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Steel Tube Finishing Firm Tries RFID to Track Personnel, Tools

OCTG and its technology provider, Silent Partner, have also formed a new company to market a solution that tracks the manufacture, inspection and threading of tubes before they are shipped to drill sites.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 04, 2013OCTG Tubular Finishing Services, which inspects and finishes steel pipes used at oil-drilling sites, is employing radio frequency identification technology to track personnel and tools at its facility near Houston, Texas. The company is also in the process of developing a service to provide information regarding the status and location of pipes located onsite.

The firm offers two services: the inspection of steel pipes—also known as tubes—and other oil country tubular goods (OCTG) manufactured by its customers (steel mills) to meet American Petroleum Institute (API) standards, and the threading of those tubes as requested by oil companies prior to their shipment to drilling sites.

Last year, OCTG Tubular Finishing Services commenced a trial deployment of various RFID, real-time location system (RTLS) and GPS solutions to track the tubes it inspects and threads, as well as tools and personnel. The solutions are being provided by Silent Partner Technologies (SPT). To date, reports Bill Hudson, OCTG's director of operations, the system's tool-tracking function has improved efficiency and reduced the incidence of lost tools.

OCTG initially met with SPT as a client approximately one year ago, but the two companies have since formed a joint venture, known as Oil Country Asset Management (OCAM), which plans to eventually sell the tube-tracking solution to oil-field operations companies, as well as to the steel industry, explains Ted Kostis, the president of OCAM and SPT.

Steel mills manufacture tubes of varying lengths, diameters and metal grades, and then send them to a variety of finishing companies, such as OCTG, to be inspected until they are ordered by one the mill's oil-company customers. Once an order is placed, the finishing company cuts threads into tubes so they can be joined together, and then ships the threaded tubes to the drill site. Management of the pipes, from the time of manufacture until the tubes enter a drill hole and after this occurs, is traditionally accomplished via a combination of handwritten notes, Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and telephone calls.

In the event that a tube fails or is otherwise inoperable for the drilling customer, there is a supply chain that must be traced in order to determine how the problem occurred, and who was responsible for the error. When tubes are sent to testing or finishing firms prior to their reaching the drill site, that process becomes more complicated. In addition, the steel mills often require a daily count of their tube inventory at the finishing site. David Cragle, one of OCTG's founding partners and general counsel, says his company receives daily phone calls from steel mills requesting inventory counts.

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