How Is RFID Being Used in the Construction Industry?

By RFID Journal

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Ask The ExpertsHow Is RFID Being Used in the Construction Industry?
RFID Journal Staff asked 11 years ago

Can you please provide some examples of how construction companies are taking advantage of radio frequency identification?

—Name withheld


There are a variety of ways in which construction companies are taking advantage of radio frequency identification. Here are some examples of the major applications:

Project Management
Australian solutions provider Industrial Automation Group has supplied an RFID solution to a global oil company preparing a major construction project in a remote region of Western Australia. The company has asked to remain unnamed, but the refinery will be built on the west coast of Australia, north of Karratha. Though actual construction is not expected to commence until 2014, the RFID team has begun testing tags and readers. At the site at which the new refinery will be erected, tags are already being affixed to some of the hundreds of thousands of tools, materials and components that will be used during construction.

To build the refinery, the company will fly in workers from other metropolitan areas, while equipment, as needed, will travel many hundreds of miles. The company, says Henk de Graaf, Industrial Automation Group's managing director, seeks a method for monitoring the project once it is underway—to see actual products moving, view where they were located and receive alerts if anything is not onsite when expected, or is located in the wrong place. "Keeping control of the construction costs is a major desire," de Graaf said. "It's extremely hard to keep a handle of a construction site of this size, remotely" (see Australian Oil Refinery Construction Site Tries Out RFID).

Equipment and Tool Management
Tools and equipment often get lost on large construction sites. North American Construction Group (NACG), based in Edmonton, Alberta, has deployed RFID technology to track the thousands of high-value assets that its crews use at construction sites throughout western Canada. The system enables the firm to know on a daily where assets are located, thereby reducing the need to order or rent new items as replacements for equipment that cannot be located. The system employs software and hardware from Identec Solutions, and is being provided by Libramation, which oversaw the system's installation, as well as the training of NACG's staff regarding its use.

Until now, NACG's workers had a time-consuming task whenever they searched for an asset. Equipment is stored or used at various sites—typically, between nine and 12—across Alberta, British Columbia and parts of Saskatchewan, at construction sites for refineries, pipelines or mines. Tracking assets in a laydown yard (a large section of a construction site in whnich equipment is stored) was typically accomplished manually, with crews physically checking inventory levels and writing down serial numbers on a piece of paper. In the typical long, cold winters of Alberta, employees often had to dig through the snow in order to determine what was there, says Carlos Lopez, NACG's field engineer for fleet management (see Construction Group Improves Its Ability to Find Heavy Equipment).

Inventory management
Saipem, an Italian engineering and construction company for subsea oil and gas production, has been tracking its large equipment on production sites. The system was taken live in November 2009, with the intention of tracking 20,000 items, including offshore vessels (used to access oil-drilling site), cranes, drilling rigs, steel pipe, slings, shackles and buoys. Approximately 1,000 items have been tagged to date.

Saipem says RFID has reduced the practice of acquiring excess inventory due to items ending up missing. The company expects the system will decrease the amount of waste it generates. Without an RFID-based tracking system, assets often had to be scrapped, because it was impossible to trace how old they were, or when they had been inspected and certified. "In addition," says Gianni Franzoni, Saipem's operation department logistics coordinator, "the system will provide employees with easy access to what material is on hand, and reduce errors" related to misunderstandings regarding which equipment is actually delivered to a drill site (see Italian Construction Firm Deploys RFID to Track Offshore Equipment).

RFID can also be used to track prefabricated sections of large buildings that arrive onsite shortly before being incorporated into a new structure. Such
modularization of construction projects shortens project times and lowers labor costs. However, mistakes made during this scenario—such as
the installation or delivery of an incorrect modular piece, or an item's failure to arrive onsite when needed—can be costly. In the construction
industry, most assets and their usage are monitored simply via paper invoices and manifests—a manual process that can enable errors and take
time to complete.

Hong Kong, building information management company Tecton Ltd. provides an RFID solution to track modular construction assets that is intended to reduce the incidence of errors and ensure that assets are onsite when required. Tecton's Integrated Project Quality Management (IPQM) system operates with EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags or bar-coded labels and handheld readers, as well as software
residing on a user's back-end system. Since 2009, the company has been employed by Gammon Construction Ltd.'s Gammon Steel division, a Hong Kong provider of structural steelwork services, for the construction of the Opus Hong Kong property, as well as at the HSBX Headquarters Building, in central Hong Kong.

The system solves multiple problems, says Ron Ng, Tecton's building information modeling (BIM) assistant manager. For one thing, construction companies typically lack a centralized site at which details regarding all assets and their in-project use are stored. Paper records kept onsite can become lost or be incorrect, and are often not timely since they can only be recorded into a computer system after being brought to the office. In the event that an error is made during construction—such as an incorrect piece of framing being erected on part of the building—that mistake may not be caught until the concrete is poured. IPQM, on the other hand, electronically stores location and status data about the assets being used during construction, so that onsite construction managers, or staff members at remote locations, can view which items are being stored or installed as construction takes place (see Gammon Steel Tracks Modular Components for Buildings).

Workforce Management
An RFID-enabled solution provided by ADR Software tracks the number of workers on job sites, as well as their
identities. By utilizing the Workforce Monitor service, construction projects' managers and supervisors can capture the identity of each
worker entering or leaving a site, by means of Workforce Management Stations—RFID portals that read EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency RFID tags attached to hardhats (see At Construction Sites, RFID Tracks Arrivals, Departures).

ADR's Workforce Monitor software application processes the data from readers related to individuals passing through the portal, providing a user with such details as which contractors have employees onsite, the number of workers at that location, whether those personnel have the necessary training or certification required to be there, workforce demographics and the workers' zip codes—thereby enabling a user to know how many local jobs were created by that project.

Enhancing Safety
The solution also provides such information as which workers have gone belowground on sites in which trenches or tunnels, for example, are
being dug. Thus, in the event that an emergency occurs, supervisors would know, in real time, who was below grade (see At Construction Sites, RFID Tracks Arrivals, Departures).

General contractor DPR Construction is using RFID primarily to manage building safety and access at the construction site for the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center at Mission Bay. The solution, provided by Trimble's ThingMagic division, enables the general contractor to ensure that all individuals are safely evacuated during an emergency, prevent site access by unauthorized personnel, and control access to clean or completed spaces
on the project. DPR is using ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID readers and ID cards, as well as Trimble's cloud-based server integrated with BIM software to better manage security-sensitive work areas, workforce logistics and project planning (see DPR Construction Uses RFID Building-Security Solution).

You can view recorded presentations related to the use of RFID in construction by visiting

—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal

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