfo went live in January 2001. Here's how it works. When RDC delivers concrete to a construction site, each batch has a unique serial number, which is captured in a bar code on a delivery note or ticket. The cube maker uses a handheld reader from TrackWave to scan the bar code and capture information about delivery. Then he does something called a slump test.

Writing to the tag
A standard-size cone-shaped container is filled with concrete. Then, it is turned over and the concrete is dumped on a level surface. The height of the pile is measured as a way of determining the consistency of the concrete. Obviously, if the concrete spills out like pea soup, it is too thin and therefore unsafe.

Metal molds are then filled with concrete from the trucks, and a 13.56MHz read-write RFID tag is inserted directly into the concrete. To protect the tags from damage when the cubes are stacked and transported, BuildNow and TrackWave jointly developed a hard plastic casing. The tags can hold 228 bytes of data. The cube maker transfers the batch number from the bar code in the delivery note to the tag using the handheld reader. He also writes the results of the slump test and other vital information to the tag, such as the date and project number.

The cubes are transferred to an accredited test lab. BuildNow has its own lab with the necessary equipment. When the cubes arrive at the testing station, a gun reader (photo above) is used to scan the tags and get information about each cube. The technician prints out a submission form with all the relevant data from the tag on the document. When the cube is ready to be weighed, it is placed on a scale. A reader attached to the scale reads the tag. The weight is automatically recorded in an electronic file for that cube, eliminating the potential for human error.

The cube then undergoes a compression test. Basically, a large vise (see photo) squeezes the cube to test the strength of the concrete. Again, a reader built into the equipment reads the tag so the block is automatically identified, and the results of the compression test are automatically captured. The technician doesn't have to do anything extra.

When the lab supervisor authorizes the test results, they are published immediately in a password-protected area of the CubeInfo Web site. An e-mail, instant message or page is automatically sent to the supplier, the consultant and the project manager to inform them that the test results are available on the Web. If the cube is supposed to have a grade of 35 and the test shows it is 32, the consultant can take immediate steps to rectify the problem.

The system virtually eliminates human errors. It reduces paperwork and improves productivity because there are fewer construction delays due to faulty test results or misplaced paperwork. It is virtually impossible to manipulate the results. And when there is a problem with a batch of concrete, it can be detected and remedied more quickly.

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