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.

A Conversation about RFID and Big Data

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Oct 10, 2012 @ 09:18 AM

Tags: RFID, Internet of Things, Big Data

Big DataA couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to be able to speak with InformationWeek’s Jeff Bertolucci, a respected voice in the Big Data space. In a conversation stemming from our Future of RFID infographic, we discussed the role RFID is playing in the revolution brought on by devices communicating with one another and individuals and enterprises relying more on technology.

In general, we are all connecting more with the world around us every day and RFID can be thought of as an enabling technology that pulls it all together. Clearly it contributes to the amount of data generated by business and consumer activities, but it can also be used to manage it – and in the words of a recent report by InformationWeek, “the big data challenge is real.”  

New and innovative uses of RFID are emerging on a daily basis - reshaping the way we (vendors, partners, end users) should be thinking about the technology. It can no longer be viewed as a niche technology or a replacement for barcodes. In a previous blog post, we introduced the intersection of RFID and Big Data to get people thinking about the technology in a bigger way.  Business managers are seeing cost savings, consumers are enjoying new efficiencies, and generally speaking, people are able to more easily connect their online world with their physical world.

So what do you think – is RFID becoming more of a household name in Big Data conversations? Or do we have a few more years of flying under the radar?

In our view, RFID plays an important role in managing Big Data and facilitating the Internet of Things, even though it’s never been the flashy new technology that has commanded headlines - well, until now at least.

The Future of RFID - Infographic

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Jul 23, 2012 @ 02:13 PM

Tags: RFID, Internet of Things, GPS, Big Data

Infographics are cool.  They've been developed to visually represent data about a great many industries, places, and people.  Everything from Understanding Carbon Offsets to 7 Things You Didn't Know About the Golden Gate Bridge to The History Of Steve Jobs & Apple have been depicted in Infographic form.  Yes, there is even an Infographic of Infographics!

I've found a couple of Infographics that touch on The Internet of Things and the global supply chain like IBM's Stories of a Smarter Planet, but I was a bit surprised to find that there aren't many that cover Auto-ID technologies or RFID in particular.  So, here's our pass at creating a visual representation of The Future of RFID.  Take a ride along the path of Adoption, Convergence, the Internet of Things, and Big Data - ending in a place where RFID systems will become an integral part of the consumer and business experience!

Download a PDF of The Future of RFID Infographic and don't forget to let us know how we can help you with your RFID project!

The Future of RFID - Infographic

Embed the image above on your site:

<a href="http://rfid.thingmagic.com/rfid-infographic"><img src="http://rfid.thingmagic.com/Portals/42741/images/ThingMagic-Infographic_FINAL_July201.jpg" alt="The Future of RFID" width="540" border="0" /></a><br />Presented By: <a href="http://www.thingmagic.com/">ThingMagic</a>


100 Uses of RFID

View more than 100 other innovative ways in which Radio Frequency Identification and Sensing (RFIDS) is being used to automate data collection, identification, and location systems worldwide - 100 Uses of 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?

RFID, Big Data and Retail

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Jan 11, 2012 @ 10:44 AM

Tags: RFID, Smart Displays, Retail, Big Data, Inventory Management, Point of Sale

RFID in RetailThe holiday retail sales season by most accounts was characterized as volatile – with huge surges at the start and end of the season, and big dips in the middle. That’s obviously good and bad for retailers. How to smooth out the peaks and valleys surely will be discussed at the National Retail Federation’s “Big Show” this month.

This also gives us an opportunity to illustrate how an industry can think differently about RFID to help address this problem. As we asserted in our 2012 prediction that data and apps will rule RFID for the next 10 years, when companies hear the term “RFID”, they shouldn’t be thinking about readers and tags, but rather about processes. Here’s how it can be done within retail.

Real-time Data, Real-time Decisions

The age-old challenge in retail is how to maximize razor-thin margins. The newer challenge is sustaining increased sales in brick-and-mortar stores. Technology is essential, but it has more of an advantage for online retail.

A key to optimizing sales and margins is making near real-time decisions about merchandising, assortments and promotions. It’s easier to do this on the web because of data available from such things as what items people are clicking on, search queries, etc. Retailers can change what gets promoted on the fly with this information.

But how can this happen in physical stores? Point-of-sales systems provide data as to what people buy in the store. This has been where innovations in terms of data warehousing and analytics have come. There’s a lot of consumer behavior that takes place before the check-out though, and data from this activity can help make even faster decisions about assortment and promotions on the floor.

There are project-level RFID implementations in retail that we have highlighted here that can be broadened to make a process-level impact. For example, last month we wrote about how a department store in Japan is the first to use RFID-based interactive hangers that trigger a display of a model wearing a garment that a customer selects off a rack. The idea is to make the item more appealing at the point of interest.

Those hangers could do a lot more for a retailer, however. The mere fact that someone picked the item off the rack shows an initial level of interest, which can be captured as a new set of data; like clicking on an item online. If a person takes it to the fitting room to try it on, where there is another RFID reader, the system can capture this as additional data related to the level of interest in an item. If the item is left in the fitting room, the retailer can know this immediately, as well as if the item is taken from the fitting room to the check-out counter.

This is as valuable as the data that can be mined from web site clicks and searches and allow in-store managers to change assortments and displays much more quickly than before.

Processes and Solutions

When we say that we should reshape the way we think about RFID, we mean that we should not fixate on the need to prove the technology, but rather think about ALL of the processes that can be improved with the availability of RFID data.  As the example above is intended to illustrate, retailers should think about how they can get data about shoppers’ behavior from the moment they walk in a store and the kind of analysis they can do to optimize processes accordingly.

Specific processes can be gleaned with the help of McKinsey’s recent Big Data report, which looks at retail as one of the industries where more value can be created from new data sources like RFID systems. These include in-store behavior analysis, customer micro-segmentation, assortment optimization and placement and design optimization.

Beyond the process identification, retailers can benefit from the availability of full RFID solutions that help them incorporate data generated from RFID systems with the data warehousing, analytics and mostly home-grown software applications used to manage operations.

We’ll continue our series of posts about how other industries can think about leveraging RFID data by looking more closely on healthcare and the in-transit markets. In the meantime, what are some other ways retailers can use RFID to enhance existing processes?

Prediction: Data and Apps Rule RFID For The Next 10 Years

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Dec 20, 2011 @ 10:14 AM

Tags: RFID, Embedded RFID, RFID Predictions, RFID Data, Big Data

Big Data“If history is any indication, we should assume that any technology that is going to have a significant impact over the next 10 years is already 10 years old!”

-- Bill Buxton, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and author of Sketching User Experiences

It amazes me each year. It seems like I blink and all of a sudden I see the torrent of predictions coming at me from all directions. Where did the year go?

Indeed, it was another year of fast-paced change in the RFID market. The end of the year is always a good time to take a step back and consider what the next year will hold. I personally find it fun to make predictions.  Except, instead of predicting the next year, I’m going to channel Bill Buxton and his quote referenced above and issue somewhat of a challenge for the next 10 years.

It’s Time to Reshape the Way We Think About RFID

During the last 10 years (and even going back 40 years since the first passive radio transponder with memory was patented in 1970), RFID hardware and software providers have continued to innovate and collaborate at a notable clip.  RFID readers have evolved to include a wide variety of purpose-built form factors, and embedded RFID modules are being used to enable many stationary and mobile devices with the auto-identification technology. 

In fact, the technology itself has matured to a point where it is no longer a barrier to entry for most markets and applications.  What’s more, businesses across all industries have a great number of well documented end user case studies and best practices to help them with their ROI analysis. 

So now what?

End customer organizations of all sizes have learned where and when it makes the most sense to apply RFID to their business processes.  RFID vendors and solution providers have survived the technology maturation process.  Now it’s time to think beyond RFID of the past 10 years and toward the next wave of innovation. 

Big Data, Meet RFID

We should think beyond the underlying technology – and toward the value of RFID data, emerging methods of data access and analysis, and about the many innovative enterprise and consumer applications that can be enabled with this data.

We should think beyond one-size-fits-all readers – and toward the wide variety of fixed-position and embedded RFID reader form factors that can support a great number of unbelievably diverse applications.

We should think beyond siloed deployments of RFID – and toward the hardware, software and data becoming an integrated element of the enterprise.

We should think beyond the singular technology of RFID – and toward the combination of RFID and other technologies like GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

As we’ve experienced with many other data-driven solutions, this progression will lead to RFID as a data platform – with RFID modules and extensible software interfaces allowing for the integration of RFID with other technologies. Even more compelling is when these devices will be able to learn about our environment, provide contextual adaptation if necessary, and, connect those objects to the broader Internet and business systems. 

Thought about in this way, RFID becomes much more valuable in the context of “big data” and how it is “the next frontier of innovation”, as McKinsey states earlier this year in its report Big Data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity. In fact, it cites the Internet of Things as a major contributing factor to the explosion of data.

Consistent with Bill Buxton’s view, big data is not new. If you look at the amount of information Google deals with as an example, it’s been around for at least 10 years. But as more objects get connected to the network, the idea of “big” data as we’ve known it so far will seem quaint (a view that McKinsey shares).

The increasing volume and detail of information captured by enterprises, the rise of multimedia, social media, and the Internet of Things will fuel exponential growth in data for the foreseeable future.

Along with the torrent of data RFID platforms will produce come challenges in dealing with the data; first and foremost the need to think at a business process level about how this data can be used to create more organizational value in the form of increased revenue, cost savings and profits. 

So, along with the challenge to think about RFID from a data vs. technology perspective comes the need for the industry to provide more end-to-end-solutions.  The market needs to move fast because companies already are thinking at this level, in particular in the in-transit, retail and healthcare markets - which we’ll examine in future posts. 

In the meantime, what do think?  What are the challenges you see ahead for the industry? I’d love to discuss in the comments and in future posts.

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