RFID, GPS Bring Visibility to Construction of BP Oil Platform

By Claire Swedberg

The oil company is utilizing Mojix's STAR 3000 RFID system and noFilis' CrossTalk software to track the locations of billions of dollars' worth of goods used in the construction project.

Global oil and gas company BP is employing a combined solution utilizing radio frequency identification and GPS technologies to track every component that it ships from its European warehouses to South Korea, as part of a $10 billion project to build a new offshore oil platform for use in the North Sea. Blaine Tookey, a senior technology consultant to the chief technology office of BP's information technology and services (IT&S) division, described how the solution is being used for the Clair Ridge project at the RFID Journal LIVE! 2013 conference and exhibition, held last week in Orlando, Fla.

BP's chief technology office has conducted 37 different projects to demonstrate the value of using electronic tracking to locate goods and personnel, implemented over the past two years. This, Tookey indicated, has saved the oil company millions of dollars in costs related to locating equipment and ensuring safety. For example, he explained, the technology is used to identify personnel and assets offshore during an emergency, and to optimize the inventory of equipment within a specific region, which can reduce unnecessary reordering or equipment rental.

BP's Blaine Tookey

In the case of the Clair Ridge project, BP wanted to ensure that materials were delivered as needed, on time, to Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), the company building the top side of the platform.

The new Clair Ridge platform will be deployed in the North Sea, west of the United Kingdom's Shetland Islands, in approximately 500 feet of water. BP has an existing platform there, while the upper (above-water) portions of the new platform—to be installed a few miles from the existing rig by 2015—is currently under construction in South Korea. As part of this process, BP orders parts as needed from vendors worldwide. It then receives those components at one of two consolidation centers in Europe, and ships them to its warehouse near the manufacturing site in South Korea, for staging until each part is required for construction. The components amount to billions of dollars' worth of equipment from hundreds of vendors, Tookey reported.

Before the project began, BP started looking for ways in which to track these parts, in order to ensure they do not end up missing, and that they are available when HHI requires them. The company selected a solution from Mojix, consisting of both GPS and RFID technologies, as well as Mojix's STAR 3000 RFID reader system (see Mojix Announces the Availability of Its Next-Generation RFID System) and noFilis CrossTalk software. GPS units with satellite communication capability enable the firm to track the location of large equipment while in transit on roads, on rail or at sea, while Mojix's STAR RFID solution is installed at the South Korean warehouse to locate goods as they enter the facility, and to identify their location.

According to Tookey, BP's suppliers are attaching a variety of passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tags to such items as skid-mounted equipment compressors, pumps, electronic paneling, vessels or heat exchangers, as well as to smaller items, including valves or instrumentation packed and delivered in crates. "We want to track everything to HHI," he stated.

BP had considered numerous options, including 2D bar-coded labels, as well as low-frequency (LF) and high-frequency (HF) RFID tags. It also considered whether to use handheld or fixed readers. Ultimately, Tookey said, the company ruled out bar-coding for safety reasons. "No one should be climbing equipment to reach for a scan at a difficult angle," he stated. The firm wanted real-time location capabilities, but was not willing to affix a GPS unit to something like a $10 flange. BP opted for a combination of UHF RFID tags to track goods within its warehouse, and GPS tags for use during transit.

BP operates two consolidation centers: one in Antwerp, the other in Milan. When the company orders new equipment and parts from suppliers, it sends RFID tags to the vendor, for attachment to both large items and those loaded in crates. The crates are then received at one of the consolidation centers. BP's workers at the centers utilize handheld readers to update each item's status as having been received. The tags are again interrogated while being loaded into containers. The CrossTalk software platform, located on BP's server, manages read data collected from both the RFID tags and the GPS units. The consolidation centers are also equipped with backup RFID printer-encoders, to generate an RFID label in the event that something arrives untagged.

The containers are then shipped to South Korea. In that way, Tookey explained, the company has a real-time view into where the containers were, and can associate each one in the software with all items loaded within. At BP's warehouse in South Korea, Mojix installed STAR 3000 RFID receivers and eNode tag exciters to track each item's location within about 1-meter (3.3-foot) accuracy.

All location data is forwarded to the CrossTalk software, where BP can then view where everything is located via color-coded icons on a map of the world. BP's management can scroll down on the map to exactly what is on, for example, a particular vessel, or to specific items within the Korean warehouse.

To date, Tookey said, HHI is about halfway through the construction of the new Clair Ridge platform. So far, he noted, nothing has been lost.