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Intelligent Phones

22 September 2010

Costain is trialling new mobile technology systems that it hopes will lead to greater accountability and financial savings on sites, as well as enhancing the Company's brand with customers.

The system involves attaching radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to equipment such as power tools in order to monitor their usage. These tags can be read by software installed on 'intelligent phones' with e-mail capabilities or on personal data assistants (PDAs).

Earlier uses of similar Global Positioning System technology on road maintenance contracts have enabled staff to see instantly which vehicle is closest to an incident that requires attention.

RFID readers, when held close to a tool fitted with a tag, can read information such as when the tool requires maintenance or replacement of components.  The tags also allow staff to monitor who last used a particular tool, by noting when it was logged out of the site stores, and by whom.

As a result, says Steve Hardcastle, a Graduate Safety Advisor on the MAC 10 contract, "People are being more careful of equipment. If it sustains a small piece of damage they are much keener to get that reported." In this way, a small, relatively inexpensive fault is prevented from deteriorating and requiring substantially more expensive rectification later.

"We've compared three different road projects over a 12-month period," says Hardcastle. "And on the face of it, the savings we are looking at are quite significant. What we're seeing is greater accountability for plant and equipment that's been signed out of stores. It's bringing out a fairly strong level of cost savings on damaged or lost equipment." On the Church Village Bypass project in South Wales, for example, it has saved several hundred pounds a month.

The hope is that use of the RFID system will also bolster the Costain brand by demonstrating to existing and potential clients the Group's commitment to minimising costs.

The trial is still ongoing. Against the savings seen so far has to be set the cost of the RFID tags themselves plus the readers and software necessary to read them. And to make the most of the system, it must also be adopted by Costain's supply chain members.