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Alaska's Dept. of Transportation Mixes Asphalt and RFID

With help from the University of Alaska, the DOT is evaluating how radio frequency identification can be used to track the amount of time that passes between the moment a truck is first loaded with asphalt and the instant the hot mixture is dumped.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 14, 2011Having completed a pilot undertaken to track asphalt-carrying dump trucks as they travel from a weigh station to a road construction site, the Alaska Department of Transportation (DOT) is preparing a report to indicate how effectively RFID was able to gather information and issue alerts regarding the movement of those vehicles, as well as the benefits that data can provide. Based on anecdotal reports, says Jim Sweeney, a research engineer with the Alaska DOT, the pilot seems to demonstrate that RFID could reduce the amount of labor hours spent inputting handwritten paperwork regarding contractors' delivery of hot asphalt, as well as detect problems such as delayed deliveries, and issue alerts to project superintendents or foremen. Sweeney says he intends to request at least one additional RFID pilot, testing the technology in more remote locations where a cellular connection would be unavailable, before the DOT begins discussing whether to require that its contractors employ RFID for future projects.

The pilot, held from June 30 to July 17, 2010, with assistance from researchers at the University of Alaska, tracked asphalt-filled dump trucks from a weigh station operated by asphalt contractor Granite Construction, in Anchorage, to the Glenn Highway construction site, located about an hour's drive away. This involved utilizing an RFID solution provided by Canadian firm Minds Inc. that includes 900 MHz Identec Solutions active tags attached to trucks, as well as Identec readers installed at the weigh station and attached to a paver (a vehicle that applies hot-mix asphalt to a new road surface) on the construction site.

An Identec RFID reader and antenna were mounted to the rear of the paver.

The project, led by Oliver Hedgepeth, a professor in the University of Alaska's Department of Logistics, was initiated as an effort to find ways in which RFID could be employed to improve visibility at construction sites, when the DOT met with the Alaska University Transportation Center (AUTC), at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. AUTC often undertakes highway research for the DOT. Sweeney says he had been intrigued by an article he'd read on RFID Journal's Web site describing an RFID system for tracking logging trucks (see Loggers Use Tags to Track Trucks, Timber), and had wondered if the technology could be employed for other types of material as well. The pilot was funded by $45,000 from AUTC, as well as a matching $45,000 provided by Alaska's DOT.

Sweeney and Hedgepeth began seeking an RFID-based solution to improve the process of road construction within the state of Alaska. In March 2010, they contacted Minds Inc. regarding its PaveTag system, which utilizes radio frequency identification to track dump trucks carrying asphalt (see RFID Paves the Way for Road Construction). The PaveTag system is designed to track the movement of trucks from an asphalt plant to the paver, as well as provide e-mail alerts and notifications to a project's superintendent or foreman, based on such events as a truck's arrival or departure.

The Glenn Highway pilot used RFID to track a total of 50,000 tons of asphalt, laid along a 10-mile-long section of six-lane roadway under construction. An RFID reader was installed at Granite Construction's asphalt scale, located adjacent to the site at which the firm's asphalt production operation pours hot asphalt into the beds of dump trucks. Another interrogator was attached to Granite Construction's Caterpillar AP-1055 paver, located at the work site at which the asphalt was required, thereby enabling the users to track each truck's location twice—once at the scale, and again at the work site when the vehicle dumps its load into the paver.

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