RFID drill pipe heads offshore

Nov. 1, 2011
Everything we have previously known about drill pipe is on the verge of change through the development of a computerized system that uses radio frequency identification (RFID) to tag each joint of drill pipe.

Thomas Redlinger
Weatherford International Ltd.

Everything we have previously known about drill pipe is on the verge of change through the development of a computerized system that uses radio frequency identification (RFID) to tag each joint of drill pipe.

While drill pipe has rarely been the starting point for well planning, it has seldom been a constraint. The highly engineered critical load component has evolved significantly over the last 60 years with such advances as improved high strength metallurgy and high torque connections.

Drill pipe has increasingly become a limiting factor as extreme wellbores have placed new performance demands on materials, connections, and fatigue life.

A key impediment to improvement has been the near impossible task of effectively tracking and compiling data on individual joints of pipe.

The RFID technology, which uses radio waves to transfer data from an electronic tag, provides a unique solution to the old problem. The innovation joins a broad advance in which the technology is being used in tools and equipment for identification and for activation.

RFID traceable drill pipe is now becoming a reality for many operators in new drilling environments. Several strings of the latest generation of RFID tagged drill pipe, which went through many tests in the North Sea, and have been shipped to operators in Brazil and China.

Proper mounting of RFID tags.

Offshore Brazil

Petrobras addressed the tracking problem a year ago when it set out to track drill pipe used in its challenging deepwater wells. Carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide in the wells present additional challenges to already extreme conditions, and the operator wanted to reduce drilling risks by positively identifying each joint of pipe and linking it to a detailed dossier of specific information. That information was to be accessible and updateable in an operational context from the rig floor.

Petrobras proposed to do so using RFID technology. Their broad objectives described an RFID-based system able to track each joint of drill pipe and update its technical specifications, inspection history, and maintenance record. Goals also included the ability to manage the rig dispatch history and provide information on the pipe's sequential position in the drill string for all wells.

Weatherford, which was providing the rental drill pipe, was already engaged in developing RFID technology for drilling equipment and tools through its Smart Iron initiative. The effort quickly turned to solving the Petrobras drill pipe tracking challenge.

The system provided by the Norwegian based Trac ID is the first to integrate drill pipe life cycle management and RFID technology. The system was recently deployed in Brazil, with more than 7,500 joints for tagged and traceable 5-in. drill pipe and a custom software system for managing data and immediate operational access.

Recently, the first few strings of RFID traceable drill pipe have been shipped offshore Brazil. Concurrently, an RFID drill pipe string in Asia has been deployed to a drilling contractor. These are the first commercial attempts to manage individual joints of drill pipe and identify specific information that is central to enhancing safety and future drill pipe performance.

Design considerations

Development of the tracking system centered on two main components: the RFID tags and the software to manage and make the data readily accessible.

The RFID technology was already well advanced through such diverse applications as retail asset tracking, transportation toll, transit transmitters, healthcare patient tracking, and animal identification tags. The technology is now being used in upstream and downstream oil and gas applications.

For use with drill pipe, RFID tags had to be extremely robust to endure oilfield conditions that might subject them to temperatures of 400°F (205°C) and pressures as great as 20,000 psi (138 MPa). The RFID tags deployed in Brazil include the latest version of high temperature and pressure characteristics, which is the most recent evolution in the tags. The RFID tags have been continuously improved through rounds of testing in the North Sea. The industry has seen a significant leap forward in the tags durability since the last attempt to leverage this technology over a decade ago. Several other RFID vendors are working on similar technology that will provide a selection of highly durable options for the drilling community.

To evaluate various tagging technologies, field tests were performed to assess the ability to scan identification information effectively in the field. Additionally, laboratory tests examined temperature, pressure, vibration, shock, and wear to qualify the tag for downhole conditions.

The resulting drill pipe RFID tag consists of a transponder inside a plastic housing designed to withstand the high temperatures and pressures. The tag is threaded and installed in a hole drilled in a mill slot on the pin end of the drill pipe. An epoxy is used to bond the threads and lock the tag in the pipe.

The RFID transponder holds only the serial number for the drill pipe. This number is then used to link the pipe joint to a database containing inspection reports, manufacturer documentation, and a wide scope of historical data.

Scanning and capturing pipe serial number to RFID reader.

The tag is read by a handheld computer, which sends the information to a database. Generally, this type of tag can only be read at close range of about one to six inches. The short distance ensures that the pipe is correctly selected and data is not acquired from adjacent pipe on the same rack.

Optionally, a well center antenna can read the tag as the pipe moves through it while being tripped. The system can be configured to issue alerts on pipe due for inspection or other customized conditions. Using RFID tracking in conjunction with the well center reader offers a new ability to understand the cumulative fatigue load on the pipe similar to the coil tubing software packages.

Software advantage

While RFID technology is the enabler, the key to the new system was building a software capability that merged easily with the existing process for handing pipe in the office, yard, and offshore. The system had to capture, store, and retrieve a wide scope of information and provide an effective interface for various users. Trac ID provided and customized its suite of software, as directed by Weatherford, to meet operational needs.

A key reason that Petrobras started looking at RFID technology was the difficulty of verifying with service companies that each piece of pipe had passed all inspections and that required repairs had taken place.

The new system allows that information to be audited and much more. On the rig floor in particular, it provides an immense new resource. For example, the tool pusher using a handheld device can scan the pipe and tell exactly when it was last inspected, who inspected it, and its actual dimensions.

With each joint tagged and tracked in the system database, it is possible to capture every conceivable detail over the life of the pipe. Inspections and repairs are easily tracked as well as operational data such as total rotations and the joint's sequential position in the string.

That information not only informs current operations, it provides data that can be used to improve process efficiency and reduce risk. For instance, capturing rotating hours for each joint provides data about mean time between failures related to drill pipe washouts. Tracking the position of the pipe in the strings provides information on stress related to high build rates and other wellbore conditions.

The system drives enhancements to safety and quality through awareness and communication. By increasing awareness, incidents are prevented. With usage and run data available, preventative measures can be taken against fatigue and fatigue failure. The technology also allows instant verification of inspection standards, which is a preventative measure that ensures safety.

RFID big picture

Tagging is being integrated into a range of drilling products to improve performance through both identification and activation of tools and equipment.

Tagging and tracing equipment enables use to be monitored at the point of operations with immediate reading and controls, as well as historically through a database. The technology provides many practical features including current technical specifications, a history of inspections and maintenance, and advanced information on downhole use such as rotating hours.

One major operator is considering using the new tagging information to support integrity assurance for critical equipment and tools used in drilling and completion strings. The program establishes a documented method for identification and traceability of top-level assemblies, sub-assemblies, and components. It specifies that the identification method not be detrimental to the use or service life of the components, and traceability be maintained for all processes and cover at least manufacture, assembly, inspection/testing, maintenance, refurbishment, and repair.

For downhole tools, the integrity assurance program requires a unique permanent identification to enable tracing for each assembly of sub-assembly. Critical metallic components are traceable to the original mill heat number to allow properties to be verified by review of test records.

Inspection, maintenance, refurbishment, and repair records are kept to provide proof that equipment and tool are in operating condition. Repair records include a detailed description, unique identification, and verification.

The use of RFID-enabled systems for downhole tools, improved documentation processes, and the use of technologies such as well centered antennas can enable once impossible tasks.

The ability to track individual joints of drill pipe has far-reaching implications.

Building on rapidly developing capabilities with RFID technology, the drill pipe application uses precise tracking to drive a software system that captures a range of information from inspection history to operational details. The information provides the ability to improve safety and reduce risk in current operations, as well as improve design features to enhance future performance in the most extreme applications.

Electronic reamer control

In addition to identification, RFID technology is being used to activate tools. The industry's first electronically controlled drilling reamer uses small, durable RFID tags to transmit instructions downhole.

The tag is dropped into the drill pipe and pumped to an electronic reader in the reamer's controller. The technology enables activation and deactivation at any time during drilling or tripping.

The RFID technology provides several advantages. Activation of the cutting blocks is prevented during jarring operations, which significantly reduces the risk of sticking the reamer in the hole.

The system also helps protect the casing and the tool's cutting structure from damage while cleaning the hole at full circulation and rotation. RFID activation also permits multiple reamers to be run in tandem and independently controlled.

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