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Collaboration With Universities Could Yield Big Benefits for Woodside

I had a chance to visit the research facility housing Project Echo and came away impressed.
Posted By Mark Roberti, 09.02.2014

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Challenger Institute of Technology, home of Project Echo, following the conclusion of our RFID in Energy, Mining & Construction event, co-located with the 4th LCI Australian Lean Construction Conference, in Perth, Australia. Project Echo is a lean construction research program initiated by Woodside Energy, a leading Australian oil and gas company. Researchers from Australia's Curtin University collaborate on the project, which has government support.

The research facility has a small, working oil-production operation, which is used to train employees of local energy companies. Students involved with Project Echo are developing technological solutions to make liquefied natural gas (LNG) construction projects leaner and more efficient, by employing RFID and other technologies.

Project Echo physical test bed for RFID deployment in the oil and gas industry
During our visit—executives from several energy firms and other event attendees, as well as some exhibitors at RFID in Energy Mining & Construction, came along—we got to see an isotainer outfitted with an active RFID reader and a GPS device. The system was developed as part of Project Echo, and can be used to locate materials within a laydown yard.

The antenna creates a circular reader field with a 200-meter (656-foot) diameter. The idea is to place the isotainer at a remote location within a laydown yard, and to then use it to locate tagged materials around it. Users can move the device to another site and pinpoint tagged objects within the new area, according to the changing needs of LNG plant shutdown requirements.

RFID tags (Woodside's W-tags) deployed during trials at Project Echo
Some pipes, valves and other equipment onsite were identified via a W-tag introduced by Woodside, so students could test equipment at an operational facility (see Woodside Tests New Passive-Active RFID Tag). We also watched some videos of cool demonstrations conducted by the students. These involved the use of video analytics and other technologies (not RFID). In one, video technology was used to project parts that needed to be assembled in sequence. A computer showed an animated version of each component, which someone assembling the unit could use to confirm that he or she had the correct part (RFID could be used for this purpose) in the proper sequence. The computer then showed how the piece should be added to the unit. The idea is to speed up complex assembly tasks by providing guidance for the technician.

There were also videos showing 3-D images of the oil and gas training site. The concept of Project Echo is to link RFID tags to parts within a facility via 3D, and to then use tag reads to call up images of a particular object at the facility (or any other associated data, since the 3D model is already extensively employed to manage associated metadata).

Prototype RFID-enabled Isotainer with solar power and quick release swivel pole, at the entrance of the RFID for Energy, Mining & Construction conference
I was impressed by this collaboration between private industry and academia. Some 15 high-tech companies have joined the effort. Woodside provides input regarding the issues facing industry to ensure the research is geared toward addressing those problems. The technology companies provide the tools to develop new solutions, and the students supply the brainpower and labor to develop and test them, while learning and preparing to enter the field. Everyone wins.

I look forward to seeing which ideas developed by Project Echo turn into actual industry solutions.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor's Note archive or RFID Connect.

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