The oil (or tar) sands in northern Alberta, Canada, contain large deposits of bitumen, a crude form of petroleum. It is estimated that these sands will yield 170 million barrels, worth $1 trillion. But building the structures, steam generators and pipelines required to extract bitumen from deep below the ground is a time-consuming, labor-intensive and expensive process. Workers armed with little more than paper lists generated from a material-procurement database and maps accept deliveries of the miles of pipe and tens of thousands of parts needed for construction. Weeks or months later, they must then locate the materials to assemble them. It's particularly challenging when the laydown yards become covered with snow during the long winter months.
In 2011, Bantrel, a Canadian subsidiary of U.S. construction giant Bechtel, decided to try a different approach for a new tar-sands project it was building in northern Alberta: RFID tracking and GPS mapping for placing and locating parts. Bantrel wanted to bring construction material management for the new facility technologically up to date, in order to shave costs and get the oil flowing as soon as possible.
Bantrel contracted with Atlas RFID Solutions, based in Birmingham, Ala., to develop and implement an RFID material-tracking solution. Currently, the company says, with construction nearly complete, the RFID system has more than proven its worth. Project managers estimate that the solution has helped avoid up to $11.7 million in construction costs for the multibillion-dollar project.
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