The high value of oil and gas assets means businesses that deal in them must ensure proper deployment with timely maintenance. RFID systems are among the technologies that can help streamline the tracking process for such products. There are many considerations when adopting RFID tracking to consider. Still, the challenging environments they usually operate in means it is important to choose the appropriate RFID tags that can perform in hostile conditions and as to their integrity while maintaining consistent reads is vital. The operating conditions that could impair, dislodge, or damage RFID tags include but are not limited to:
- Pressure washes and chemical washdowns or exposure
- Rough handling and possible high-impact forces of tagged assets
- Interference from surrounding metal objects
- Continuous exposure to fluctuating temperatures and moisture
Key RFID Tag Attributes To Effectively Tag Oil & Gas Assets
The RFID tags strong enough to survive such harsh conditions will generally be specialised or custom-made solutions. Regardless of which option you choose, it is essential to consider the following characteristics to ensure their performance and longevity.
First and foremost, an RFID tag must be highly durable to survive being used with oil and gas assets. An extremely rugged tag should have high tolerances against:
- Temperature and moisture
The wide temperature variation over extended deployments in the field imposes considerable stress on RFID tags. Surviving such stresses means tags should be made from materials resistant to fracturing or degradation over repeated temperature cycles.
On the other hand, when moisture seeps into RFID tags, it could exacerbate the negative effects of temperature and accelerate the decay and oxidation of their internal components.
It is best to assume the tags will be regularly subjected to high-force impacts and thus need a reinforced construction via plastic over-moulding or steel encasing. Protecting the chip and antenna with tough materials also makes tags more tolerant to rough handling.
RFID tags must be impervious to deterioration when exposed to the many chemicals involved in oil processing and within the oil field.
- UV light exposure
Extended sunlight exposure degrades most plastics, which is why it is important to choose highly resistant materials that is unaffected by this degradation.
2. Proper tuning
Application and user requirements dictate an RFID tag’s functionality. To ensure tags perform well in the oil and gas industry, they must be engineered to work in the specific processes where data collection occurs. RFID asset tracking systems generally serve two main purposes in oil fields: identifying and locating assets.
Identifying oil field assets is vital as many require periodic maintenance, inspection, safety recertification, and refinishing, and it is critical to maintain the records of such activities. RFID replaces the conventional way of etching and manually reading serial numbers, which often proves difficult as the numbers may get obscured or effaced. With RFID, operators that need to conduct inspections or operations on an asset simply have to get within read range to identify which specific unit they need to work on.
On the other hand, staying on top of the locations of assets requires embedding them with tags with long read ranges that allow for locating and identifying them at a distance. For instance, when monitoring oil field assets that enter the facility, it is essential to use a tag with a sufficiently long read range that reads reliably as the truck passes through the reader or scanner port at the gate. Naturally, the longer the read ranges, the more expensive and larger the tag, so it is best to reserve them for more specific tasks.
3. Radio frequency performance
UHF RFID frequency standards typically vary from region to region. Since it is common for oil companies’ tagged assets to cross borders, they may be subject to different RFID frequency standards and RFID regimes.
For instance, RFID tags tuned well for readers in one region could respond poorly to the signal transmitted by a reader from another region because it operates in a different frequency range. Thus, tags must be engineered to work across a diverse range of frequencies common in the geographies it will be used in. If the exact locations cannot be determined, the next best thing is to use tags that respond to worldwide RFID standards.
4. Effective mounting
Similar to the oil field tag’s construction, its mounting configuration can improve or diminish its survivability. Instead of the superficial pressure-sensitive adhesive that cannot survive the extreme conditions of the environment, consider these more effective mounting options.
- Using durable mounting
RFID tags could be mounted on an oil field asset in a way that is as durable as the asset, such as via a durable wire or band that wraps on its outside exterior. This non-invasive and effective method lets that tag stay on and endure substantial abuse, with the only way of removing the band is by deliberately cutting it off.
- Embedding tags inside equipment and assets
This method of attaching an RFID tag generally involves milling a trench or drilling a hole, putting the tag inside, and backfilling the cavity with epoxy. Embedding tags this way lends to excellent durability and high retention since they are protected against impacts and adverse agents. The only drawback, this is an invasive process that could compromise the functional and structural integrity of the asset.
- Mount tags in a protected location
The easiest mounting option is attaching the RFID tag somewhere within the asset where it is sure to be protected, like nestled inside a right angle. Find external areas that naturally offer protection, such as spaces under flanges and corner spaces.
With RFID retail and other applications proving the technology’s maturity and exceptional performance in asset management, it only makes sense to adopt this technology into high-value industries like oil and gas. However, realising the same benefits requires getting the proper tags that perform as intended and meet the application’s requirements while maintaining the ability to operate under harsh conditions.