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Case Builds for RFID in Construction

Fluor Construction found that active RFID tags could track large metal pipes stacked on a truck with 100 percent accuracy. But there are issues to overcome before the technology is widely used in the construction industry.
By Jonathan Collins
The first phase of the trial sought to see if tags could work in an environment surrounded with metal. Radio waves used by RFID bounce off metal, creating the potential for reading errors when tagged objects are metallic and are read in environments containing lots of other metal. Fluor and Fiatech turned to Identec Solutions for its active tags and readers. “This is the worst environment you can put a tag in,” says Barry Allen, president of technology at Identec.

In the first phase of the trial, the goal was just to find a tagging technology able to meet the demands of the environment. Between 20 and 30 spools were tagged with Identec's iQ active tags to see if the tags could be read from a distance of 10 feet. The 2-by-4-by-half-inch tags operate at 915 MHz with a read rate of up to 100 tags per second (identification code only) or up to 35 tags per second (128 bits of data). In addition, the readers can handle of up to 2,000 tags in the read zone and offer a read-write range of up to 100 meters (328 feet) in free air.
Tags were read 100 percent of the time

Spools were loaded onto a truck and tagged, and readings were taken manually by a worker walking around the perimeter of the truck using an Identec reader card inserted into an iPaq handheld PDA. The reader successfully read the tags 100 percent of the time and demonstrated a read range of around 10 feet. According to Identec, its active RFID technology was extremely well suited for this application. “This is exactly the kind of application that our long-range active RFID was designed for, and it has already more than proven itself,” says Identec’s Allen. “One of our customers has deployed more than 100,000 of our tags over the past four years in a similar environment.”

Having established that the tags could be read, the trial moved into a second phase, where fixed readers were installed and a truck loaded with spools was driven past the readers to replicate the dispatch from the fabrication yard. For this phase, the trial used the newly developed CargoWatch RFID readers and active tags from Phase IV Engineering of Boulder, Colo. The reason for switching tag and reader manufacturers was to prove that workable systems were available from more than one vendor, says Fiatech’s Wood. Developed for the U.S. Navy and currently undergoing testing on tag munitions palettes, the CargoWatch tags hold 500 kilobytes of data and operate at 433.92 MHz. The tags adhere to no standard: “Nothing has emerged in this space yet,” says Rich Pollack, CTO at Phase IV Engineering.

In this phase of the trial, RFID tags were attached to spools on a truck that was driven through a trial portal constructed in the pipe fabrication yard. Once the test team worked out the best way to determine accurate readings, they were pleased with the results. “It was a success. We came up with a method to record 100 percent accurate readings by stopping the truck,” says Wood. “The truck stopped only for a moment and then started. This procedure helped us coordinate the timing of the read in the tests where we were collecting more than just the IDs. As I recall, we missed a few of the tags on a few of the trials where we did not stop the truck.”

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