For many years, the collection and the transmission of information on construction sites was dependent on visual inspections and manual procedures. However, this has started to change recently. Thanks to new and modern technologies that have emerged in the wake of digitalization, the way we gather and share information on construction sites is changing. Among the most successful and promising technologies used on construction sites for information sharing are NFC tags and QR codes

NFC tags and QR codes are cutting-edge technologies that can be used to collect and share information. Both technologies are compatible with modern smartphones and tablets. Mobile devices can retrieve and display the stored information, such as links, texts or images, within a brief period of time. You may be familiar with the technology of NFC tags or QR codes from your everyday life. These technologies are being used increasingly in our daily lives for the purpose of payment or to retrieve information.

The Future of Construction Project Management

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NFC tags and QR codes enable contractors to collect and share useful information on construction sites. Both options add value to construction site efficiency, both are inexpensive, and both technologies are easy to use. It is therefore not surprising that QR codes and NFC tags have gained tremendous momentum among construction companies over the last few years. In this article, you will thus discover what NFC tags and QR codes are and how they are used in construction projects.

What are NFC tags and QR codes?

NFC tags and QR codes are clever technologies that help you gather or share information, primarily in conjunction with a smartphone. You will almost certainly have used NFC tags or QR codes in your personal life – especially during the pandemic where being ‘contactless’ has been imperative.

  • NFC tags

A Near Field Communication tag is a microchip that can be attached to almost anything. The NFC tag contains information, such as location or an instruction manual, which can then be sent to a smartphone when it is held close to the tag.

If you’ve ever made a payment with your mobile phone you’ve used a form of NFC. Your smartphone detects the payment terminal, and the onboard NFC chip sends your card details via a radio signal to the merchant.

  • QR code

A Quick Response code is a type of bar code which can contain a large amount of useful information. On a smartphone or similar device, you need a QR reader (which is now often bundled with the phone’s camera). You scan the code and this opens up a link to a website where you can download information.

Many people will now be familiar with using QR codes to view restaurant menus, but they’re also used in advertising campaigns, in factories and around historical monuments.

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Sensors and codes on construction sites

As the examples provided above show, NFC tags and QR codes are mainly used in consumer-facing applications today. But they’re making inroads into several industries, and they also have a lot of potential for construction sites.

The QR code was developed in Japan in the mid-1990s. Originally, it was mainly used in logistics. With the advent of modern mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, however, the QR code has gained popularity in other fields as well. The picture is similar with NFC technology. If we didn’t have smartphones, the use of NFC tags on today’s scale would hardly be conceivable. But what practical use do these sensors and codes bring to construction sites?

How can NFC tags and QR codes be utilized in the construction industry?

NFC tags and QR codes can both be used for similar tasks on construction sites. Below, you will discover some of the ways NFC tags and QR codes are already being applied on construction sites today.

Registration of working hours

Some may still be familiar with the traditional punch card, which was used mainly in factories, but also on construction sites. In many places, however, this system has largely disappeared. Modern NFC tags have widely taken over this task. If you place an NFC tag at the entrance to the construction site and ask workers to scan it when they enter, you can collect accurate data on attendance. You then know who is on your construction site at any given time and how long they were there. With the QR code, the whole thing is not so easy because you can simply photograph a QR code and scan it from anywhere. The QR code is therefore not suitable for recording working hours.

Journal

When it comes to journaling, QR technology has advantages over NFC tags. QR codes can be easily printed out and used in a variety of ways. Especially when it comes to smaller jobs or the repair of minor defects, QR technology is recommended. A QR code may be attached to the respective work area, which leads to the digital logbook of the sector. In this type of journal, different workers can read the problem or the order in detail, track work that has already been done and record their own work. This way, all the workers involved always have the information they need. No data is lost, nothing is forgotten and there will be no unnecessary redundancies. 

Transmission of building model information

With QR codes and NFC tags, you can easily communicate building model information to anyone with a smart device. If you place tags or codes on the construction site, every subcontractor can instantly access information about the building on their smartphone.

For example, an NFC tag or QR code could be placed in each flat of a new housing complex. By holding their device near the tag, subcontractors can see the latest floor plans. By putting up-to-date information in their hands, you can reduce the risk of mistakes.

Information on special equipment or machinery

Professional construction workers know how to use their tools. Nevertheless, it can be useful to provide large construction equipment or machinery with QR codes or NFC tags. Especially when many workers are involved, information about defects, warnings or error checklists should be attached. This can reduce misunderstandings and interruptions in construction processes. It is also possible to see who is responsible for the machine, access user manuals and record information on tank filling, utilization, exact location etc. for construction management. 

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NFC tags vs. QR codes: Which is best for construction?

QR codes and NFC tags are different technologies, but there is some overlap in terms of their uses – as the examples above show. So, which is best for construction sites?

NFC tags in construction – pros and cons

Firstly, here are the strengths and weaknesses of using NFC tags on construction sites:

Pros

Cons

Resilience in a tough working environment

NFC labels are rugged, durable and waterproof, making them ideal for use on the construction site.

Cost

Even though NFC labels are relatively cheap (as little as 10 pence per label), the costs can accumulate.

NFC tags do not require an Internet connection

You don’t need an Internet connection to open the information contained in an NFC tag. The data is simply transferred between the tag and the user’s device.

Creation and installation

While you can easily buy simple NFC tags online, if you want customized versions, you will need to have the tags printed by a specialist. You may also need assistance adding data to the chips.

Suitable for various construction work

Users can access information quickly with nothing more than a regular smartphone.

Not readable by old devices

Almost all Android smartphones and newer iPhones (since 2016) can read NFC tags. However, users with older devices may have issues.

QR codes in construction – pros and cons

Here, you will find the strengths and weaknesses of the use of QR codes on construction sites in comparison:

Pros

Cons

Easy and cheap/free to print

The generation of QR codes on PlanRadar and on various websites is free of charge. You can print the codes with a regular printer and place them at any possible location.

Not very resistant

If you print QR codes on paper and do not laminate them, the paper may be damaged or lost. To avoid having to print the codes again, you can foil the QR codes or use them on stickers.

Widely recognized

Not least because of the booming use during the coronavirus pandemic, people are now familiar with the use of QR codes in many areas of life, so adoption is easy.

A camera is necessary

Construction workers who use a phone without a camera will not be able to scan QR codes. You need to make sure that all workers are equipped with a device that is capable of scanning QR codes.

Easy to install

QR codes are really straightforward to put up on building sites. With little more than scotch tape, they can be attached anywhere you like.

Internet connection is recommended

You need an internet connection to use a regular QR code. However, there are certain apps that can retrieve lower-level information without an internet connection.

NFC tags vs. QR codes: why PlanRadar uses both technologies

We see both NFC tags and QR codes as valuable innovations that facilitate the exchange of information on construction sites and will improve processes. Both technologies have their advantages and disadvantages, and both technologies support procedures for which they are particularly well suited. We have therefore decided to implement both NFC tags and QR technology in our software.

Learn more about how NFC tags and QR codes work with PlanRadar here.