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RFID Helps Bechtel Manage a Megaproject

The engineering and construction giant is tracking materials from mainland storage areas to three sites on a remote island, to ensure the correct materials arrive at the right place on time.
By John Edwards
Jun 18, 2014

Even if the name doesn't sound familiar, there's a good chance you've visited, traveled on or otherwise benefited from at least one of Bechtel's many global megaprojects. Headquartered in San Francisco, the engineering, construction and project management firm has built, or played a major part in building, such modern marvels as the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, the Channel Tunnel, Hoover Dam, Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

Bechtel is now involved in the construction of three liquefied natural gas processing and export facilities on Curtis Island, an ecologically fragile mile-long speck of land off the coast of Gladstone, Australia. The facilities are being constructed to process coal seam gas (CSG) produced by collection facilities on the Australian mainland. The plants will purify the gas into a liquid state for export to customers worldwide.

All materials are identified with Identec i-B2 active tags—roughly 60,000 so far. Some tags are recycled, so Bechtel estimates it has tracked well over 100,000 items. (Photo: Bechtel Corporation)
Even by megaproject standards, it's an epic undertaking. Each of the three sites will employ several thousand workers during construction. Yet there are no roads connecting the facilities to the mainland or each other, which makes moving people, vehicles and construction materials a formidable challenge. "It's basically an uninhabited island in the area we're working," says Ed Koch, the company's construction automation specialist.

With limited room on the island, the majority of the project's materials receiving and laydown (storage) sites are on the Australian mainland. The construction materials must be loaded onto ferries and transported across a harbor before reaching their installation location. "All the materials have to be handled multiple times before arriving at their final destination," Koch says.

The materials that sail across the harbor must arrive at the correct island project destination on time and in the correct quantity. Mistakes are likely to generate a ripple effect, delaying construction in multiple areas simultaneously. "When you have materials mixed for three different sites, all in multiple storage areas, you really have to make sure the right thing gets selected and transported to the right place by the right time," Koch notes.

Bechtel needed an efficient, cost-effective way to track and organize the materials involved in the construction of the three facilities. The company selected RFID to serve as the nucleus of a new cutting-edge localized materials-management system. "For Bechtel, RFID provides a world of opportunity," Koch says.

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