Managing Construction Materials with RFID Technology

Jan 05, 2021

Materials management in construction is a significant contributor to the success of any project. Some of the common problems faced by construction companies are material shortages, supply delays, waste, damages, fluctuations in price, and a lack of storage space for materials. Without order to manage materials, many errors can be made that can compromise a construction project and its timing.

By implementing Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, a construction company can overcome many of the issues and frustrations of managing and tracking materials. There are multiple components for using RFID technology to track construction materials, so some companies still use manual methods to track and manage materials. Still, there are many more problems with paper-based tracking than learning a new system that automates the process. [1]

As for how the RFID system works, there are tags and readers. The tags are located on the item to be tracked, and the scanner communicates the tag to read the data stored on it. The RFID tag doesn’t become active until the scanner is nearby. There are active tags that are active all the time because they have an internal power supply. Active tags are also rewritable, which means new data can be programmed on them. Active tags are more expensive, but they have better protection against noise than passive tags that aren’t active all the time. The RFID reader uses radio frequency to communicate data to and from RFID tags.

The data is then shared with a system where the data is stored and can be recalled. From a construction standpoint, an RFID tag could be placed on a stack of metal roofing panels. If there are 10 panels in the stack, the RFID tag says 10 panels in the stack. This is a great way to check in inventory and monitor quantities. This technology can be taken a step further by inputting the location of the panels in a warehouse or other storage space. Sometimes, companies have to use multiple storage sites close to a construction site. [2,3]

RFID Benefits Construction Companies

Accessing the materials management system and typing in the item being looked for would reveal its exact location because it was scanned and keyed in. Another way to be location-specific is to have multiple scanners that are assigned to different locations. Checking the system for inventory quantity would also reveal the need for additional inventory before a construction project begins. The appropriate items can be ordered to begin on time and not be stalled by having to order materials in the middle of the project.

Overall, project planning can improve exponentially, which passes benefits on to clients. When they have a good experience, the resulting word of mouth goes a long way. A smooth process that results in a good client experience means more business, which positively impacts the bottom line. The benefits go much further than knowing the location of items and quantities. Construction companies can also take advantage of:

  • Data capture in real-time
  • Using data to improve productivity
  • Paperwork reduction
  • Decreased materials-related incidents
  • Better communication with clients
  • Improved safety practices
  • Reduction in labor costs
  • Better project schedule estimates

Practically any sector of the construction industry can benefit from RFID. Think about how many tools wouldn’t be lost or duplicates purchased if an RFID tracking system takes care of tools management. This management level is fundamental because it’s estimated that 50% of project loss happens because of human errors at the material level. The errors increase exponentially when dealing with large quantities of materials. RFID automates the task of identifying and tracking materials used in construction tools, such as those used for building, paving, remodeling, and roofing. It can help with the estimation process as well.

One scenario is when RFID tracking has been used in one project, and then a project of similar scope and size is acquired later. The data from the previously completed project can be used to determine the material quantity for the new project. This saves a considerable amount of time and keeps costs down for everyone. RFID can also be used to separate different types of materials. Bulk materials are purchased in bulk and manufactured according to industry standards and codes.

Engineered materials are unique materials, so they need to have a unique identifier to be identified during the lifecycle of a project. An engineered component has been fabricated for a specific project. Prefabricated materials are fabricated in advance at a shop according to certain standards and dimensions; they might be compliant with certain building standards and assembled at the construction site.

Identifying the material by type can also make a significant difference in how materials are managed and tracked. A construction company can keep track of the materials that were ordered but never received. RFID is a major winner in the construction industry. As the benefits are realized, there’s a good chance that the practice will be adopted even faster as it is now, especially since there are cost savings that construction companies can pass on to their clients, which makes them more competitive. [4]

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