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Petrobras Opts for RFID to Track Drill Pipe

Weatherford is tagging the five-inch-wide pipes that it ships to an offshore oil rig operated by the Brazilian energy company, with the aim of more easily verifying that the correct pipes are being provided, inspected and maintained.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 14, 2010Weatherford International Ltd., a global provider of products and services for oil and natural gas wells, is employing radio frequency identification to track its drill pipes destined for offshore oil rigs owned by global energy company Petrobras, headquartered in Brazil. The system is provided by Trac ID Systems, a Norwegian provider of RFID solutions. Weatherford tracks thousands of pieces of equipment leased to companies throughout the world, and also provides inspection services and maintenance for those assets as they are used on customers' work sites. To track its equipment, Weatherford uses enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to manage data regarding all equipment on its sites, as well as the serial numbers marked on the pipes themselves.

However, when Weatherford signed a contract with Petrobras for an offshore drilling project (scheduled to begin in late 2010), Petrobras, as part of its contract, required an RFID-based system to track each item used at its offshore sites. By utilizing RFID technology to track its own product, the contractor could better assure Petrobras that the proper equipment was on the platform, and that it could be located easily for the maintenance purposes. The RFID system Weatherford is providing offers an automated method for tracking when each piece of equipment is maintained and inspected, in addition to the amount of wear resulting from heavy use.

Weatherford was not new to RFID technology. Recently, the firm began developing a passive RFID tag for Marathon Oil Corp. as part of what is called the RipTide system, to instruct electronically controlled drilling reamers to be either activated or deactivated (Weatherford declines to indicate the tag's RF frequency, or the RFID standards to which they conform). Once activated, the reamer extends its cutters in order to widen a hole being drilled. When that function is required, an RFID tag is dropped down the hole. The tag passes through the internal diameter of the drill stem around which a reader antenna is installed, capturing the ID number encoded to the tag. Based on the tag's specific ID number, the module causes the reamer to extend or retract its cutters. The RipTide system has been tested extensively with Marathon Oil, including at an oil-drilling site in North Dakota.

Until now, however, Weatherford has not employed RFID to track inventory or inspection histories, according to Thomas Redlinger, the firm's global technical specialist.

"Petrobras saw a value in being able to quickly identify assets," Redlinger says, and the oil company requested that all 5-inch-wide drill pipes provided by Weatherford be tagged. By tagging the drill pipes with RFID tags and reading them as they are sent to an offshore rig, the company could generate reports regarding the equipment's location, which it could then share with Petrobras. In addition, Weatherford's inspectors and maintenance personnel could use the system to quickly identify when any specific pipe was last inspected or maintained, and update the record in the database accessed by handheld RFID readers.

To accomplish this, Weatherford has begun fitting each pipe with a 134.5 kHz RFID tag compliant with the ISO 18000-2 standard, provided by Trac ID. Measuring 24 millimeters (1 inch) in diameter, Trac ID's drill-pipe tag is designed to be rugged enough to withstand the pressure and heat present in an oil well, says Manfred Vonlanthen, Trac ID's director of sales and marketing. The tags can then be read using an RFID interrogator built into an SDG Systems Trimble (TDS) Nomad handheld computer. An ID number encoded to each tag is linked to data about the pipe to which it is attached, such as its size and maintenance history.

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