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Construction Group Improves Its Ability to Find Heavy Equipment

Active RFID tags and readers help work crews to locate machinery, even when obscured by tall grass and deep snow, ensuring that the company doesn't order unneeded assets.
By Claire Swedberg
The pilot, which ran from June through August, demonstrated that NACG's managers could use Libramation's solution successfully to track assets remotely from its office in Edmonton, and that NACG crews could utilize it to locate assets on a work site. NACG now has begun to tag between 900 and 1,000 pieces of equipment, focusing on all assets with a value of $5,000 or more. The tagging will be completed by the end of this year, Lopez says. Excavator buckets will be the most difficult to tag, he adds, since they need to be idle when they are tagged, and are usually in use.

The Identec ILR i-B2L tags are generally attached to assets by means of a wire, though in some case, the tag is protected by a U-shaped frame welded to the equipment, to protect the tag from physical impact. The tags emit a 915 MHz signal, encoded with the tag's unique ID number, at a rate of once every two seconds, to Identec IntelliFIND handheld readers that construction crews will bring onto the site on a daily basis. The tag's ID number is linked to the equipment's serial number and identifying description in Identec software residing on NACG's back-end system, from a distance of about 300 feet. The handheld comes equipped with GPS functionality, so it records its own location at the time it receives a tag's signal, transmitting the tag ID number and location to the back-end system via a Wi-Fi connection, or storing the data to be downloaded at the office later that day.

By simply carrying the readers as they drive through the job site, Lopez hopes, the crew will be able to read every tagged item and update the system each day regarding which items are at which job site, and approximately where, within several hundred feet. In the event a specific item is required, the handheld reader can be used to locate it. The user first inputs the description or serial number of the item being sought, and the handheld's software then calculates the location of that item—or the closest item of that description—based on previous reads, as well as the reader's GPS location at the time of those reads. The handheld reader then displays an arrow pointing in that item's general direction. By walking in the direction of that arrow, the user eventually comes within read range of the item, at which time the system software recognizes the unique ID number on the RFID tag and begins to flash, thereby allowing the user to begin physically searching for that equipment.

The Identec software residing on NAGC's back-end server integrates with the construction group's Google Earth software. In addition to indicating vehicles' locations on maps of the company's work sites, the Google Earth software displays the locations where equipment tags were read. By scrolling over the icons, users—such as managers at NACG's Edmonton office—can read a description of each item.

Lopez says he expects the system to reduce the cost of renting additional equipment, as well as eliminate the need to purchase duplicate pieces of equipment when one item goes missing. "It's working good so far," he says. "Now, we're just waiting to see what happens when it snows."

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