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Fracking Companies Track Iron via RFID-enabled App

Weir has already been applying RFID to its fracking equipment for servicing, but now it provides an app, along with hardware, to enable its oil and gas company customers to digitally track inventory and manage certificates linked to each asset.
By Claire Swedberg

There can be between eight and 25 pumps onsite at a typical location, Howell says, each with many pieces of pipe or moveable parts, such as valves. A typical site could contain approximately 900 pieces, either rigged into pumps or on standby. Tracking each part is important, not only to ensure that it can be found when needed, but also to be sure it meets certification requirements. "Each moving part has an inspection standard," Howell states, meaning it must be inspected on a rotating schedule.

In 2015, Weir began applying RFID tags to its irons as products were manufactured at its Fort Worth Texas facility, with all items being tagged by January 2016. "Our first phase was to tag everything coming out of the factory," Howell says. The second was to use RFID readers to capture inventory data regarding pieces entering the company's service locations, so that it could better understand what was onsite, as well as the status of all items.

Now, Weir has entered the third phase in offering an app enabling customers to begin taking advantage of the tag. "With the third phase," Howell explains, "we wanted to offer our customers something of value." Two of those customers—one in the United States and the other in Canada—have been testing the apps for one year. The U.S.-based company achieved the greatest benefit, he reports, using an iOS version of the app.

According to Howell, Weir found that it could capture the inventory of 900 pieces on a work site within about five hours. After using the system for a year, the firm has found that the amount of time required has been reduced to less than an hour. Manually, the inventory-counting process took three men eight hours to accomplish. With RFID, the count can be carried out by a single employee within only 45 minutes.

The system consists of the app loaded onto a mobile device. Companies are using either a Zebra Technologies 8500 or Technology Systems Ltd. (TSL) 1166 UHF RFID handheld reader that connects to a smartphone or a tablet and can either read or bar-code-scan labels.

The app can be used to retrieve certificates for each item, and employees can access the data at any time by entering the serial number or reading the tag. The app also enables users to edit data in the field, and that information can be transmitted directly to a cloud-based server. However, it comes with offline capabilities as well, so if there is no Internet access available, the reader can capture and store information until the device comes within range of a Wi-Fi network. Data can also be captured as a list, which can then be sent via e-mail.

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