Bar coding is currently used for tracking and managing the movement of goods, but radio frequency identity tags have the potential to offer much more. These are miniaturised devices that can be implanted into products. They contain information that can be picked up by a proximity reader and transmitted to a computer for processing and management. Compared with bar codes, RFID tags contain more and better data and can be read even when the tags are out of sight. Other advantages are that tag information is almost impossible to replicate, tags can be read in direct sunlight and they can survive harsh conditions.

RFID has defied the critics and the roll-out of the technology is meeting early expectations. With miniaturisation and price decreases, it is now becoming worthwhile for many companies to take advantage of the opportunities brought by this "suddenly" practical and affordable kit. Here, Anna McCrea, senior consultant at Davis Langdon, offers a guide to anticipated and actual uses of RFID.


Facilities management Equipment and plant have a lot of information connected with them, including the type, the manufacturer, a serial number, technical information, maintenance history and replacement due date. All this can be input into a RFID tag and be available for a variety of users and maintenance crews.


Materials identification RFID can also be used to automate and speed up the delivery and inventory identification process. Such technology allows site managers to track materials from the site gate to their permanent location within the structure. Any items delivered by mistake or found missing could be re-ordered early in the process and may not cause delay to construction or assembly. The tags can then be re-used on other items or they may stay permanently in place to provide component information.


Site deliveries and material tracking All company vehicles can be tracked for verification of destination and location. At the beginning of a journey the driver approaches a security gate equipped with a high-performance RFID reader and antenna system. Upon presenting a valid personal ID card to the reader, the antenna scans for a vehicle tag. The vehicle would then be logged out with the authorised employee, cargo ID, time and destination confirmed.


Protecting tools and equipment Theft can be prevented or restricted by tagging site equipment. The early discovery that an item is missing helps potential recovery. And even if recovery is not feasible, early discovery allows for replacement before a piece of kit is needed, which may prevent delays to the schedule.


Improving construction site safety and security Site workers could be equipped with tags containing information about areas they are expected to work in. Entry to restricted or unsafe areas by unauthorised personnel could be quickly discovered and accidents avoided.


Equipment use and productivity assessment Resource planning can be improved with information about unused equipment as well as the duration and frequency of use. This could be cross-referenced with employees' time sheets and payment claims.


Personnel management If tags are mounted on helmets or clothing, then the whereabouts of staff can be tracked, their safety monitored and subsequent analysis of their activities could identify bottlenecks or overstaffing and eventually help resource management. However, privacy issues arise with this kind of RFID application, as some people object to being constantly tracked.


Accrediting workers Tags can be used to ensure that workers have the right accreditations to use the tools they check out. Equipment operators on site often use kit they are not qualified to operate. If they are equipped with tags listing their skills and permissions, they could be stopped from using machinery if they do not have the appropriate training. Without relevant training, as indicated on a tag, the machine would not start up. This could lead to safety improvements.


Improving on-site assembly The tags could contain information about a particular assembly method or a piece of equipment necessary to complete an activity on site. This could reduce mistakes and uncertainties and lead to efficiency improvement.


And a host of other applications The information contained on RFID tags can and should be used throughout a business to help make the business more efficient. The data can be linked to systems supporting all companys' processes, such as customer relationship management, finance, scheduling and electronic data management systems. Linking tag readings to CAD and structural packages can in turn speed up the design processes.