ROCKVILLE, Md. - The Mechanical Contracting Education & Research Foundation (MCERF) has released a study concerning radio frequency identification tags (RFIDs). Four years ago, MCERF listed RFIDs as one of the five key trends for the future of the mechanical contracting industry. The study, “Measuring the Effectiveness of RFID on Mechanical Contracting Jobsites: A Practical Evaluation,” which combined lab analysis with actual construction site research, was conducted by an academic research team from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that worked closely with construction professionals from Waldinger Corp. Research activities took place on the University of Nebraska Medical Center Project site and in Waldinger’s metal fabrication shop in Omaha. Professor Tim Wentz, MCERF’s three-time Educator of the Year recipient, was a member of the research team and served as the project’s liaison to the Foundation.

The project’s three objectives were: identify and evaluate specific types of RFID technology for use in “real world” mechanical construction; demonstrate and test RFID technology for a small, but relevant, sample of scenarios involving inventory control, loss, and pilferage; and recommend strategies for implementation. The job activities tracked in this study were tool tracking, gas bottle inventory management, and ductwork put in place.

From the data collected in the laboratory, the active tags were the only tags to have 100 percent reads at each orientation (front, back, and side) at distances of 20 and 25 feet. Both passive and active technologies were successful from all orientations at a distance of 10 feet or less.

Site testing was performed at Waldinger’s metal fabrication shop in order to test typical hazards that that may be present on a job site. The active tag worked in the light-shielded obstructed areas whereas passive tags did not. The passive tags performed better on metallic materials, such as ductwork. One type of passive tag used, the cargo tag, could be read at 5 feet in the on-site testing. The active tags were able to be read at up to 25 feet. Given these results, it was concluded that active tags are best for tracking gas bottles. While the passive tags do not perform as well in open environments at long distances, the reflective metal ductwork at the site increased the read success performance, making the passive tags a viable option for tracking the percent completion of ductwork. Testing showed that passive tag performance is also well suited to tool tracking.

When RFID is used for data capture, additional benefits such as inventory re-orders can be obtained to reduce emergency ordering costs and welding crew downtime due to empty gas bottles. These savings translate into fewer workdays lost and higher productivity. Tool tracking reduces both the direct cost of replacing tools and the indirect cost of downtime created by looking for tools.

The complete study is available on MCERF’s Website at

Publication date:12/17/2007