What if you could track workers, supplies, and tools at the construction jobsite using innovative, cutting-edge technology? Today’s systems are advancing at a rapid clip—offering new opportunities to save costs, heighten productivity, and improve safety at the jobsite.
One example of this is radio frequency identification (RFID), which leverages electronic tags that functions on the principle of radio waves. RFID tags are primarily used to monitor and track objects using an RFID reader. The information recorded by an RFID tag can be read by scanning devices through technology, which does not need conventional power sources or electronic devices to transmit data.
This technology is set to change how the construction industry does business too. The RFID market will witness substantial growth in the coming years, according to market reports.
The factors that are driving the growth of this segment are the increasing penetration of RFID tags in various industries and the evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT). A reduction in the costs has led to a rise in adoption of RFID tags. Also, demand for the tags will continue to raise competitive across a host of markets, which in turn will lead to further innovations in the RFID systems.
Perhaps most important, RFID technology enables the construction industry to identify and track items. But it requires construction companies to consider a new way of thinking on a job.
Finding the Right Tools
RFID is penetrating the construction marketplace and is gaining in popularity as a way to manage the inventory of equipment. Zahir Abji, CEO, Guard RFID says, “There are thousands of pieces of expensive equipment stored in a yard that can be vulnerable to theft and with so many pieces in the yard, locating them can be very difficult and then they can lose revenue.”
Embracing this technology can provide a lot of benefits. “Having RFID technology to locate the equipment is much easier and faster than not having it. Being able to track the equipment across multiple yards is a great advantage. Being able to track the equipment and accessories that get taken out and then making sure it all comes back is an advantage,” Abji adds.
Some RFID solutions are solar powered, so they can be mobile and work in new or remote places that do not have traditional power sources on hand. Abji says some construction sites and equipment yards are more exposed to possible theft, and with a mobile solution, they can be monitored and be safer. “It is increased security at the yard. There are motion sensors on some tags. That is a security measure to send out signals if it moves without authorization,” Abji states.
Once a construction company decides to move forward with an RFID solution, there are a few things to consider when implementing it. “In technical terms, the RFID solution needs power and connectivity at the site. It also has to link up to the current inventory system that the company has,” Abji explains.
There is also the challenge of learning how to use the system. “The adoption rate can be slow; companies are used to their manual system and learning the new one can take some time. Having the information at your fingertips makes it faster and safer,” Abji says. Having an RFID system at an equipment yard can also help with inventory counts and regulatory requirements.
Keeping Tabs at the Jobsite
While tracking materials and equipment is one use for RFID, tracking workers is another. Knowing where each contractor and subcontractor is on the jobsite can prove to be very useful for construction managers and owners.
Jim McCartney, market manager, field solutions and mobility, Trimble Building’s General Contractor/Construction Manager Division says workforce management solutions using RFID and Bluetooth low-energy sensors to monitor construction site workforces can maximize productivity, security, safety, and compliance.
“This RFID solution offers construction managers and other key personnel the ability to know who’s on site, whether they have the proper credentials, and take action to improve behavior, process, and workflow,” McCartney states.
This technology can reduce the down time it takes to check a contractor’s status. “Knowing who is on site and whether they have the proper credentials, qualification, certifications, and insurance are normally time consuming tasks that are loosely controlled in a traditional process,” McCartney says.
An RFID solution can monitor all of these parameters and provide site superintendents, project managers, and safety coordinators with alerts and notifications if the required parameters have not been met so that accidents, security breaches, and other incidents can be avoided.
While this technology solution provides a lot of benefits, there can be some challenges to implementing it as well. “The biggest challenge to adopting technology is making it easy to use and implement. The nature of construction means that if a technology requires additional processes or significant alteration in the way things are done, it is unlikely to be used. Accessibility and low barrier of entry will encourage companies to try technology and assuming a strong ROI or an improvement in process will trigger adoption,” McCartney says.
The technology needs to be intuitive and simple, while allowing construction workers to perform their regular duties without changing how they do it.
Executing the Solutions
Where will RFID be a good fit? What type of construction companies will get the best benefits from the use of this technology? These are many of the questions that need to be addressed before moving forward.
“Those who adopt this technology are usually those that rent and lease equipment or have a huge inventory. They need to know their ROI on the RFID system and the construction equipment (and) know the balance between the two. The RFID system helps with regulatory requirements and counts. No more needles in large haystacks. Potential revenue loss is avoided,” Abji says.
The market is changing and owners are becoming much more educated and expect that the contractors that they hire to build facilities that are capable of addressing the changing needs.
“Compliance, safety, and security are of paramount importance and if you, as a contractor, are not changing to employ an active, visible, and effective program to address these changes, owners will recognize it and be less likely to work with you,” McCartney says.
RFID solutions are changing the construction jobsite and will continue to gain in popularity. The challenges this technology solves will become its main selling points for those looking to improve their jobsites.