NFC tags vs QR codes: which is better for construction?

For almost all of history, gathering and sharing information about a building site relied on visual inspections and manual processes. But this is starting to change. A wide range of innovative technologies are altering how we collect and share information on construction sites. And some of the most compelling ways for doing this involve NFC tags and QR codes.

Both NFC tags and QR codes allow construction companies to gather and share useful information around building sites. They’re low cost, easy to use and flexible – and both have seen massive growth in recent years.

What exactly are they, how do NFC tags and QR codes help construction projects? And, in the battle of NFC tags vs QR codes, which is better for construction?

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.

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.

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How can NFC tags and QR codes be used in construction?

NFC tags and QR codes can both be used for similar tasks on construction sites. Here are just some of the ways you could use either technology:

  • Worker check-in

When did a worker arrive on-site and when did they leave? By placing an NFC tag or QR code at the entrance to the site and asking labourers to scan it as they enter, you gather precise data on attendance. You’ll know who’s on your site at any one time, and how long they were there. In the past, you might have had a sign-in book – yet it’s easy to falsify attendance with a paper-based system. It’s much harder to falsify attendance if it requires the individual’s smartphone to be present too.

  • Tracking equipment

Theft from construction sites costs £800 million each year. So, what if your staff had to scan items with their own personal smartphone each time they moved materials or equipment around the site? This would present a serious obstacle to petty theft.

  • Transmitting building model information

QR codes and NFC tags allow you to easily transmit building model information to anyone with a smart device. By placing tags or codes around a building site, any subcontractor could instantly pull up information about the structure on their smartphone.

For instance, an NFC tag could be placed in each flat in a new apartment complex. By holding their device close to the tag, subcontractors could see the latest floor plans. By giving them up to date information in the palm of their hands, the risk of mistakes could be reduced.

  • Access snag/punch lists

It is easy to add snag/punch lists to QR codes or NFC tags. Subcontractors then just need to scan the tag at the door of each room to see what tasks still need to be completed.

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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 a certain amount of overlap in terms of what they can do – 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 tags are tough, hardwearing and waterproof, making them very suitable for the construction site.
Cost
Although NFC tags are fairly cheap (as little as 10p per tag), this is a cost that can mount up.
Do not require internet connection
You don’t need an internet connection to open up information contained in an NFC tag. The data is simply transmitted between the tag and the user’s device.
Creation and installation
While you can buy simple NFC tags easily online, if you want customised versions then you will have to get tags printed by a specialist. You may also need support when initially adding data to the chips.
Suitable for construction work
Users can access information quickly while wearing gloves and without needing to open up their phone camera.
Not readable by all devices
Almost all Android smartphones and recent iPhones (since 2016) can read NFC tags. However, users with older devices may struggle.

 

QR codes in construction – pros and cons

By comparison, here are the strengths and weaknesses of using QR codes on construction sites:

Pros

Cons

Easy and cheap/free to print
There are many websites that allow you to create your own QR codes for free. You can then print them out using a regular printer and place them around your sites.
Not very resilient
QR codes tend to be printed on paper. This means they’re often not appropriate on exposed building sites. They also tear and damage easily. Any damage to the image renders them useless.
Widely recognised
Due in large part to their booming use during the coronavirus pandemic, people are now familiar with using QR codes in many parts of life, so adoption is straightforward.
Inconvenient
For site workers who are wearing gloves, it is inconvenient to open up their device’s camera, scan a QR code and tap on a link.
Easy to install
QR codes are also very easy to place around building sites. With little more than Sellotape, they can be installed anywhere you wish.
Relies on internet connection
You need an internet connection to use a QR code. For example, if a site is deep underground or far from a city, workers won’t be able to access the information the QR code contains.

NFC tags vs QR codes: why PlanRadar uses NFC technology

We see both NFC tags and QR codes as valuable innovations that will help share information on construction sites and improve processes. While we think both technologies have huge potential, we chose to prioritise NFC tags in our app as they are most appropriate to the specific challenges facing construction sites.

Thanks to their resilience, ease of use and the fact you don’t need an internet connection to get to the information they contain, NFC tags appear to be preferable in most construction environments. That means our customers can now begin placing NFC tags around sites and ensure workers get the information they need while on the go.

Find out more about how NFC tags work with PlanRadar here.

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