Digital Supply Chains via IoT

By Jessica Vance

Despite technological advances in the construction industry, manual data collection processes still exist throughout the entire material lifecycle for so many companies. This includes manual processes for materials management, such as receiving, storing, inspecting, and picking.

There are also manual processes related to the construction teams - for example, requesting material based on work packages and tracking installed material location as part of a handover process.

A Digital Supply Chain powered by the Internet of Things (IoT) and auto-ID eliminates the use of clipboards by automating these processes, thereby improving productivity and increasing efficiency.

What is Auto-ID?

Auto-identification technology includes barcode labels, passive and active RFID, and GPS technology. These tags, or sensors, are seen in a variety of use cases and different environments. The type of auto-ID tag (or combination of tag types) depends on the specific needs of a project and the value of knowing where the material is within the project’s lifecycle.

Some factors that are taken into consideration are extreme temperatures, exposure to salt or moisture, and whether or not the environment requires intrinsically safe hardware. Specific use cases that may affect the type of auto-ID technology used on the project include indoor vs. outdoor storage needs, global tracking, or in-transit locating requirements, and a tag’s cost will depend on its capabilities.

For example, a barcode label may cost a fraction of a penny, while one GPS tag might run hundreds of dollars. The important thing to remember, however, with any auto-ID is that the value is in its ability to collect data at the point of contact with the physical material.

There are a variety of readers that capture the data contained on auto-ID tags throughout the material lifecycle.

  • Mobile Readers scan barcodes, passive, and active RFID tags.

  • Gate Readers recognize passive and active RFID tags and keep track of materials as they enter or exit a facility.

  • Vehicle-Mounted Readers collect data from active RFID tags as the vehicle travels through a laydown yard.

What Challenges Can Be Solved Using Auto-ID?

There are many sophisticated tools found at the home office that support materials management functions. Workers have access to these tools at field offices or job trailers, but when they step outside of that trailer and enter a warehouse, laydown yard, or fabrication area, everything is managed with clipboards. Auto-ID and mobile technology empowers workers with access to the real-time data necessary to make informed decisions in the field.

Jovix® is secure, cloud-based software used by construction contractors to request material online, thereby eliminating emails, phone calls, and paper-based material requests. Contractors also use Jovix for real-time location and status of the material required to complete their construction work plans.

Whether a project has a simple structure with material arriving directly on the jobsite or a more complicated supply chain with off-site fabrication and modularization, visibility into material status can be challenging. By leveraging auto-ID technology, project teams receive real-time material status updates and are always aware of a material’s current location within the supply chain.

When considering the use of auto-ID in construction, most people first think of material location, and there are many location apps that help workers find materials in outdoor laydown yards. However, the real value of auto-ID lies in not only knowing where an item is physically, but where the material is within the entire material lifecycle and context of the overall work plan.

There are a variety of ways auto-ID can support your material lifecycle. Every project is different, so you may need one or several processes that require mobile and auto-ID technology. The material lifecycle begins when a digital asset becomes a fabricated physical material and ends when that material is consumed into the final operating asset during installation. Historically, critical material data has been collected at each of these touchpoints with clipboards.

Auto-ID supports construction processes by automating data collection and feeding it into a material management system, removing inefficiencies associated with manual processes. As a result, critical material information gets into the hands of those workers that are directly responsible for keeping a construction project on budget and on schedule.

What is a Digital Supply Chain?

Transforming the traditional exchanges of information in the construction supply chain from document-centric to data-centric creates a Digital Supply Chain (DSC). The DSC includes work process integration throughout the execution of the project. In the same way that aspects of EPC have moved upstream (i.e., modular construction), the DSC program moves the digital creation of in-bound asset information upstream and enables suppliers to publish asset data at the point of origin.

This functionality removes data entry from the project site and transfers ownership back to the supplier (or the original source of information) regarding the material and the equipment being supplied. This improves project visibility into the physical structure of materials arriving at the jobsite and provides a better understanding of the supply chain, translating into a deeper understanding of constructability.

By increasing the auto-ID footprint on the project and moving this work upstream, the downstream benefits of transactional efficiency gains and improved material control are optimized. A solid DSC program is not limited to just the use of auto-ID hardware and software but also includes supplier integration instructions, contract requirements language, and requirements compliance monitoring to ensure that supplier participation is achieved.

The Digital Supply Chain opens a direct line of engagement with the suppliers, resulting in tighter integration of supplier information. Adding suppliers into the project’s work plan allows for a healthy environment with shared information between all parties.

A DSC program promotes the digital assignment of all assets to a parent catalog item and/or work plan (CWP/IWP). This prevents an environment of unmanaged “ship-loose”, which often leads to inefficiencies regarding proper asset management. Additionally, understanding all components related to CWPs and/or IWPs prevents improper issuing of assets to construction crews. Correctly issued IWPs not only make crews more productive but also keep foremen and superintendents in the field managing work rather than chasing missing materials from incomplete issuances.

A Digital Supply Chain’s aim is to incorporate suppliers into project execution, bringing focus to cost reduction and schedule risk by digitizing the material coordination throughout the supply chain and across all project departments and locations.

Learn more about how Jovix provides Digital Supply Chain visibility by visiting their website.

Jessica’s career has spanned from marketing to PR, sales to account management leading her to her current role as Vice President of Marketing for Atlas RFID.

Jessica serves on the Norma Livingston Ovarian Cancer Foundation Executive Board and leads the community impact committee for the Alabama Goodwill Industries Executive Board. Jessica is a mom to 2 rescue dogs who remind her everyday what unconditional love is. 

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