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RFID Keeps WIP Well-Oiled for Oilfield Products Maker

Tejas Tubular Products uses EPCglobal Gen2 UHF RFID labels to track work in process on the pipes and other oilfield equipment it produces. The RFID system interfaces with its MRP applications and automated CNC machines to prevent production errors and to check accuracy of customer shipments.
Sep 07, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

September 7, 2007—To keep quality from going down the tubes, Tejas Tubular Products uses passive RFID tags to route its work-in-process (WIP) to the correct machining and quality control stations. The Houston-based manufacturer of drill pipes, tubing, casing, and other products used in oil and gas wells eliminated most manual data entry on paper-based job tickets by capturing product identification and configuration information with RFID.

"There are a variety of ways we hope we'll get return on investment from this project," Tejas Tubular Max Tejeda president told RFID Update. "In some areas the benefits are black and white: better inventory accuracy, and also by saving labor from not having to manually enter data into the computer system. Other ways are not so obvious. Peace of mind from knowing you have a more accurate process and are ensuring product quality is worth something too."

EPCglobal Gen2 UHF smart labels are used to identify parts during production. The UHF technology works because the tags are never applied directly to the metal, according to Konrad Konarksi of project integrator Ship2Save. Smart labels for WIP tracking are applied to job tickets that travel with materials, and finished products are identified with other smart labels that are applied to the shrink wrap that secures pallets.

Products are manufactured by computer-controlled CNC machines (industrial metal cutters) that perform specific operations according to the work order. Accurate identification at each work station is essential to ensure products are manufactured correctly. Workers previously read the job ticket prior to configuring the CNC machine, then wrote down the activity that had been performed. These processes required time-consuming manual review and recording and were prone to error if the machine was configured incorrectly.

Now job tickets include a smart label, which are produced on Avery Dennison printer/encoders. The smart labels are read at each CNC station with fixed-position or handheld readers from Motorola, which interface with Tejas Tubular's manufacturing resource planning system. Assemblies that don't belong at that CNC station are automatically rejected. The automated system also ensures machines are calibrated correctly to produce each specific part.

"Product traceability is a cornerstone of our quality system. RFID technology is a tremendous tool for us in this area," Tejeda said in ShiptoSave's announcement.

Salespeople and other workers in the office can track the progress of individual work orders on a large flat screen display, which is continually updated with data from the RFID system. RFID pallet tags are read prior to shipping to validate the correct order is being sent to the customer.

"Being able to see our work order status more quickly could help us get more business. Sometimes the difference between getting an order and not getting an order comes down to the delivery time," Tejeda said.

Russ Klein of research and consulting firm Aberdeen Group recently wrote about how closed-loop RFID applications such as Tejas Tubular's hold strong ROI potential. Aberdeen's research found that best-in-class manufacturers who use RFID for WIP tracking reduced process failures by at least 20%, improved process throughput by at least 10%, and saved at least 15% in labor costs.

The Tejas Tubular Products system is similar to an application that was profiled last week, in which Gen2 RFID labels are used to identify steel pipes (see Apparel Tags Overcome RFID Interference for Pipe ID). Both are notable for their use of UHF technology, whose performance is often degraded by proximity to metal. End users appear to be increasingly successful in devising workarounds for tracking metal with Gen2 technology.
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