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EchoRFID Offers Views Into Buried Oil and Gas or Utility Pipes

The company's EchoShield PipeTalker solution is designed to track the locations and histories of pipes or other equipment from the point of manufacture through inspections and maintenance after installation.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 14, 2013

EchoRFID, a Colorado company founded by veterans of the oil and gas and radio frequency identification industries, is currently in discussions with potential clients to begin piloting an RFID and GPS solution, dubbed the EchoShield PipeTalker, that manages pipes and other equipment for oil and gas pipeline owners and operators. The solution has been five years in the making, according to the company, and was tested at a Colorado installation to determine whether tagged pipes could be located, and data related to those pipes accessed using a combination of RFID and GPS data.

With the solution, the company offers its own cloud-based server to host software tracking location and historical records for each tagged item. The solution also comes with EchoRFID's its own patented reading devices that incorporate a GPS unit and an ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) reader to provide location data, as well as Omni-ID Dura 3000 and Dura 1500 on-metal passive EPC Gen 2 tags. The system includes ODIN Technologies software (ODIN partnered with EchoRFID to develop the solution) to manage the capture and interpretation of RFID data.

During a field test of its PipeTalker system, EchoRFID attached Omni-ID Dura 1500 and Dura 3000 passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tags to pipes that were then buried in a trench.

Tracking pipes before and after underground installation is a challenging task for the oil and gas companies, EchoRFID explains, as well as for distributors and companies that provide further services to the pipes, such as the application of coatings, and also transport and store the pipes prior to their installation at a work site.

Approximately five years ago, a team of individuals from the oil and gas industry began building a software-based solution that could provide employees with a list of steps to follow while installing or maintaining pipes. At a construction site, workers could open the software on a PDA and follow a menu of tasks, responding to each prompt to indicate that a specific step was completed. However, the company decided that it would be good if the solution were designed to automatically trigger the listing of tasks, in order to ensure that all necessary work was carried out. What evolved is the marriage of two technologies: RFID and GPS.

The challenge, according to Layne Tucker, EchoRFID's CEO, is that once a tagged pipe is buried, the tag can no longer be read. As such, identifying the pipe's location would be difficult for workers, equipped with a handheld reader, who are conducting inventory counts or seeking to locate a specific section of piping or equipment for maintenance purposes.

The solution to that challenge is a GPS unit installed in the EchoShield PipeTalker handheld device, which also includes an RFID reader—the EchoShield PipeTalker handheld is available with a variety of reader makes and models. EchoRFID's sister company, ProStar (cofounded by Tucker), provides the GPS mapping software, known as Transparent Earth, used in the solution. By reading a tag and linking its ID number with the reader's longitude and latitude coordinates, the PipeTalker software—which operates both on the cloud-based server and on the handheld device—can store the pipe's location. Later on, workers can use the handheld's GPS function to identify the location of a tagged piece of pipe and, if appropriate, automatically call up a list of steps or answer questions about the processes being undertaken. They could also load photographs, video or vocal recordings about the pipe's location and installation. By identifying the tag—either via the handheld's RFID reader or its GPS unit—the system would automatically instruct the employee what to do regarding that tag's pipe, and solicit information about the actions he or she takes. "The tags provide a definitive trigger mechanism" for construction personnel, says Andre Cote, Omni-ID's VP of business development, who worked closely with EchoRFID during the solution's development.

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