Put technology to work – find available materials when you need them.
Put technology to work – find available materials when you need them.
Track & Trace
What does “Track & Trace” mean?
For starters, its meaning is pretty much contained in the name – track and trace (or viewing the historical and real-time lifecycle) of required items by location and status – often through the supply chain, so you can find your available assets when you need them. Assets could be any item of value that merits close tracking and direct on-demand visibility – imagine one for your car keys, wallet, wedding ring, teenagers… but, we digress. For our purposes, track & trace is specific to manufactured or industrial building materials that are built for a single purpose, to be used in a specific location (e.g. pipe spools, structural steel, valves, cable, etc.), or bulk items that are used across multiple scopes of work (e.g. bolt-up, gaskets, fittings, etc).
How is track & trace done?
Track & trace can be done with any number of technologies, depending on the circumstances of the materials in question. Some examples of technologies used for track & trace include GPS, cellular trilateration (mobile phone tracking), barcodes, low-energy Bluetooth® (BLE), active & passive RFID, real-time location services (RTLS), and more. One or more of these technologies is typically attached via a “tag” to the item being tracked. Then using the technology platform of choice, the item is tracked as it passes through “choke points” throughout the supply chain lifecycle. Gate readers, vehicle-mounted readers and manual sweeps scan an area, ping cellular towers, and record GPS coordinates, providing direct and up-to-date asset visibility by status and location. Often, the best solution for our customers comes when using two or more technologies tailored for various needs in different stages of the supply chain.
RFID-tagged items are tracked as they move through various “choke points” throughout the supply chain. Seen here from left to right is an item being tagged, the item being detected by a gate reader as it leaves a location, a pickup truck equipped with a vehicle-mounted reader scanning the laydown yard, and finally, the material being found with Jovix.
Why is this needed? Is stuff lost that often?
1. Well, yes. But it’s not just “stuff”. Remember, these are often key materials manufactured specific to a certain location in an engineered design and are required by construction based on prioritized schedules. Missing or being unable to locate one key item can and will negatively impact the construction schedule while impacting project cost. Depending on the project, a week on the schedule could equate to millions of dollars in man-power and lost productivity.
2. In addition to this not being just stuff, these key materials DO get lost. But before you give the supply chain a hard time, you need to understand that many of these projects have hundreds of thousands of materials, coming from many fabricators and suppliers around the globe. And those projects are just getting bigger, more complex, and more global! It’s not easy. In fact, according to the Construction Industry Institute (CII) and our own past client case studies, approximately 10% of material is temporarily misplaced on a construction project. That means 10% of materials will cause some form of delay to construction crews. When you’re talking about projects valued in the hundreds of millions to tens of billions, lasting for 3-5 years, 10% is easily in the tens of millions of dollars.
The two elements above are the “why”. With track & trace, material can be found faster, and location updates are automatic, reducing material wait times from 10% to, well, zero.
How do you drive wait times to zero?
It starts well ahead of the construction site. In fact, the further up the supply chain we can go, the more effective we can be at driving wait times to zero. It starts with the engineering and supplier data collection, then the physical tagging of items, which enables automated data collection.
When an item is tagged, each time it passes through a “gate” and gets “swept”, “scanned”, etc., it’s automatically updated in the application, providing project-wide visibility as to where your assets are now located. It may have moved. It may still be in the same place – only now it’s under four feet of snow. Either way, it’s important where a material is located for quick retrieval when it becomes required for construction.
What is geo-contextual automation?
Geo-contextual automation is the concept of using technology as a means of automating status and location of items. This can be accomplished with a wide range of technologies, with the correct mix often based upon several factors specific to a project. The basis of geo-contextual automation is to use location-based algorithms to not only locate an item, but also associate a material’s status to that location. With these such rules in place, an item’s status could be updated when it is found in a new location by a read (RFID Reader) or scan (barcode).
How Does Geo-Contextual Automation Work?
Geo-contextual automation starts when a physical item is associated with its electronic tag (RFID tag, barcode, or other technology). Once they are associated in the database of the application, the “tag” is then attached to the item for tracking throughout the supply chain, laydown yard, workface, or other. This initial association is typically done by a handheld scan with a mobile device, and future reads are achieved throughout the lifecycle of the material by drone-mounted readers, vehicle-mounted readers, gate readers, handheld sweeping devices, etc. Each time the material is read, this will confirm or update the location and status automatically.
- Allows for a project status workflow to be automated by technology, and reduces the need for intimate understanding by workers of not only of items in question, but details of their location and status. This system can status materials from fabrication all the way to installation – updating the project team (and others) along the way with material status and location information.
- Automatically assign status based on geo-fencing logic or gate reads, providing a seamless workflow and removing manual status changes and verifications.
- Provides GPS material locations that are visible on a digital map. This enables construction teams to leverage their mobile devices to locate items, and then be guided directly to them via GPS & RFID and/or barcode scanning.
Are other companies doing this yet?
Many are, but in an industry that has traditionally been reliant on manual, paper-based data collection, change can be slow to instigate. But the industrial crust has been penetrated, and we’re seeing more and more adoption with each successful implementation of track & trace programs. Automation of material location provides real-time, geo-contextual, and relational visibility regarding construction materials from fabrication through installation. What’s even better, when strategies are built and implemented correctly based on facts and evidence, our common project-wide goals become significantly more attainable.
Another reason for the increased demand for efficiency is that projects have historically been cost-plus (meaning they were not incentivized to save time and money). The current economic climate has driven a focus in cost and schedule accountability.
This seems great, but break down the benefits a bit more.
Construction Schedule Certainty
- Improve material visibility through the supply chain.
- Allow for better construction pull mechanisms based on real-time Material Readiness by location.
- On and Offsite Staging
Reduction of Material Search Labor
- 9x reduction in material location times
- Find > Pick > Issue to construction. Faster.
Productivity Gains in Construction Hours
- Feed construction with on-time delivery of materials to the workface.
- Reduce craft wait times due to material management issues or temporarily lost items.
- Find materials when needed.
- Prevent unnecessary scrap/surplus at the end of a project.
- Eliminate re-procurement due to lost or improperly stored material.
Value to EPC
- Training and experience with innovative technology can be used as a competitive advantage on future projects
- Speaking a common language, while working within a single platform across the supply chain, as we work together to achieve a common goal.