Using RFID technology to improve offshore logistics

January 15, 2014

RFID is nothing new, but companies are adopting the technology in hopes of streamlining the way they do business offshore. By Audrey Leon

Offshore logistical operations can be complicated. Companies need to keep tabs on all equipment and products necessary to keep exploration and production moving. Operators and service companies such as Brazil’s Petrobras and Schlumberger are contemplating ways in which to simplify the process of tracking assets locally and around the globe. One such topic up for discussion at OTC Brazil was RFID (radio frequency identification) technology, and its applications in the warehouse and out in the field.

Image Caption: A stainless steel indentification plate, and a drill pipe tag fitted with RFID.

Photos courtesy of Trac ID Systems AS.

“Twenty years ago people didn’t know what RFID technology was. People are still into barcodes, but not RFID,” says Martin Swerdlow, managing director of UK-based Tracked Assets Ltd. The primary role of Swerdlow’s company is to support adoption and implementation of RFID technology. He says it can take anywhere from 24-48 hours before deliveries can show up in the stock file. “How do I know the stock file reflects what I know is in the yard,” he asked. “Logistics represents a need for real-time intelligence.”

Swerdlow told the panel that RFID cannot replace barcodes and enterprise systems such as SAP and Oracle, but RFID tags can centralize control of physical processes with little localized realtime process visibility, monitoring, and decision making.

“RFID & RTLS (real-time locating system) can provide an effective and proven real-time bridge and report actual process events as they happen,” he says. “The result: cost-effective and accurate local- ized decision-making, reduced time laten- cies, and enchased business intelligence.

“Barcodes are very accurate. On the other end of the spectrum, GPS relies on satellites and depending on what kind of user you are, you can get accuracy down to 1m. It can tell you what side of the street you are. The difference between barcodes and RFID, barcodes read one at a time; RFID is a class of technology that allows you to read multiple sets of data. You can change information.”

Image Caption: Speakers from Petrobras, Schlumberger, Tracked Assets Ltd.,  NorSea AS, and X2X Maritime AS, appeared at a panel on offshore logisitcs at OTC Brazil in Rio de Janiero.

Photo by Audrey Leon.

Swerdlow mentioned a case study regarding Petrobras’s RFID showroom and innovation center, which has RFID hardware installed. “The hardware shows how goods can be received, inspected, and tagged, as well as how to pick operations for customer orders, and dispatch,” he says. “The technology then is able to search on warehouse shelves for where particular orders are. The showroom brings together in one location, RFID technology and applications that can be applied throughout Petrobras operations. It provides training as well as development and testing of new RFID-enabled processes in Petrobras’ business.”


Nathalia da Silva Sena, technical consultant, Petrobras, presented some of the challenges Petrobras has to deal with in terms of meeting E&P demands. With continued growth in both the Santos and Campos basins, Petrobras has to meet both long-distance and infrastructure challenges, all the while deciding how to best utilize the equipment the national player already has. Petrobras transports 93,000 passengers per month using 155 helicopters, da Silva Sena says.

“Platforms and oil rigs are far from the coast,” da Silva Sena says. Petrobras is in need of both bigger helicopters and boats, which are spread, causing difficulties, she says. Another challenge is infrastructure. “In the Campos, we don’t have a lot of available infrastructure to support activities. In [the] north and northeast, it is difficult to get [it].” Da Silva Sena says Petrobras is currently working on projects to improve these issues.


Mario Faria, vice president for Shared Services, Latin America, Schlumberger, discussed the global service company’s transition toward RFID technology. ”The challenge has not only been the technology, but adoption of [it] by our own operators,” he says. “The process is completely integrated and simple to utilize. It ends up on the shop floor integrated with repair and maintenance.”

Image Caption: Schlumberger’s Brazil research & geoengineering center.

Photo courtesy of Schlumberger.

Schlumberger, Faria told the audience, has 37 manufacturing and research facilities around the world, including one in Rio de Janiero, where OTC Brazil was held. Faria said Schlumberger reorganized itself internally with one common platform, “one umbrella” that hosts multiple functions. “The idea is the whole is larger than the sum of its parts,” he says. “By combining the parts, we can give much better response to the market. We can improve scalability and manage cycle.”

The challenge, Faria says, is coupling the largest centers and delivering to the rig site. “We want to do this in a seamless, efficient way.”

Schlumberger has 150,000 mobile assets, 2,500 facilities, and 125 research and engineering centers. Additionally, the company makes approximately 80,000 shipments per month, conducts 150,000 transactions per day, and works with 80,000 suppliers, according to data supplied by Faria at OTC Brazil.

“We are tagging those 150,000 high value assets. We know when they are producing, when they are offline, producing revenue, down for parts, or not performing to standard,” Faria says. “This is a massive effort, worldwide.”

To do all these transactions, Schlumberger is backed by 800 IT connected wellsite units, and 27 petaflops of computing power, Faria says.

For some assets, Schlumberger deploys GPS for tracking that is intertwined with a fleet management system, Faria says. “For those high-dollar, high-risk operations, we deploy more sophisticated technologies.”

Faria says that, with regards to integrating all this new technology into Schlumberger’s business, the hardware is not the major hindrance. “The system’s integration element is significant. Many companies our size have many different systems, many different flavors, and different languages,” he notes. “The hardware is easy compared to the last part, which is change. “We want 50,000 employees to change their routines of the past few years – that’s a major challenge. The size of the challenge is enormous, but so is the benefit.”

The NCS and Brazil

Bjornar Aas, CEO X2X Maritime AS, used his presentation to compare Brazil’s off- shore challenges to that of the Norwegian Continental Shelf (NCS). “There is a major lack of supply chain visibility in the offshore logistics at the NCS,” Aas says. “This leads to inefficiency, lack of control, and has a negative impact on both cost and HSE.”

The logistical challenges (in Brazil) are basically quite similar to NCS, he said. The operators’ goals are basically similar. The size of (Petrobras’) operations are larger, but the savings and benefits should be larger.

Image Caption: An offshore rig near Sugar Loaf mountain offshore Rio de Janiero.

Image by Claudio Paschoa.

In 2007, Aas noted, the Norwegian Oil and Gas Association (formely OLF) came together to issue guidelines regarding RFID technology implementation. Guideline No. 112 (Part 1-9) dictated what kind of RFID equipment a supplier should choose. “The first step in this history was a common agreement on technology,” Aas says. “The kind of readers, RFID tags, and how can it be packaged, and put on forklift.”

Aas said implementing RFID technology shouldn’t be looked at as a one-company-only solution. “This is not a Statoil solution,” he says. “This is an industry solution.” OE