Offshore renters trial 'virtual asset pool' technology

By Murray Pollok14 October 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.

Tracking your equipment in real time through the use of satellite and telemetry systems is a technology that is exciting many rental companies. However, imagine taking that one step further by sharing that data with trusted partners - major customers or even other rental companies - and you open the door to enormous potential benefits.

This is what two offshore oil and gas rental specialists have just started to do, with Swire Oilfield Services and Aker Solutions working with Glasgow-based RFID and asset management specialist Spartan Solutions Ltd to create a shared ‘virtual asset pool'.

Swire rents equipment including offshore transportation containers, fuel tanks and chemical transport tanks, while Aker's Well Service division supplies specialist teams and equipment to maintain and repair production holes. The two companies are constantly dealing with each other, with Swire's containers - a total fleet of over 40000 units - dispatched to Aker's sites from where they are loaded with borehole equipment and taken offshore.

Tor Helgeland, chief executive officer of Swire Oilfield Services, tells 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 says 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."

He says that under the current system, a customer may not know exactly when a unit is leaving Swire's yard, and that applies also to the boat operator. The tagging of the unit - whether using barcodes or RFID (radio frequency identification) - can tell the ship operator if the container has to be stored separately from another type of container, and when a unit is incoming will also be able to inform the Swire operator whether a particular container requires a service, or whether it is already earmarked for another rental. Another benefit of the system is proof of delivery.

The system means that two companies - or more - can share information such as transit location, availability, certification and any other equipment status for all items in the supply chain.

In practice, says Mr Hegeland, the aim is to increase utilisation, speed up turnarounds and reduce the reliance on re-hires. "Right now, in percentage terms, we haven't measured the rental ‘turn-downs' on orders based on the number of units available. But it happens every day.

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

Of course, the real benefits will accrue when others partners join the party - in Swire's case other offshore companies who rent its containers, and with Aker, the offshore operators who buy its well-intervention systems.

Hakon Falnes, Aker Well Services production manager, tells IRN that the longer term goal is for the tagging to provide visibility of its fleet of 40000 individual items - including 1000 containerised units and 39000 individual tools - which are supplied to the big offshore operators.

"We ship equipment offshore, then send our personnel. Then we demobilise, [with the offshore operator responsible for sending the tools back]. Sometimes we don't see the equipment until it drives in the gate at our base." As in Swire's case, advance notice of when equipment is going to return will allow the company to maximize the utilisation of its fleet, a big benefit when you consider that some items are valued at £100000 or more.

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

The Horizon software is based on the global Electronic Product Code Information Service (EPCIS) standard. EPCIS was developed by GS1, the body responsible for implementing global data standards for the supply chain. Following the 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.

Mr Falnes says the choice of the global EPCIS standard is important, because it will help encourage the adoption of a single way of using RFID systems in the offshore market. He is keen for that to happen sooner rather than later.

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."

In the case of the Swire and Aker implementation, a successful first trial in Aberdeen 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.

Swire's Tor Helgeland tells IRN that RFID tags are being tested now to identify the most appropriate type for its containers. One thing he wants to do is to fit readers to the forklifts that are used to shift the containers: this would make the process even more efficient.

Hakon Falnes at Aker, meanwhile, says he hopes that before the end of the year they will start a six-month trial of different RFID tags on around 20 of its down-hole tools .

Jim Green of Spartan Solutions - which has already implemented an ‘in-depot' RFID asset management system for power rental company Aggreko - says it is just a matter of time until the appropriate RFID tag is chosen, although its use on forklift trucks will need some consideration. In the meantime, tags will be identified by hand-held readers.

This first data exchange system is operating in the offshore sector, but it could equally apply in other industries. You could envisage, for example, rental companies and their major customers benefiting from such a data exchange - particularly on very large projects - or rental companies who regularly re-hire from the same suppliers.

For that to happen, however, the successful trial in Aberdeen last month will have to be translated into a full-scale implementation that works.

Latest News
PREVIEW: SC&RA Annual Conference
The 2021 SC&RA Annual Conference, this fall in the Alamo city, promises something for everyone.
Terex RT 35-1 delievered to Antarctica
The Terex rough terrain crane was purchased to permanently support year-round scientific research.
Court rules against €2 billion Stonehenge tunnel
Judge says go-ahead for road tunnel beneath ancient UK site is unlawful