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Major Chinese Oil Company Expedites Equipment Inspections via RFID

The firm's inspectors and oil workers are using Xerafy passive UHF tags and ATID handheld readers to locate transformers, as well as view data about them and update maintenance records.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 30, 2014

Managing and inspecting heavy equipment in Chinese oil fields has posed a challenge for oilfield operators, which often contain hundreds of thousands of assets on a single site. That task grew more challenging in 2013 when China's State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) issued new standards mandating that companies maintain records of their assets' maintenance history, with the goal of reducing the number of accidents.

In response, one of China's leading oil exploration and production companies has adopted a radio frequency identification solution. The firm has already affixed Xerafy tags to 30,000 portable transformers, and has issued ATID handheld RFID readers to field workers. The company also plans to begin tagging other items, such as heavy machinery, pipes and valves.

A field worker uses an ATID handheld RFID reader to capture the ID number of a Xerafy Cargo Trak attached to a transformer.
In seeking a technological solution, the oil company wanted not only to comply with SAWS' requirements, but also to increase its own efficiency. The firm used bar-coded labels to track its items, which inspectors scanned. They then manually filled out paper inspection reports that had to be taken back to an office for inputting. Such a system allowed for mistakes, or for the loss of data between the field and the office database. In addition, scanning some equipment, such as high-pressure boilers, can be dangerous for employees.

Not only could RFID technology make the process of collecting inspection data more efficient and error-free, but the improved access to records could ensure that equipment is inspected and maintained more frequently. This, in turn, could lead to better operating equipment, the company (which has asked to remain unnamed) reported to VictorySoft Co. Ltd., a Chinese oil industry systems integrator that provided the RFID solution.

By deploying RFID, the oil company could also locate assets that might be difficult to find in the large oil field via manual searches and bar-code scans.

The company faced several challenges when seeking an RFID solution. For one thing, in some cases the tags would need to be affixed to transformers located eight or more feet above the ground. Therefore, the system needed to provide a long read range. What's more, the highly metallic environment had the potential to interfere with RF signals transmitted by the tags and readers, while exposure to weather, temperatures ranging from -30 degrees to +60 degrees Celsius (-22 degrees to +140 degrees Fahrenheit) and damaging chemicals all made highly ruggedized tags a necessity. The oilfield operator had tried several passive RFID tags and readers on its own, but had found the performance not to be as reliable as it needed.

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