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RFID Tracks Assets at Canada's Oil Sands

Atlas RFID's Jovix system is being used to expedite the tracking of materials and tools at industrial construction sites, enabling one customer to reduce its staff by 70 percent.
By Claire Swedberg

The development of the Jovix solution began in about 2007, when Atlas RFID was approached by an EPC contractor working for Dominion, one of the nation's largest energy producers and transporters. The company sought to track the receipt, storage and use of structural steel on a construction site. Atlas RFID, which is a software provider, began researching RFID hardware options, and later designed a pilot project for Dominion's Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center.

Atlas RFID provided hardware and software to manage RFID data that would track the pipe spools, and agreed to pay for the cost of that software and hardware. The EPC contractor calculated the number of labor hours workers spent manually receiving each spool and tracking its location on the construction site, and compared that figure against the amount of labor expended with the Atlas RFID system in place. In the latter case, the EPC staff applied RFID tags to pipe spools and then located them within the storage yard via handheld readers. The two companies split the savings, Chesser says, noting that the EPC contractor had estimated it would take two man-hours to track each spool without RFID technology. With the Atlas RFID system, he reports, it took only about 15 minutes of labor to monitor each spool. The RFID-based tracking process consisted of applying RFID tags to each fabricated pipe spool as it was received, and linking the tag ID with the spool's GPS location. Employees then used the handheld device with RFID and GPS functionality to find the pipe spool when requested by the construction team.

Tags were attached to pipe spools via plastic zip ties.

Following that project, Atlas RFID commercialized the Jovix solution, which is now in use at several nuclear power plants, a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility installation in Australia, and multiple oil-sands construction projects in Western Canada.

Initially, the technology—UHF and high-frequency (HF) passive tags, active RFID tags and bar-coded labels, as well as RFID readers and bar-code scanners—was used solely by EPC contractors. By tagging items and reading those tags or scanning bar codes on labels attached to materials as they were received or moved onsite, or installed in the construction site, the company was able to reduce the amount of time staff spent searching for goods, or ensuring that those materials were actually onsite. Typically, when a valve or other item arrived onsite, a tag was attached and read, with the unique ID linked to data identifying that item in the software. The tag could then be interrogated again by fixed readers at specific locations onsite as the valve is moved, or by mobile readers.

Recently, however, the technology's use has expanded to other members of the construction team, such as construction materials suppliers, Chesser says. Typically, after construction materials are manufactured, they are then shipped to a fabricator that puts together several components in order to produce a larger item to be installed onsite. Tracking each component, including when it was manufactured, when it was shipped to the fabricator and when it was then built into a larger component, is usually accomplished via paperwork and telephone calls. Therefore, EPC contractors sought to have the Jovix system extend to the point of the components' manufacture. Currently, the EPC contractor often requires that its vendors apply RFID tags to materials they supply, and the tags are then also read by fabricators that put together multiple components prior to shipping those fabricated items to the construction site. Data related to all of the RFID tag reads is stored on a server typically hosted by Atlas RFID and accessed by authorized supply chain members, as well as by project managers.

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