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Precast Concrete Manufacturers Use RFID

Companies like Phoenix Precast and E.F. Shea Concrete are using passive UHF tags to create an electronic quality-control trail and better manage their inventory.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 19, 2008Four manufacturers of precast concrete structures are using an RFID system to track the structures as they are made, inspected, stored and shipped to a construction site. The system's developer, International Coding Technologies (ICT), says it provides the companies with an electronic quality-control trail as well as better management of inventory in their yards.

Phoenix Precast is using the system to gain National Precast Concrete Association (NPCA) certification allowing it to be a supplier to projects that require such certification from precast concrete manufacturers. Although certification can be accomplished with a pen and paper trail, an electronic system makes record keeping more accurate and easier to manage, says Phoenix Precast's assistant general manager, Peter Scott. The system allows Phoenix's quality-control officers to read passive UHF RFID tags on the concrete products as well as on the steel forms in which they are molded, creating an electronic data file that chronicles when the product was made, when it was inspected and by whom. Phoenix Precast began tagging its products in January and currently has about one-third of its inventory tagged, Scott says. By the first quarter of 2009, he hopes to have all products tagged and to apply for NPCA certification.

The Cast-a-Code tag contains an EPC Gen 2 RFID inlay.
E.F. Shea Concrete began using the system about six months ago, says the company's manager, Greg Stratis, and has since seen a significant drop in labor hours spent keeping records for quality control. E.F. Shea, which already had NPCA certification, had been using pen and paper to track quality-control inspections during the manufacturing process, which then had to be manually input into the system.

Precast manufacturers make concrete structures for bridges, roadways, manholes, stairways or burial vaults, and haul the finished pieces to the construction sites or cemeteries. Quality control is accomplished by visually inspecting an item as it is being made. If the inspections are recorded, either electronically or on paper, that data record qualifies a company for NPCA certification. Increasingly, Scott says, government projects and cemeteries require precast vendors to have such a certification.

In addition to using the RFID for quality control, Phoenix and E.F. Shea will also use it for inventory control, assisting the companies in locating items in their yard, where they are stored prior to being transported by truck to a customer.

ICT provides RFID solutions specifically for the precast industry, says Tom Tilson, the company's CEO. Tilson explains that his company had identified a need for better tracking of concrete structures, which traditionally is done with paper and pencil. "I thought, Why not use bar codes?" Tilson says, although he later found out that RFID technology made more sense because bar-coded labels were more likely to get damaged. "Once we got it into the field, we found that bar coding wasn't going to work. Concrete precasting is a very rough environment."

About a year ago ICT began providing an RFID-based solution that allowed electronic tracking of concrete structures and linking of those structures to steel forms using rugged RFID tags and handheld readers.

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