RFID + Cloud + BIM for Managing Personnel in Vertical Construction

Posted by Bernd Schoner on Wed, Dec 05, 2012 @ 03:54 PM

Tags: RFID, Big Data, Access Control, Asset Management, Construction

ThingMagic has had the opportunity to design, build and run an RFID–based personnel management system on a large construction project in California. Only three months after going-live, the general contractor is blown away by the system benefits and the richness of the collected data.

Construction management and building owners used to have to wait for weeks and months to get data on how their projects have actually been staffed. The new RFID-based system provides this information in real-time during each workday. Construction site management used to deploy several security guards and supervisors for the sole purpose of monitoring the work force in different sections of the building. Using the new system, management can monitor the flow of people in and out of zones from the office trailer: if a person enters an unauthorized zone, an instant email alert is sent to the designated supervisor. Most importantly, should there ever be an emergency evacuation event on site, the system provides real-time updates on who is left in the building and where.

System Overview

We have deployed a three-tier system with a distinct sensor layer, database layer, and application layer.

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Figure 1: RFID-based Personnel Management in Vertical Construction: Major system components and system architecture.

Every worker on the construction site is issued a passive UHF-RFID-enabled ID card, which the individual wears on a lanyard around the neck. The sensor infrastructure consists of RFID-reader-enabled secure turnstiles for access to and egress from the job site; inside the building under construction we have installed Mercury6 RFID readers and antennas to systematically cover the entry areas of the building, staircase landings, man-lift landings, and the entrance areas of elevators banks. As a worker moves from one building section to another, the portal readers pick up the badge ID of the worker and associate the individual with the new space or zone.  

Raw sensor data is sent in real-time to a cloud-based database, where the data is translated into high-level events such as zone entries and exits, and then stored.

A multitude of web-enabled applications have access to the event data through a web API.

BIM Integration

The General Contractor and other stakeholders are given access to the data via a number of interfaces, including a mobile-device friendly web portal and email reports and notifications. However, the core filtering and reporting engine has been implemented as a plug-in to Tekla Structures, the comprehensive Building Information Modeling (BIM) and CAT software developed by our sister division Tekla.

The construction manager can visualize the personnel deployment on site within the 3D model. He or she has the ability to specify the time window of interest, the subcontractor, the zone, and other properties. The selected population of workers or a particular individual is presented along with a work zone selected in the model.


Why would a general contractor or project owner deploy this system? Our RFID-based people management system provides:

  • Real-time visibility into worker location during an evacuation event
  • Instant alerts on security or safety breaches 
  • Instantaneous reports on sub-contractor staffing levels
  • Real-time updates on personnel-related compliance issues or ordinances.

Floor Detail

Figure 2: Full-time equivalent construction personnel over a period of about seven weeks by day, subcontractor, and zone of the building under construction.

Supported by RFID and cloud-computing, emerging life-cycle management solutions are enabling new levels of innovation, productivity, collaboration, and growth in the construction market and others.  Organizations that can best harness this “Big data” opportunity will hold a distinct competitive advantage.

Out with Dewey Decimal, In with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Mar 14, 2012 @ 10:04 AM

Tags: RFID, Asset Tracking, Inventory Management, Asset Management, Library Book Tracking

Melvil DeweyMy guess is that Melville Louis Kossuth Dewey wouldn't be too upset with advancements of today's library systems. Dewey was a pioneering influence in the development of libraries in America at the beginning of the 20th century. And yes, he is best known for the classification system that is used in most public and school libraries - know as the Dewey Decimal System.

But the decimal system was just one of a long list of Dewey's innovations. Dewey is also known for the creation of hanging vertical files and for founding the Library Bureau, a private company created "for the definite purpose of furnishing libraries with equipment and supplies of unvarying correctness and reliability."

Hmmm... sounds a little like what RFID aims to do - improve processes by applying a technology that delivers "unvarying correctness and reliability".

Leave it to RFID to handily replace a system that’s been in place for 135 years. RFID in libraries is not a new concept, but we wanted to dedicate today’s blog post to it for a few reasons.

The more well-known uses for RFID in libraries are for anti-theft measures and to reduce the amount of time required to perform circulation operations. The time savings are a result of the fact that information can be read from RFID tags much faster than from barcodes, and several books in a stack can be read at the same time. Using wireless technology, it becomes much easier and faster to update the inventory and identify the books that are misplaced.

Aside from the common and very useful deployments, there are many more uses of RFID in libraries. For example, people can find exactly where a book is, even if it’s on the wrong shelf or even in the wrong section. That’s a key element that sets RFID apart from the Dewey Decimal System. Sorry Mr. Dewey.

Another not-so-known benefit is that RFID can be used to track reference books which are used at the library instead of being taken out. Without RFID, the only way to know which items were being used frequently, was for a librarian to actually see the books in use and which ones were being left on tables; obviously not a precise method. Barcoding, Inc. has developed an RFID system that tells librarians how often books are taken from shelves, and how long they are off the shelf. With this system, seldom used reference materials can be kept in storage rooms, leaving the shelf space for the more popular books.

Barcodes, which are most commonly used today, can be replaced with RFID tags which last much longer. Remember when we took out a book from the school library and you wrote your name and date on a card that went in a pocket on the inside cover? I do. Those were replaced by barcodes, and now it may be time for them to retire. RFID tags last longer than barcodes because fewer things come into contact with them. Many are placed inside the cover or binding. Some RFID vendors claim approximately 100,000 transactions before a tag may need to be replaced.

You may be saying to yourself, is it really necessary to deploy RFID systems in libraries? I bet you remember (again, I do) looking for a book for a school project and finding the empty space on the shelf where it was supposed to be, and the librarian was certain that the book had not been taken out. You either had to look around on nearby shelves hoping it was close by, or come back the next day hoping it turned up and was put back in its place. Either way, the school project got completed and we somehow survived.

But, ask yourself this question. Can libraries afford not to implement an RFID system? As noted by consultant Karen Coyle, library circulation, the primary function where RFID can make a significant impact, is increasing, while library budgets are on the decline. As with most RFID projects, they can be easily integrated with a minimal up-front investment. They can provide a speedy ROI, helping control circulation costs that are on the rise.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather know that my hometown library is still around and doing well, event at the expense of the Dewey Decimal System.

Hospitals Should Consider a Phased Approach to Deploying RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Feb 16, 2012 @ 03:57 PM

Tags: RFID, Asset Tracking, Healthcare, Pharmaceutical Tracking, Patient Tracking, Asset Management

Wireless HospitalIn our last post about RFID in healthcare, we explored the benefits of Passive UHF RFID. 

RFID in general presents many benefits for the healthcare industry, such as high value asset tracking, materials management, patient and staff workflow, and being used to support compliance with industry mandates and regulations including Sarbanes-Oxley, JACHO and OSHA. Because of the variety of applications and departmental functions that can be supported by an RFID visibility solution, selecting the right solution, or even the right project to begin with, can be daunting.

Many hospitals have Wi-Fi infrastructures for their voice and data processing needs. However, few have the density of Wi-Fi access points necessary for accurate real-time location tracking. Implementing a new WLAN infrastructure, or even just updating the Wi-Fi coverage, can be costly. Even with the necessary Wi-Fi coverage, RTLS/Wi-Fi based tags may not work well for certain applications. Such hurdles can include large tag size, time-limited battery life, required periodic re-calibration to maintain location accuracy and limitations in high interference areas like radiology.

Implement Passive RFID First

While RFID technologies can help achieve certain objectives and lower costs, it is still necessary to consider the cost of infrastructure changes and time commitment required from hospital IT staff.  With this in mind, a proven and practical approach is to start with low cost and easy to implement Gen2 Passive RFID. It limits the work required to the existing infrastructure and helps control costs. Gen 2 passive readers and tags can utilize the existing data processing network infrastructure and, in many cases, do not require extensive IT staff involvement to deploy. By utilizing lower cost, easy to deploy passive RFID-based systems as the initial step, hospitals can significantly improve productivity, offer enhanced patient services, and improve quality of care within current budget and IT program restraints – while having invested in a platform for growth.

A variety of reader and tag combinations allows hospitals to choose where they would like to deploy a Passive RFID visibility solution, usually based on where the need is greatest. The flexibility lets the hospitals be behind the wheel vs. being bound by any limitations from the technology. For example, a hospital can begin by tracking high-value mobile equipment such as wheelchairs, stretchers, crash carts, infusion pumps, etc. Other items in the hospital setting that can be monitored with RFID include:

  • Item-level pieces – surgical instruments and dressings, medicines, linens and uniforms
  • Medical records – files, documents, x-rays and other diagnostic images. RFID systems support the rollout of the electronic health records.
  • Patient movement and identification for proper administration of associated treatment plans

As the first high-value mobile equipment phase is completed and begins to yield a return on investment, the hospital can embark on the next phase. This phased approach allows a hospital department to measure and manage asset, material, patient and/or staff flow and productivity through each stage of the process. It’s been proven to deliver a near-immediate return on investment.

To learn more, download our case study: Greenville Hospital Deploys Integrated RFID Solution for Operating Room Asset Tracking

Check ThingMagic out at HIMSS where we’ll be showcasing healthcare operations made better with Passive RFID.

Greening the Data Center with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Jan 19, 2012 @ 04:20 PM

Tags: RFID, Big Data, Temperature Monitoring, Asset Management

Data CenterBy now you’ve probably figured out that we’re on a mission to reshape the way people think about RFID. “Efficient use of energy in the data center” is not the first thing most people would think of when they think of RFID.  However, with the 1.8 zettabytes of data we are on pace to generate and consume as a society in 2011 (forecasted by IDC) RFID must fit in somewhere!  What’s more, is data centers around the world are expected to use 19 percent more energy in the coming 12 months and more than one-third of companies expect at least one of their data centers to run out of power, cooling or space sometime within the next year. That’s a big problem to have. So what’s the answer?

There needs to be a way to manage the consequences that come along with the advent of Big Data. Not only are large amounts of data hard to manage, but it is also a costly operation. Many organizations are turning to cloud computing services to reduce their reliance on internal servers, which also contribute to lower energy consumption. But is that the only option? In a recent post, I discussed how the use of RFID will generate lots of new data. What if I told you the use of RFID can also be used to drive efficiencies into the data center infrastructure?

Russell Klein, Aberdeen Group analyst noted in a recent eWeek article that businesses large and small should be concerned with controlling data center costs, including energy consumption. One of the ways he suggested organizations do so is with RFID, which can be used to monitor conditions, such as temperature and air pressure. RFID provides real-time data streams to feed the analytics engine, a function other sophisticated infrastructure management platforms lack. As organizations look for more energy efficient IT operations that save money and build better infrastructure, it is likely that RFID will become a frontrunner. 

RFID at Work in the Data Center

Implementing RFID in the data center is a form of asset management, but maybe not the way you currently think of asset management. For example, sensor modules with temperature probes can be wired to RFID tags. The modules are then attached to racks in data centers, where the probes measure the temperature of various devices and use RFID to transmit the data to a reader. The reader receives the temperature data and sends it along to the software residing on a dedicated server. The data is then used to regulate temperature controls in real-time to conserve energy, ultimately reducing the cost to run a data center.

The cost-effectiveness and ease of RFID in this type of implementation allowed the Franchise Tax Board in Sacramento California to reduce the consumption of energy in the agency’s data center by 75 percent, also saving them more than $40,000 a year. Due to the successful results, the state continues to receive funding for the project from the U.S. Department of Energy.

What other ways can we use RFID to create a greener environment?

Automated Video Stores

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Oct 27, 2010 @ 12:42 PM

Tags: RFID, Sports & Entertainment, Process Control, Asset Management

A New Way to Rent Movies – Powered by RFID

MovieQThe way we purchase, rent and watch movies has evolved significantly since Louis Le Prince created and experimental film titled Roundhay Garden Scene on October 14, 1888 – now known as the earliest surviving motion picture.  Personally, I remember the days of having no option other than going to the theater to watch a movie.  It was a fun family event and as I got older, movie night included a half an hour at the arcade across the street playing Tempest before show time.

Then in 1975, Sony brought movies into the home with the introduction of the Betamax. The first Sony LV-1901 Betamax console consisted of a VCR and a 19" TV and retailed for a whopping $2,495!  Expanding our access to movies, in November of 1977 Magnetic Video became the first company to sell motion pictures on home video.  To launch their business, Magnetic Video licensed 50 titles from Twentieth Century-Fox and sold them for $49.95 each under the terms of a club membership.  Taking the market further, George Atkinson launched the first video rental store in Los Angeles in December 1977.  Atkinson charged $50 for an annual membership and $100 for a lifetime membership, providing access to video rentals for $10 a day.  Atkinson grew his business to 42 stores in less than 20 months, running his company, later know as The Video Station, until 1983 when it had nearly 500 stores.

With continued advances in movie production and distribution, we now have the choice of purchasing high-quality DVDs and several ultra-convenient self-service options like on-demand cable rentals and Netflix integrated into my kid’s Nintendo Wii.  We can also still go to brick and mortar retail stores like long time market leader Blockbuster and relative newcomer MovieQ.

MovieQ, an automated movie and game rental chain, has taken a unique approach to operating its stores.  Typically manned by a single employee to sell munchies, MovieQ stores use state-of-the-art RFID-enabled robotic systems to automate DVD dispensing.  In addition to providing automated access to a large selection of movies and games, customers can use a credit card or preloaded MovieQ cash cards at in-store customer interaction centers (CICs) to purchase rental merchandise. 

With over 10,000s items available, MovieQ stores offer compelling advantages over other types of brick and mortar stores.  This model – automated with RFID – allows MovieQ to operate in a small footprint which translates to low real estate costs.  They also save on staffing costs and have reduced product loss and theft – allowing them to pass savings and value to the customer.

An interesting case study on MovieQ has been published by UPM Raflatac - the provider of high-frequency RFID tags MovieQ uses in their solution.  Check them out and let us know how you think RFID can automate other high-volume retail operations. 

Enterprise Asset Management with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, May 11, 2010 @ 04:58 PM

Tags: RFID, Tool Tracking, Asset Management, Industrial Automation

ARC Advisory Group recently published a report titled "RFID Enables Improvement for Mobility and Enterprise Asset Management", in which they cite a "rapid uptick" in end user plans to implement RFID solutions for enterprise asset management (EAM).  According to a survey of 65 companies, ARC reports that a growing number are planning to move away from using bar codes in favor of deploying RFID to help manage their corporate assets.  Of the survey respondents - representing more than 1,300 facilities - 12 percent indicated they were already using RFID, while 20 percent said they have budgeted to add RFID to their EAM systems this year.

RFID-enabled applications identified by ARC as being available to users to help improve their asset management and maintenance include inventory management, recording asset history, data acquisition for condition monitoring, and location tracking.  According to RFID Journal's coverage of this report, one application that stands out is the use of RFID for inventory management or tool tracking because of the durability of RFID tags compared to bar coded labels in industrial environments.

Enterprise asset management and tool tracking are applications that ThingMagic is very familiar with.  Tool Link, an innovative solution offered by Ford Motor Company and DeWALT, includes ThingMagic's rugged RFID readers and tags and is available in 2009 and 2010 model Ford pickups and vans.  ThingMagic is also partnered with Atlas RFID, supplying the RFID technology to power the Atlas RFID AMS (Asset Management System) - a comprehensive, automated asset data collection and management system that promotes the safety and security of personnel, tools and equipment. Further, Element ID, a provider of high performance RFID readers and specialty industrial automation equipment/systems, recently announced the integration of the ThingMagic M5e embedded RFID module into their UHF Series Appliances for tracking high value assets throughout a building, such as IT assets, or lab or hospital equipment.

The bottom line - Big gains in productivity are economically feasible TODAY by using low cost Passive RFID and complimentary visibility technologies.  No application is too challenging, so if you want to explore how to implement RFID to improve the management of your assets, contact ThingMagic.

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