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Building a Case for Tracking Construction Materials

Increasingly, contractors are using RFID to improve safety and security on job sites. But interest lags when it comes to tagging supplies for authentication, though counter­feiting is an industry-wide problem.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Sep 22, 2013

During the past decade, the University of California at San Francisco, dedicated to the health sciences, has transformed the Mission Bay district along the city's eastern shore. The 57-acre campus has grown into a biotechnology hub for academia and industry. The university's current project, the UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay, broke ground in 2010 and is scheduled to open in 2015. The complex will include three hospitals—children's, women's and cancer—and is designed to be energy efficient, meet the state's seismic regulations and provide an urban oasis for the public.

To manage the project, the university took an innovative and collaborative approach to the design and construction of the new medical center. Called integrated project delivery, it involves architects, contractors, engineers and others working as a team to manage processes and production. In this case, 23 firms are working together at the construction site.

Photo: iStockphoto
That means on any given day, as many as a thousand workers enter and exit the 900,000-square-foot site daily. To help keep all those people safe and secure at the work site, DPR Construction, the project contractor, worked with Trimble's ThingMagic division to implement a passive ultrahigh-frequency RFID-based access-control system. DPR installed RFID reader turnstiles at the site's entrances and exits. The contractor divided the construction site into 19 zones, with RFID fixed readers at the entrance to each zone.

Personnel from the different companies are issued RFID-enabled identification badges that allow them to enter only the work areas they are authorized to access. The security solution also prevents unauthorized personnel from entering the site. In addition, it lets DPR monitor in real time each person's location, by zone, in the event of an emergency that could require an evacuation or a search-and-rescue operation.

DPR says the RFID solution has bolstered security while reducing related costs. At other job sites, the contractor has to hire security guards and supervisors to manually track workers, a time-consuming process. What's more, the solution has improved worker logistics. By knowing how many people are deployed onsite daily, and where work has been performed, subcontractors can plan their schedules more efficiently and ensure they are not overstaffing or understaffing the project.

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