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A Towering RFID Project

Stafford Tower Crane is tagging all its tower cranes to ensure components are at the right construction sites in time for assembly.
By Bob Violino
Jun 04, 2007Stafford Tower Crane of America rents, sells and services tower cranes used at construction sites. As part of its service offerings, the company also erects and dismantles cranes for customers—typically, construction companies in the process of building tall structures.

The cranes Stafford provides are huge; the largest, in fact, rises to nearly 650 feet in height and is capable of lifting 52,800 pounds of materials. They're also expensive, roughly $750,000 to a $1 million apiece.

Tags are placed between the beams of the structure being constructed.

Given the current construction boom and the constant movement of tower cranes from site to site, keeping track of the machines and their many components—some have as many as 30 major individual parts—is a major concern for the company. One misplaced component could result in the loss of valuable construction time, as well as an unsatisfied customer. A lost component could also mean the loss of thousands of dollars.

To that end, the Scottsdale, Ariz., company is deploying a radio frequency identification solution to help improve the process of tracking crane components. Stafford began testing an RFID system in 2006 and is now rolling out the technology more broadly, with plans to tag all of its cranes. When the system is fully deployed, says Patrick Stafford, the company president, the firm will have a much better handle on its parts inventory.

Tracking Construction Cranes
Stafford Tower Crane typically rents cranes for between $8,000 and $40,000 per month, shipping all parts to a job site for assembly. For proper assembly, a support crane, requisite staff and all the crane equipment must be in place. Any missing parts can cause project delays and waste the time of supporting labor, as well as tie up the support crane and other equipment.

Once installed, the tower crane can be expanded with additional parts, shipped from either Stafford Tower Crane's yards or other construction sites. Whenever parts are moved in this way, the potential exists to lose track of the components. Lost or misplaced parts can result in project delays, revenue loss and potential impact on contractual obligations.

Until now, the process of tracking cranes and parts has been manual, with managers keeping written notes or entering data into an Excel spreadsheet. That hasn't always worked well, Stafford admits, citing a recent example of a construction client in Arizona that received crane parts from a site in Florida: "On the day they were ready to erect the crane," he says, "we had the wrong components at the job site."

The project was able to go on as planned, but lengthy delays could have occurred because of the parts discrepancy. "With a few $20,000 mistakes," Stafford says, "you could put yourself out of business quickly."
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