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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
The costs of the deploying the RFID technology, in relation to the benefits it would provide, would be the main criterion in deciding whether to permanent deployment in any future pilots, says Ignatius Chan, senior staff scientist with ChevronTexaco Energy Technology Co., which develops new technologies related to energy development throughout ChevronTexaco, including the ChevronTexaco Gulf of Mexico Exploration and Production Co. But Chan adds that another potential hurdle to implementation would be managing the change within the logistics operations (or wherever else RFID technology might be implemented) and scheduling time for training on top of everyday operations. "There needs to be a certain level of technology awareness," he says. "It's a very involved process."

But according to Jones, the shipping and receiving personnel who were actually doing the tagging and tracking of the items using RFID in the offshore platform pilot, were beginning to warm to the benefits of RFID. "Once the folks [shipping and receiving personnel] understood the technology and then realized how much they could do with it, like incorporating it with GPS, etc., it spurred their thought processes."

"It would take a lot of streamlining and refinement, but I think this RFID system would definitely benefit us here at the Venice shorebase," says Jason Reppel, a dispatcher employed by Danos & Curole, a marine contracting company that ChevronTexaco hired to operate the Venice onshore location. Reppel was instrumental in the implementation of the pilot and says he has done a good amount of independent research into RFID technology.

"You have no idea how many calls we get from the platforms, with people saying, 'I can't find this; I can't find that.' This would offer us a way to quickly prove what they received," he says.

During the first week of November, representatives from ChevronTexaco and Fiatech met to discuss the results of these feasibility pilot trails and to decide whether to move into a second phase, the main purpose of which would be to study the RFID pilot from an operational point of view in order to create a cost/benefit analysis. However, ChevronTexaco decided at that meeting to not continue into this second phase because the small items that are shipped between the onshore and offshore facilities, such as groceries or laundry, are not worth the large investment in RFID equipment and training time that a larger RFID implementation would require. It was also decided that the more valuable items, such as drilling equipment and other tools, shipped between the locations is being tracked adequately with the current process. Furthermore, it was decided that tracking items with RFID would be more valuable if the technology was integrated higher up in the process. That is, if items were shipped to the onshore distribution centers already bearing RFID tags. However, the company has decided to investigate similar RFID pilots in other areas of the ChevronTexaco North American Upstream business unit, of which the ChevronTexaco Gulf of Mexico Exploration and Production Co. is a part. A brainstorming session at the meeting resulted in a long list of possible RFID applications for more pilot studies.

Despite the decision not to move forward with the Gulf of Mexico pilot, ChevronTexaco found value in learning about the real-world benefits and challenges of implementing an RFID-based system and about how environmental factors affect its functionality.

"We learned the nitty-gritty details about how the technology works," says Chan. "All of the things you read about RFID are never as useful as the empirical experience. By doing this pilot, we have improved our technical understanding of the capabilities and limitations of RFID, and we have raised the awareness about the possible uses of RFID at the operation's [full-deployment] level."

Chan says that of the list of next possible RFID pilot ideas generated from the meeting this month, an equipment inventory management application is the most promising candidate. No details regarding when or with what partners this pilot might be done is available at this time, but Chan says it is likely that ChevronTexaco will work with Fiatech on future RFID pilots. This next project will not focus mainly on technology feasibility testing but will also integrate a cost/benefit analysis and the framers of the pilot will track the potential return on investment.

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