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RFID Helps Field-Workers Inspect and Maintain Valves

Newfoundland-based company Score Eastern Canada provides its personnel with pen-size RFID interrogators to retrieve and record data regarding the valves and seals the firm supplies to its oil- and gas-drilling clients.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 20, 2009Inspectors and maintenance personnel for valve company Score Eastern Canada Ltd. (SECL) work in remote locations—including off-shore oil rigs—inspecting and maintaining the valves and seals the business supplies to its oil- and gas-drilling clients in northeastern Canada.

With a paper-based system, Score's employees needed to make sure they carried the right maintenance and inspection records with them. If they forgot any documents, or if a valve's serial number plate had fallen off, they were forced to call office personnel to gain maintenance and inspection data regarding the valves in front of them, assuming a cell phone connection was available at that site.

To solve this problem, Score began utilizing an RFID-based system, piloted from June to October 2008, and now fully deployed. The system, provided by Cathexis (which is undergoing a name change to IDBlue), uses Microsoft BizTalk software as its platform. Thanks to the system, says Steve Taylor, IDBlue's CEO, workers can access and revise maintenance records encoded to a valve's or seal's tag in the field. At press time, Score was unavailable for comment regarding this article.

Each employee carries an IDBlue high-frequency (HF) RFID interrogator and a Pocket PC handheld computer. The IDBlue interrogator, which is a handheld device the size and shape of a wide writing pen, captures data encoded to RFID tags attached to the valves onsite, then forwards that information to the Pocket PC so that when the worker later returns to Score's office, the Pocket PC can upload it to the company's back-end system via a Wi-Fi connection. The back-end application employs the Microsoft BizTalk RFID Mobile platform, which enables the RFID data to be run on Windows software.

Score's staff must typically inspect dozens of valves and seals at each onsite visit, and make several dozen service stops each week. Without the system, an agent would have to use paper and pen to manually record the serial numbers of oil-drill seals and valves. To learn or verify the inspection records of any specific item, if necessary, that individual would have to call the St. John's office—if they were able to get a cell phone connection—and dictate those serial numbers to the office staff, who would then need to look up the records for that particular item. The agent would then have to wait for that data before determining if, for instance, further inspection or maintenance was necessary.

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