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Australian Oil Refinery Construction Site Tries Out RFID

A global energy company hopes to use the technology to track the locations of hundreds of thousands of assets, to ensure that none are lost and work is not delayed.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 12, 2012On large construction sites, such as those for oil refineries, tracking the locations of equipment and assemblies can involve many telephone calls, paper manifests and delays, especially when missing components and pieces of equipment are not where there are expected to be. To install a real-time location system (RTLS), on the other hand, is not always feasible, since the large quantity of readers required—often in remote locations—might interfere with the construction work underway, simply because construction crews will need to work and, in some cases, steer around them. Moreover, RTLS technology can be expensive, since the tags cost more than passive tags do. Australian solutions provider Industrial Automation Group has begun the early work to provide an RFID solution for a global oil company preparing a major construction project in a remote region of Western Australia. That company has asked to remain unnamed.

The refinery will be built on the west coast of Australia, north of Karratha. Though actual construction is not expected to commence until 2014, the RFID team has begun testing tags and readers. At the site where the new refinery will be erected, tags are already being affixed to some of the hundreds of thousands of tools, materials and components that will be used during construction.

To build the refinery, the company will fly in workers from other metropolitan areas, while equipment, as needed, will travel many hundreds of miles. The company, says Henk de Graaf, Industrial Automation Group's managing director, seeks a method for monitoring the project once it is underway—to see actual products moving, view where they were located and receive alerts if anything is not onsite when expected, or is located in the wrong place. "Keeping control of the construction costs is a major desire," de Graaf explains. "It's extremely hard to keep a handle of a construction site of this size, remotely."

In fact, on construction sites of any size, items often end up missing and, in some cases, must be replaced simply because they cannot readily be found. The value of some assets that are lost could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the meantime, high-salaried staff members might be forced to wait onsite for those missing objects to be located or replaced, before they can resume their work. In some instances, a subassembly might be constructed twice due to employees losing track of a piece already assembled. With all of that in mind, de Graaf says, an RFID system to track every item could potentially save millions of dollars.

The oil company already utilizes a SAP inventory-management system, and needs an RFID solution to feed location data into that system. But it also seeks a solution that will require as few readers as possible—fewer readers result in fewer obstacles to construction traffic—and that will be robust enough to survive harsh conditions, since temperatures can reach 124 degrees Fahrenheit (51 degrees Celsius).

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