ID readers enable traceability of parts for oil and gas industry

June 06, 2017
Written by Staff
Traceability can deliver important quality and cost benefits in many industries, but it can be challenging to implement in industries where parts are exposed to tough environmental conditions. One such industry is oil and gas drilling.

Packers Plus is a Canadian energy services company that has developed a revolutionary new technology called the StackFRAC system that changes the way oil and gas is extracted in the field. By allowing for multi-stage fracturing of wells drilled horizontally through oil and gas fields, this technology increases the amount of recoverable oil and natural gas in reserves that were previously thought to be uneconomic, and can also reach large natural gas and oil resources that can’t be tapped through conventional drilling and completion methods.

The system consists of many parts that have to operate reliably under extreme heat, high pressure and extremely rugged environmental conditions. Packers Plus has a strong focus on quality, so when the company invested in new enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, they decided to also implement an automated traceability program for the parts and components used in their StackFRAC systems. This program would enable them to identify every individual part used and capture information on their manufacturing and shipping history both in the factory, and throughout their useful life.

Traceability delivers two important benefits for Packers Plus. First, it enables the company to have better control of their own manufacturing process, by ensuring that the right parts have been used at every stage of the manufacturing process. The result is lower rework costs.

Second, it enables Packers Plus to quickly retrieve information on 100% of the parts in every system that has been shipped out their door, including production history and quality control information. Each time a part is handled throughout the production process, information is automatically recorded for easy access later.

Traceability is an increasingly critical concern for many oil and gas applications due to the high costs of operations, as well as the difficulty of replacing downhole components after failures. In the past, Packers Plus manually recorded information such as lot numbers, heat numbers, quality control measurements and other information in a spreadsheet. “This was a very time-consuming manual process that took approximately four hours for each product, so we only did it when necessary,” said Marlon Leggott, Director of Manufacturing for Packers Plus. “Another problem with the manual process is that it is susceptible to mistakes, such as data entry errors.”

Selecting marking and reading tools
Packers Plus considered a number of different options for improving traceability when it installed its new ERP system. Kurtis Weber of iTech Tool Technology helped Packers Plus design the traceability solution. “We looked at labels with standard line bar codes but determined they would have to come off during assembly, which would negate many of the advantages of serialization,” Weber said. “RFID tags don’t work well with various metal parts because of interference with reading and writing the tags. Laser marking overcomes all of these problems but laser marking machines begin at $50,000 and have to be enclosed -- which causes problems when used to mark large pieces -- and cannot easily be moved from place to place. We recommended a dot peen marking system because it is permanent, does not rely on fragile RF transmissions, costs only about $10,000 per machine, and is available in fixed or mobile models. The mobility allows us to easily move around the plant and successfully mark any size part in a variety of orientations.” With dot peen marking, a carbide or diamond-tipped stylus pneumatically or electromechanically strikes the material surface.

Packers Plus then faced the difficult challenge of reading the marked parts. The challenge arises from the fact that Packers Plus makes parts with curved surfaces and many different materials and coating combinations. Nearly any reader can be adjusted to provide perfect accuracy on a particular combination but Packers Plus wanted a reader that could deliver high levels of accuracy on any part. “We recommended Cognex DataMan 7550 readers because they adjust the lighting to match the part and use the industry’s most advanced algorithm for picking out the 2D Data Matrix code from the background,” Weber said. “This is the only product I have seen that is capable of accurately reading the wide range of parts used by Packers Plus.”

Cognex DataMan 7550 readers communicate via Bluetooth wirelessly to handheld PDAs. Some adjustments had to be made to obtain accurate code reading on some of the more difficult parts. A few coatings were changed, in a few cases the code was masked during coating and in several others the place where the code was applied was recessed to remove the coating.

Advanced lighting and algorithms read a wide range of parts
The DataMan system’s UltraLight illumination system enables readers to illuminate marks on any surface and improves read rates. Low angle lighting with quadrant control provides uniform illumination while the integrated diffuser provides soft illumination needed for highly reflective parts. Diffuse bright field illumination provides uniform lighting through a wide range of conditions, which is ideal for marks located on recessed surfaces. The DataMan reader automatically cycles through several different light settings until it finds the best one. For example, one part might be read better with a red light and another with a blue light. The reader starts with the last setting so reading speed is increased through the elimination of light cycling when doing a batch of the same parts.

DataMan 7500 and 7500 ID readers can also handle a wide range of degradations to the appearance of the code, which comes in handy for reading codes on parts that are used in harsh environments.

Automatic identification also provides cost savings
Packers Plus has asked its vendors to use the dot peen marking system on every part they produce for the company. More than fifty vendors are online with dot peen marking systems and Cognex DataMan 7500 and 7550 handheld ID readers. All incoming parts and materials are scanned into inventory by Packers Plus at the receiving door. Parts that are not already marked when received are marked at the door and then scanned. The parts are scanned again when they are put away in inventory and the warehouse location is recorded. When the product is assembled, each part is scanned and checked against the bill of materials stored in the ERP system. This associates the lot number and quality information on component with the product serial number.

“We are now able to provide our customers with the major advantage of 100% traceability of every product that we ship,” Leggott concluded. “If my customer gives me a serial number or we extract a serial number from a well report, we can enter it into the ERP system and immediately determine every part and any accessory item attached to the tool as well as the corresponding quality information. For example, I can determine which vendor made the rubber goods, cure date or steel history. The code markers and readers deliver 100% accuracy yet we are spending only about 15 minutes total on traceability for each product. The time spent is far outweighed by the savings provided by the automatic identification system. It prevents rework by ensuring that the right components are used in every product we make. We also now know the exact amount and location of every part in our inventory. This reduces time previously spent manually checking inventory and makes it possible to reduce inventory levels, which provides additional cost savings. The bottom line is that the savings we have achieved through lower inventory levels and reduced rework have more than paid for the costs of providing 100% traceability to our customers.”

This article was submitted by Cognex. For more information, visit

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