RFID technology generates efficiencies for hydraulic fracturing
The oil and gas industry is built on many manual labor processes, and tracking iron has always been one of them. Manually tracking iron assets in the field is an arduous, time- and labor-intensive process Historically, U.S. Well Services tracked its iron with pen and paper. At any given job site, the manual process required the efforts of three employees for three to four days. While time-intensive, it was also fraught with human error and challenges in the field. Numbers can be transposed easily or digits can be missed. Typically, one person is needed to read the serial numbers while another enters the information.
Physically viewing the serial numbers also can be a significant challenge. A piece of equipment’s serial number may be covered in mud, or it may be facing the ground, so that it’s hard to read. Also, when pieces of equipment are stacked on top of each other, those pallets would have to be moved, so that field engineers could view and record the serial number; not an easy task. Countless situations, like these, present themselves in the field, making manual recording difficult and prone to error.
From a compliance and safety standpoint, the company also must keep certificates on every piece of equipment and retrieve these documents in short order, should an issue arise. Historically, the company kept a binder of all hardcopy certificates. This system created confusion and problems among team members, in addition to being difficult to maintain. If an inspector requested a certificate for a specific piece of equipment, employees would have to disrupt their daily work process and comb through files that were often kept at the field office. Additionally, keeping paper copies made it extremely easy to lose or damage these valuable documents. If a requested certificate couldn’t be produced, that could lead to downtime. And as every operator knows, downtime costs money, and you want to minimize it as much as possible.
Manually tracking iron created another problem that could increase costs and reduce profit margins. Ideally, iron inventory is performed on a weekly basis. However, because manual tracking is so cumbersome and time-consuming, it wasn’t done as frequently. This made it more difficult to accurately track usage and maintain a running inventory of equipment. This uncertainty meant it was hard to ascertain what equipment was already on-site. The knowledge gap caused the company to make unnecessary purchases that might have a negative effect on the bottom line, and make it difficult to be responsive and nimble in the field. Moreover, it hampered the company’s ability to schedule additional work, without knowing exactly what equipment was available. To solve these issues, a modern iron inventory system was required.
The Internet of Things has benefited the oil and gas industry in many ways and made a positive impact on field operations. The introduction of Weir Oil & Gas’ SPM Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology and RFID Mobile App has completely transformed how the company tracks iron on-site. The innovative system has enabled operations managers to reduce costs, increase efficiencies and confidently schedule more work when a client wants to frac a well.
The RFID system features the app loaded onto a mobile device, iPhone or Android, and a handheld reader, Fig. 1. The RFID app enables serial numbers and certificates of Weir and other OEM equipment to be scanned and edited in the field.
The inefficient manual tracking process required several employees and took three to four days to complete. Also, the paper-based tracking system noted only tool descriptions rather than serial numbers for up to 900 pieces of iron. With RFID, we can now complete the project, with definitive serial numbers, in about 2 to 3 hr. The manual inventory process was extremely time-consuming, and iron was tracked intermittently, sometimes just once every six months. We now track inventory every week, using Weir’s RFID technology.
The scanning process is simple and straightforward. Using either a Zebra Technologies 8500 or Technology Systems UHF RFID handheld reader, employees can scan the serial number of each piece of iron in seconds, without moving pallets or pulling shrinkwrap, or attempting to see serial numbers in difficult-to-access areas. The handheld reader is simply pointed at the tool, and the serial number is captured in the app, Fig. 2. The system is comprehensive and eliminates the human error aspect as the serial number is scanned correctly every time. It also prevents double-scanning of a serial number increasing confidence the iron count is correct.
With this RFID app, we can now allocate iron anywhere we want, because we have an accurate view of what parts we have on-hand and where they are located. Employees can see all of our spare iron with a quick glance at the SPM app website, which enables them to quickly determine (5 min.) if we can pick up another job. This evaluation used to take two days. Being able to instantly know if we can take on more work enables the company to easily meet our customers’ needs while adding to the company’s bottom line.
Technology dissemination/paperless goal. U.S. Well Services uses the RFID app on every location and at our HQ shop; it’s extremely valuable to our operations. The company’s flow iron supervisor uses the RFID app several times a day. Using the IoT-based system, with RFID app, we can track iron cost per stage, which is an important metric for the company. The app is so detailed, engineers have even entered each pump truck into the RFID system, so it can allocate iron to each truck.
It is U.S. Well Services’ goal to go paperless, and Weir’s RFID app moves us toward making that goal a reality. The system and supporting technology have become indispensable and is helping us achieve corporate objectives, reduce downtime and increase revenues. Corporate accountants estimate the company could save $1 million/year by avoiding redundant purchases and reducing labor costs.
The RFID app gives employees the flexibility to set the system according to the organizational structure required for the application. This level of customization adds incremental value to pre-job planning.
Additionally, the RFID app has solved a significant problem with low signal strength. And since most job sites are remote, it is difficult to find a wifi or strong cellular signal in the field for uploading scanned serial numbers and certificates. The ability to scan without a signal enables field engineers to work uninterrupted by uploading the scanned data once a connection to a cell tower or a Wi-Fi signal is possible.
Real-time capabilities. We have experienced several instances where the RFID app has enabled us to be more responsive in the field. For example, while we were rigging-up on a pad, an operator wanted to change the design to a three-well zipper manifold, which was an unusual request. However, by accessing the RFID app, we were able to quickly determine we had the equipment to do the job. If we were still using the manual tracking method, field personnel would have had to physically count equipment in the field to ascertain if the needed equipment was on-site. The RFID app enables us to accommodate the operator’s request without delay.
In instances of a pad failure, company representatives need to have access to relevant certificates. Manually producing those documents, using the paper system, could take 3 to 4 hr. However, using the RFID app, we can now email these certificates to a company representative immediately, reducing employee downtime procuring the required documentation. More importantly, it can eliminate a stop-work order at the job site, reducing/eliminating NPT, which leads to a significant cost-savings for the operator and the service provider. These time-savings generated by the RFID app enables managers to allocate human resources to other tasks and keep the job site running as efficiently as possible.
The positive impact that the RFID app has made on our operations convinces me that this technology is a valuable asset, which can benefit all operators and help them manage their own iron, to avoid downtime and improve the bottom line. Once the RFID app is used and operators see the immediate result of reduced labor costs, greater accuracy and ability to customize data the way they wish, it will become an essential component of their operations, too.
Weir Edge services helps reduce hydraulic fracturing downtime
Operators face significant challenges in the field to keep their equipment up and running consistently. Maintaining hydraulic fracturing equipment is extremely challenging and requires capable technology partners to reduce NPT.
Before the advent of the “mega-frac,” service providers ran their machinery just a few hr/day. Now, those same companies are running their equipment up to 10 hr/day, putting tremendous strain on iron and components. Oil companies are now pumping three to four times the amount of sand than they did four years ago, and many sites are performing slickwater fracs, which increases abrasion on equipment. Additionally, operators are now infusing higher horsepower into their sites’ machinery.
The increased rate of pumping, combined with the increase in abrasive materials, compounds the wear on machinery. This translates to shorter equipment life and higher maintenance costs to keep pace with competitors. Extending equipment life becomes complicated when faced with such extreme conditions—especially if legacy equipment is utilized. More sand, water and horsepower equals more operational challenges.
Big crew change. This scenario becomes even more challenging as experienced workers leave the field, and younger employees become responsible for maintenance. Unfortunately, the new hands often lack the experience to properly care for equipment. And as a result, machinery is commonly being misused and/or abused. As operators examine their budgets, and look for ways to minimize capital expenditures, services and aftermarket parts—that can extend the life of existing equipment—are becoming an increasingly attractive option.
For these reasons, a capable technology partner that excels in engineering expertise is a must. The Weir Edge services platform bridges that important gap, offering much-needed engineering expertise, combined with technological advances that enable operators to extend equipment life, increase uptime, and streamline maintenance and certification to gain a competitive advantage. Weir Edge services are staffed by engineering experts, who seek to identify equipment challenges, taking into consideration the unique dynamics of the environment and operator. The result is customized solutions that identify, then solve, the root-cause of equipment issues. These solutions are available 24/7 around the globe—in every basin and every major play—and executed to a high level by service teams, who have undergone the industry’s most rigorous pressure control and pumping instruction at an advanced training facility.
Weir Edge is distinctive, because it provides engineers for all repairs and service to uncover root causes of equipment problems and failures, rather than addressing the symptoms. As many in the field know, quick fixes tend to come back and can cause downtime on a future operation. By fixing the problem correctly at its source, the issue is prevented from recurring.
Service flexibility. In addition to a worldwide presence, Weir Edge also can satisfy in-country requirements. A variety of service options are available to ensure operators’ unique needs are met. From embedding Weir engineers into on-site staff or dispatching an accredited field service team for immediate tool repair or refurbishing equipment, Weir Edge is customized for each circumstance. The service also performs regular maintenance, plant planning and asset management.
Weir Edge also provides operators access to product experts for valve, wellhead, BOP, OCTG, drilling, drill-through and actuator repairs. The program also helps train on-site teams in proper maintenance through digital video instruction.
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