RFID Technology

FT-03 Topic Summary
FT 03

Overview

There is a significant potential for RFID technology to automate critical construction industry work processes. RFID is seen as an important technology benefiting the Manufacturing, Consumer Products, Retailing, and Transport and Logistics industries. This topic details the findings of several field trials.

The field trials investigated whether current RFID technology would function reliably in a highly metallic environment, with longer read distances, and in work processes that are less rigidly controlled than the typical manufacturing RFID applications observed to date (E4-6, page 29). An additional purpose was to determine whether RFID technology would likely increase efficiency and reliability in the areas of shipment tracking, tool tracking, and access tracking for construction projects. These trials tested the technical feasibility of RFID technology (E4-4, page 36) in these three areas.

Shipment tracking

One case study describes how RFID technology tracks the movement of materials and supplies between shore based and offshore facilities. The key drivers for this pilot are improvements in distribution, cargo tracking, and security. The main objective of using RFID in asset tracking is to improve the efficiency, accuracy, and accountability on the movement of materials. (E4-4, page 2). It is believed that implementation of RFID systems in an offshore supply process would:

  1. Accurately track the movements of shipments.
  2. Reduce existing paperwork and the time it takes to load the boats.
  3. Reduce time spent on handling error inquiries and error remediation.
  4. Accurately account for all the items to and from the platform.

One benefit of utilizing RFID systems is reduced material loss replacement – equipment such as drill bits, spare parts, testing or logging technology, are very expensive. When critical equipment is not available when needed, it causes a great deal of additional expense and inefficiency. Specific potential benefits of RFID systems for shipment tracking include:

  1. Reduced time spent on error inquiries – For each error, the shipping personnel at the shorebase terminal could spend significant amount of time searching, contacting other offshore facilities, reordering materials, and otherwise resolving questions about missing materials or supplies.
  2. Reduced paperwork – RFID systems can facilitate the automation of record keeping associated with receiving, tracking, and shipping materials and supplies.

These work process improvements can lead to optimized construction planning to shorten overall project duration, reduced cost and schedule impact of design changes, and reduced project schedule risk (E4-7, page 48).

Access control

RFID technology for Access Control is used to help define the high-level needs and benefits of implementing an access control solution for construction sites. This was done not only to satisfy project management requirements at site but also to meet client's expectations of reliable control of personnel access to a site, and quantifying daily attendance of the site workforce. RFID is especially helpful when a company experiences an increase in the size of projects and workforce.

The use of barcoding on ID cards helped the target company improve the flow. However, this is still inadequate since the technology itself has crucial limitations such as requiring a proper line-of-sight, short reading distances, reliance on specific hardware, and how technology-literate the end users are. Even with bar-coding processing, each successful scan can take an average of 2-5 seconds. This also proves to be a tedious exercise and requires more resources such as extra timekeepers as “guards” to monitor and control the access process.

RFID has considerably more potential, allowing freedom of data capturing with no need for guards or timekeepers to manually scan workers onto the site or oversee the scanning process. The pilot implementation programs established clear and concise results. Based on the results of the RFID-Passive and RFID-Battery Assisted during implementation, the following conclusions could be established:

RFID-Passive

  • Passive technology failed to satisfy the access control requirements for this project.
  • The passive tag’s transmitted signal is severely blocked/absorbed by the human body.
  • Passive technology would work for vehicle access control—if speed is controlled using speed humps at gate to reduce the speed as much as possible or by enforcing the vehicle to stop for two to four seconds. In addition, an LED to alert the driver that his/her vehicle has already been read should be utilized.
  • Passive tag read range is limited to three meters.
     

RFID-Battery Assisted

  • Battery Assisted Passive (BAP) technology failed to satisfy the access control requirements for this project.
  • BAP tags provided a better read rate compared to passive tags.
  • BAP technology would work for this project if one linear antenna and one circular antenna were added to each side of the gate.
     

Tool tracking

Tools and valuable supplies tagged with RFID devices could be issued and received from central storage and the issues/receipts documented without intervention or help from a storage attendant.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The RFID-Passive and Battery Assisted Readers fell short in this same scenario. The RFID-Passive and Battery Assisted Readers did not possess the range or capability to be completely effective. Conversely, one needs to recognize the risks associated with the RFID-Active Reader and, in this study, the potential effects the associated risks may have on future business. Subsequently, a re-evaluation must be made of the RFID-Passive and RFID-Battery Assisted Readers in alternative scenarios in future studies. The ultimate objective will be to establish a scenario where the minimal risks of the RFID-Passive and Battery Assisted Readers can be coupled with the overall effectiveness of the technology (E4-13, page 18). A variety of risks are associated with the fixed RFID-Active Reader:

  • The cost of the RFID-Active solution is high compared to all other solutions.
  • Rules and regulations of active tag frequencies vary in different countries.
  • The long-term cost of replacing the active tag’s battery (life time=one year only).
  • The design of the active tags in key fob form and the ability to replace the battery.
  • The accuracy of the readings and the tag’s eight-second transmission frequency.
  • The short time-frame from inception to completion (two months only).
  • The availability of the reader in local markets.
  • The product provider is located overseas and is unfamiliar with the Middle East environment. Also, the product provider’s local partner is new to this product.
     

The following risks exist for both passive and active readers:

  • Potential delays in shipments, delivery, and customs (multiple locations).
  • Potential delays in support because of the time difference between the U.S. and the Middle East.
  • The remote location of the project (300 km from Dubai).
  • The ad-hoc requests and needs (solar powered readers, power convertors).
  • The potential negative effect of the local environmental conditions: dusts, humidity, temperature, and others.

Key Findings and Implementation Tools

1 : Scan Time

E4-4 identifies basic differences between RFID and Barcode. The average scan-time for correctly identifying a tool with a RF Tag was 1.66 seconds per tool. The average scan-time for correctly identifying a Bar Coded tool was 4.92 seconds per tool. This means it takes three times as long for the Bar Code system to scan a tool as it does the RF Tag system (E4-4, page 33).

2 : Mean and Variance of Read Rates

The observation suggests that under the set of field conditions classifying trips into IV or V, the test is most likely to achieve 100% reading of 56 tags every time the load of pipe spools is shipped through the portal (E4-7, page 21).

3 : Read Ranges

In addition to the material, two tag parameters have been observed to influence the communication range: antennas size and insulation between the antenna and the construction material. Such insulation is considered regardless of how such insulation is achieved (e.g. air, foam, etc.) Thus, Tables 3 and 4 summarize the communication ranges of passive tags based on these two parameters (E4-8, page 5).

FT-03

Key Performance Indicators

Increased efficiency & reliability in tool tracking for construction projects

Related Resources

Field Tests of RFID Technology for Construction Tool Management (E4-4)

Publication Date: 06/2005 Resource Type: Fiatech Publication Source: FT-03

Field Trials of RFID Technology for Tracking Fabricated Pipe (E4-6)

Publication Date: 02/2004 Resource Type: Fiatech Publication Source: FT-03

Field Trials of RFID Technology for Tracking Fabricated Pipe – Phase II (E4-7)

Publication Date: 08/2004 Resource Type: Fiatech Publication Source: FT-03

Leveraging Passive RFID Progress Report (E4-8)

Publication Date: 12/2010 Resource Type: Fiatech Publication Source: FT-03

Materials & Asset Tracking Using RFID: A Preparatory Field Pilot Study (E4-10)

Publication Date: 09/2004 Resource Type: Fiatech Publication Source: FT-03

RFID for Access Control in Construction Sites – International Case Study (E4-13)

Publication Date: 12/2012 Resource Type: Fiatech Publication Source: FT-03


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