Asset management tools yield big savings

Historically, the construction industry hasn't been an early adopter of new technologies, so wary HVAC and plumbing professionals can take comfort in the fact that the three technologies presented here are not new at all. In fact, radio-frequency identification (RFID) harks back some 60 years, global positioning systems (GPS) about 50 years, and software-as-a-service (SaaS) has been around for at least 10 years. What's new is their application to some of the industry's most vexing problems: keeping track of assets and reducing the actual and hidden costs of lost or stolen equipment.

Here's an example of how unwillingness to let go of antiquated processes can cost you and your business: A worker misplaced an inexpensive tool, so employees scoured the jobsite and warehouse looking for the item, to no avail. Finally, an unused tool was located and sent to the site, many hours later.

When the cost of the delay was added up, the value of the time wasted came to several hundred dollars, not counting the cost of a replacement tool. If the company had had modern tool and equipment management systems in place, the tool would have been located quickly — or more likely, it would never have been misplaced in the first place.

Asset management tools

RFID: Electronic tags containing a chip and antenna are embedded into tools and small equipment for easy tracking and reference. Tools and equipment are scanned into and out of inventory using handheld radio transmitter devices. These chips, much like bar code labels, store unique identifying information, such as product or serial numbers and the item’s location and service history. A handheld scanner is used to access information stored within the chip. The scanners send radio energy to the tag, which is sent back to the scanner to locate data about the item in the database.

What does this mean for you and your business? Not only does RFID technology help reduce loss, it also provides valuable information for each tool or piece of equipment at the touch of a button. From purchase date and original investment cost to maitenance schedules and user authorization, RFID helps contractors keep track of their important assets, ultimately reducing loss and improving efficiencies and the bottom line.

GPS: A receiver is attached to an object, such as a front loader or work truck. The receiver calculates the position of the object by timing signals sent by satellites orbiting the Earth. From that data, the receiver identifies the transit time of the message, determining the distance to each satellite and calculating the object’s precise location. GPS units display location information using longitude and latitude, along with dynamic data like direction, speed and elevation, which are calculated from position changes.

Recent satalite technologies let GPS systems obtain signals indoors and through thick concrete structures like parking garages. GPS can accurately pin-point the object within three feet of the receiver.

Companies will find GPS technology invaluable in tracking large pieces of equipment, including vehicles and trailers. In using GPS, a company can better manage its resources and ensure that large or expensive equipment is properly used and accounted for. Also, if a work truck or large piece of equipment is stolen, GPS can pinpoint where the stolen item is. Many contractors thank their GPS system for helping recover stolen equipment. The bottom line? GPS solutions provide accurate and efficient tool and equipment tracking and management, helping your bottom line.

SaaS: These web-based applications save money by freeing companies from having to buy, build and maintain internal IT infrastructures. Instead of being responsible for licensing, installing and maintaining the software, companies subscribe to services that are delivered over the Internet from the provider's servers. The subscription model typically costs significantly less than standalone products and is available on a pay-as-you-go basis.

SaaS provides real-time data from any location, as well as information about tools and equipment moving from one jobsite to another. This allows multiple authorized users to access the program simply and securely, no matter where they are. An automatic synchronized system gives an enterprise-wide, detailed inventory of every tool or piece of equipment.

An easy-to-use and easily accessible application will prevent theft and increase control by tracking all tools and equipment at all times. Access to this data allows contractors and managers to make smart decisions about how to best use resources on current jobs and calculate what is needed on future jobs.

Whether used individually or in combination, these three technologies yield big savings in tool and equipment loss and replacement — as much as 50% to 80% in many cases. Rest assured, these technologies are not new or cutting-edge, but rather well-developed and highly recognized programs that give contractors the information they need to maximize profits and efficiency and improve the bottom line. While it is impossible to predict the “next big idea” in the construction industry, it is evident that RFID, GPS and SaaS technologies will withstand the test of time and keep companies moving forward.

About the author:

Don Kafka is the president of Denver-based ToolWatch Corp., a technology company providing tool and equipment systems that track and manage resources throughout an entire construction organization. For more information on technologies mentioned in the article, visit: http://www.toolwatch.com or call 1-800-676-4034.