How do you manage 9,000 tons of structural steel, 1,600 tons of platework, and 25 kilometers of piping on a mine construction project that will ultimately supply coal for 40 years to an adjacent power station? On large projects such as this, RFID (radio-frequency identification), GPS, and barcodes can lend a helping hand in keeping track of materials.

In South Africa at Exxaro’s Medupi expansion project at the Grootegeluk mine in the Limpopo province, project stakeholders are using technology to deliver a filter plant extension project. Leading the detail, fabricate, install, and commission project is contractor Katenge Tubular Construction, a Tubular Holdings Co., www.tubular.co.za, Bedfordview, South Africa.

As one of the largest privately owned construction firms in South Africa, Katenge Tubular Construction is using software to track the plant’s structural steel, platework, and piping.

The technology—Track’em from Saleem Technologies, www.trackem.com.au, Perth, Wash.—is a Web-based, GPS, barcode, and RFID material tracking system. With the technology, project managers can find the exact location of an item. The technology also allows for ongoing monitoring for each piece of equipment from fabrication to installation and through completion.

While the technology might sound a bit advanced or ‘futuristic,’ more construction teams are using this type of technology to track assets. Other big areas for material tracking in the construction industry include large equipment, hazardous materials, and large capital facilities projects such as hospitals, military bases, and others, says Francis Rabuck, director of realtime asset lab, Bentley Systems, www.bentley.com, Exton, Pa.

He says, “There has been a lot of progress there, especially in the healthcare space. Healthcare has always been the hot target for Wi-Fi-based in-building tracking, but lately there has been more systems that are coming out that aren’t dependent on just Wi-Fi and potentially use other technologies like ultra-wideband or ultrasonic (which is) using sound to track information. A lot of times these things are low cost and instant set ups that facilitate it.”

Tracking employees is becoming a bigger trend on construction jobsite for a number of reasons including managing safety, risk, and manhours. Rabuck points to a study being done in the Middle East where two systems are being used to compare and contrast people tracking. He says, “It is a massive job there, as you literally bus in loads of people and tools to a lot of these large construction sites and try to account for their whereabouts and their time in and their time out.” Tags affixed to badges or hardhats can track down the exact location of a worker.

Rabuck says, “The ultimate (concept) is putting (everything) together and tracking people, material, and time (in) what we call a work package … a unit of work that involves people, time, and material.” RFID and material tracking technology can help track all these items.

To learn more about how construction companies are using technology to keep track of materials and workforce, check out the recent feature Jobsite: The Next Generation in the Jan/Feb issue of Constructech magazine.