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ChevronTexaco Takes RFID Offshore

A field test at one of ChevronTexaco's offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico provides insights into how RFID can be used in shipping/receiving operations. ChevronTexaco is now looking at other pilot projects.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jan 17, 2004ChevronTexaco Gulf of Mexico Exploration and Production Co. operates more than 100 oil-drilling or -production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. The 400 to 600 men and women who toil on the more than 100 ChevronTexaco oil-drilling or -production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico at any given time require a wide range of supplies for operations, everything from fuel and large drill components to groceries and laundered clothing. But because storage space on a drilling platform is limited, a supply ship must frequently visit each platform to deliver provisions and pick up worn-out or broken parts, trash, dirty laundry and other items and bring them back to the one of three onshore warehousing and shipping terminals that ChevronTexaco operates along the Gulf of Mexico.

Depending on its use, each platform needs supply shipments from twice per week to every day. The mainland base facilities send prepared shipments to the offshore platforms between 10 pm and 2 am, with the shipments arriving at the platforms around 6 am. Often, suppliers deliver their goods to the mainland base just prior to the scheduled departures to the offshore platforms, so supplies need to be quickly sorted, tracked and loaded. The mainland base facilities receive supply shipments from hundreds of suppliers, all with paper manifests. These manifests need to be entered manually into an electronic inventory program called a shorebase manifest application (SMA) that ran on server located at the base facility.

Supply ships visit each platform to deliver provisions and pick up worn-out or broken parts, trash, dirty laundry and other items

Currently, the manifests for supply shipments are made using the SMA and then printed out. Shipping and receiving personnel at the base facility use this paper manifest to put together the shipments for each offshore platform and load them onto the supply boat. The paper copy of the manifest is then given to the boat captain to bring to the platform with the shipments, and a copy is faxed to the platform.

Looking to improve the efficiency and accountability of its supply shipments to offshore oil-drilling or production platforms, the company decided to try RFID technology in a field test. The pilot would track shipments between one of ChevronTexaco's more than 100 offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and a shipping/receiving/warehousing onshore terminal Venice, Fla. Although during the pilot, these paper manifests would still be created and used because not all of the items being shipped were tagged, in a permanent deployment of the RFID technology, all items would be tagged and the paper manifests would be replaced by electronic ones.

To help it implement the trial, ChevronTexaco worked with the http://www.fiatech.org/projects/ijs/schips.htm Smart Chips Project of Fiatech Fiatech, a nonprofit consortium of construction companies, material suppliers and academics focused on speeding the development and deployment of technologies in the construction industry. Fiatech's Smart Chips Project is studying how auto-ID technologies, including RFID, can be used in the construction industry.

Fiatech's Smart Chips Project invited Phase IV Engineering, a radio frequency systems developer based in Boulder, Colo., to provide the RFID technology for the pilot. Previously, Phase IV had been involved in projects using RFID for the U.S military supply logistics and had worked with Fiatech's Smart Chips Project on another RFID pilot (see Case Builds for RFID in Construction).

An IT project manager and an IT analyst employed by ChevronTexaco were involved in the establishment and design of the pilot. They made several visits to the shorebase and offshore facilities before the launch of the pilot in order to meet with the shipping and receiving personnel, all of whom are contract employees, and explain how the pilot project would work, what roles they would take, and how the RFID technology functions. They checked in with the personnel both at the onshore and offshore locations before each shipping/receiving cycle, in order to confirm that all of the equipment and software was functioning properly. They also called or visited each location after each delivery to make sure that all of the proper protocols regarding tagging and using the manifests were followed in accordance with how the project was outlined.

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