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RFID Tracks Oil Co. Containers and Ships in Newfoundland

A. Harvey is tagging its containers, as well as some vessels and trucks, to increase the visibility of its operations providing equipment, tools and food to offshore oil rigs.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 22, 2010A. Harvey, a Canadian provider of marine and offshore oil and gas support services, is installing an active real-time locating system (RTLS) to locate and track the movements of containers as they are stored and then moved onto and off of vessels destined for oil rigs in the northern Atlantic Ocean. The installation follows a four-month pilot to test the active tags and readers in the harsh environment of the Newfoundland coast, thereby ensuring the tags could sustain the weather at sea and withstand impacts as containers are moved or jarred.

A. Harvey shipping containers waiting to be loaded onto a vessel

IDBlue is installing and providing integration for the system, provided by Zebra Enterprise Solution (ZES) and consisting of active 2.4 GHz RFID tags, readers and ZES Visibility Server Software (VSS). The company sought an end-to-end container-management system for use at its location at the Newfoundland port in its marine base, where containers are loaded onto and off of vessels, as well as at its container depot, where empty containers are stored and maintained or repaired.

A. Harvey provides movement of all items to and from offshore oil rigs, including piping, food, tools and garbage. The firm operates a 13-acre site, including A. Harvey's marine base and container depot in Newfoundland, where containers destined for the firm's five oil-platform customers are stored, loaded and unloaded. The containers loaded with cargo travel approximately 220 miles from the shore to the rig, and then back again—a 14-hour journey, round-trip, under cold, wet and windy conditions. Until the new system was installed, A. Harvey manually tracked which containers were shipped and returned, as well as where they were stored at the base, while also manually listing items loaded in each container. The company has a total of 1,400 to 1,500 containers in 30 different form factors.

A WhereTag attached to the frame of a fuel tank

The challenge for IDBlue, the firm reports, was to provide an RFID system that could track the locations of containers at the base, monitor when the containers are moved onto and off of vessels, and withstand the harsh environment of the open sea off the Canadian coastline. The company selected the ZES system, which included tags, readers and software.

In the fall of 2009, IDBlue and A. Harvey commenced design work for the system. Then, beginning in February of this year, it conducted a pilot of 50 adhesive Zebra WhereTag IV tags, compliant with the ISO 24730-2 RTLS standard. The tags, attached to 46 containers, two trucks and two ships for one oil company, beacon at a rate of every four minutes. For the pilot, IDBlue installed one ZES WherePort exciter, which transmits a signal that activates the tags, as well as one interrogator on the roof of a guard hut. This reader receives the active RFID tags' transmission, including a tag's unique ID number, along with a date and time stamp. The tags can be read at a distance of 5,700 feet, but for the purposes of the RTLS, the read range needed to be about 3,200 feet in order to enable the system to locate containers with "slot-level" accuracy—that is, within 10 feet throughout the base station. The VSS software, running on a standalone dedicated server, interprets the tags' locations, and that information is then forwarded to A. Harvey's enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

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