Offshore renters trial 'virtual asset pool'

12 September 2008

An Aker forklift loads a Swire container at Aker's Aberdeen base.

An Aker forklift loads a Swire container at Aker's Aberdeen base.

Two offshore rental and service companies have successfully trialed technology that will allow them to track each other's fleets in real time, creating a kind of ‘virtual asset pool'.

Using technology and software developed by UK asset management and RFID specialist Spartan Solutions, offshore container rental company Swire Offshore Services and Aker's Well Service division were able to share data on Swire's containers as they were transported between the two companies.

The first trial in Aberdeen, UK, on 21 August saw three Swire containers tagged and ‘pinged' as they changed hands between the two firms. The trial was undertaken using bar codes, but RFID tags will eventually be used as the primary means of tagging, with Swire and Aker operatives using hand held readers to identify and log items.

Tor Helgeland, chief executive officer of Swire Oilfield Services, told IRN that they have sophisticated software systems to manage the rental business, "but when a container leaves our yard, and is on hire, then we lose track of it...and when a unit is inbound to us, we don't know when it is coming in."

Mr Helgeland said with demand currently running high for its containers - utilisation is over 85% - the need to speed up equipment turnarounds and get the most out of its fleet is vital; "If a major customer [like Aker] has the same kind of [asset tracking system] as us, then it can provide us with information on inbound deliveries: it will show up on our screen."

The tagging of the unit - whether using barcodes or RFID - can also tell a ship operator if a container has to be stored separately from certain other containers. And when a unit is incoming the system will be able to inform a Swire operator whether a particular container requires a service, or whether it is already earmarked for another rental.

Mr Hegeland said the aim is to increase utilisation, speed up turnarounds and reduce the reliance on re-hires. "It will not eliminate cross-hires, but we don't want to use cross-hire when we don't need to. We have three million container movements a year on all our bases [over 20 worldwide]. If we can reduce that by 1%, that's thousands of movements. It will also make operations safer."

Aker Well Service, meanwhile, said the cooperation with Swire was "a natural first step", with Aker benefiting from knowing in advance when Swire containers are about to be delivered.

Both companies hope the system will eventually become a standard across the offshore sector, at which point it will provide enormous potential benefits to both rental companies and the major offshore operators.

To make the data exchange work, Swire and Aker have invested in Spartan Solutions' Horizon software system, which operates on top of Spartan's Phalanx Mobile Logistics and Service solution.

The Horizon software complies with the global Electronic Product Code Information Service (EPCIS) standard, which has been developed by GS1, the body responsible for implementing global data standards for the supply chain. Following the EPCIS standard means that companies allocate unique codes for each individual item, allowing secure sharing of data between different organizations using technologies such as bar codes and RFID chips.

For Jim Green, managing director of Spartan Solutions, the vision is to connect the physical world of objects with the virtual world of computers; "Our goal is removing paper, delay and cost for our customers."

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