The Use of Smart Chip Technology in the Electrical Contracting Industry
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags and Micro-Electromechanical Systems (MEMS) have significant potential for application in the electrical construction industry. The two technologies represent advanced levels of the family of identification and sensory devices known as smart chips. RFID and MEMS offer a way to store and communicate data wirelessly through radio waves from computer chips in tags to readers without the line-of-sight requirement that bar codes need. These technologies are already being used in areas such as animal tracking, agriculture, airline baggage handling, transportation, and athletics. Future applications in construction are expected to be extremely beneficial. The global market for RFID and MEMS is increasing rapidly. The RFID market is expected to grow to $2.65 billion by 2005 (Jacobs et. al, 2002) and the MEMS market is expected to reach $7 billion by 2004 (ASME, 2002). With the growing technology and application possibilities, RFID and MEMS will become everyday essential devices for all kinds of data collection and communication.
Many things affect the application of RFID and MEMS. Durability, data capacity, read range, reading capabilities, operating frequency, efficiency and productivity are all factors that must be addressed. This report not only addresses these issues, but it also illustrates the potential that RFID and MEMS have in the electrical contracting industry.
RFID and MEMS have been tested on construction projects and have been shown to increase productivity in several case studies. However, many companies already use techniques that they are familiar with and use with great confidence. Therefore, it is necessary to prove how RFID and MEMS can be beneficial by saving both time and money. Minimal training is needed because the process of data collection is very similar to the method currently used with bar codes, and is actually easier since many items can be read simultaneously.
To show the advantages of RFID, the research team developed a successful tool-tracking inventory system that is also capable of storing operation and maintenance (O&M) data using commercially available active RFID tags. With the participation of local electrical contracting firms, the system was tested on a number of construction jobsites in Central Kentucky. The project demonstrated that active RFID can be used in construction environments to inventory small tools and to store pertinent O&M data on the tools, despite metal and other jobsite interferences. The project prototype was able to track tools up to 30 feet on construction jobsites, even successfully inventorying tools located inside metal toolboxes. The research also examined the incremental improvement that passive RFID offers over the current barcoding technology. The major barrier identified to date in the use of RFID is the economics of the technology, especially that of active RFID. To address this issue, the research team in collaboration with FIATECH (a non-profit consortium designed to support fully integrated and automated project processes) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) examined the issues, beginning with standardization of active RFID. The research team feels that standardization of active RFID would greatly facilitate the incorporation of RFID tags by the tool manufacturers and promote the widespread use of the technology.