How Product Identifiers Can Enhance Your Building Process

barcode reader

Have you considered the significance of a product’s bar code when you shop at a supermarket? 

The 50-year-old invention contains a standardized product number essential to the operation of the whole value chain: the retail store, the distribution center, the transportation company, the warehouse, the vendor, and the producer. 

Standardized numbers also allow us consumers to find information about the ingredients of products, make price comparisons, and get food delivered to our door.

Shouldn’t we be able to do the same in construction? After all, we use thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of different products in a project.

What standards to utilize?

Last week, I wrote a Finnish article about a Building 2030 research project that studied supply chain management using standardized product IDs.

The research recommends using universal GS1 numbers in addition to or as a replacement for proprietary product identifiers.

GS1 is an international non-profit that provides unique identifiers for manufacturers’ products. Here are examples of valuable IDs:

  • GTIN (Global Trade Item Number) identifies a raw material, product, or package at the trade name level. A can of paint, a kitchen cabinet, or a prefabricated wall panel, for example, can get a unique GTIN code.
  • If you want to differentiate individual instances of the same product, use SGTIN (Serialized Global Trade Item Number.) For example, it is possible to identify precisely the same partition element on different floors with an SGTIN.
  • If you deliver pallets or shipping containers to the construction site and want to track them, use an SSCC (Serial Shipping Container Code).

You can use these codes in design, bills of materials, procurement, installation, handover, and building operation. The IDs are keys to linked data that can reside in in-house or public databases. You can read the identifiers with scanners or mobile devices and send the data to the cloud. 

Why should we use standardized product numbers?

Using standardized product identifiers offers many benefits, for example:

  • Everyone involved can systematically track the status of orders and deliveries throughout the project.
  • It is possible to automate design, procurement, and logistics data workflows.
  • You can spot missing or incorrect product deliveries early, not during installation.
  • Performing emission and embodied carbon calculations are more straightforward with actual product data.
  • Installation instructions and other relevant data are easy to manage and find.
  • The as-built data is accumulated throughout the building process. 

How to implement?

The research report points out that the required GS1 standards and tools already exist, but the implementation requires commitment from the whole industry.

Make-To-Stock products already have GTIN codes. The next step is to extend the use into the Manufacture-to-Order and Design-to-Order products, like prefabricated building parts. Adding the codes to existing software shouldn’t be difficult.

The Finnish construction sector is now trying to agree on systematically implementing GS1 standards.

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