What's next for real-time personnel tracking and contact tracing in the oil, gas, and mining industries?
Personnel tracking continues to be a key focus area for Health Safety and Environment (HSE) departments in the oil and gas industry, especially in hazardous environments. Over the last decade, companies invested in real-time personnel solutions using technologies like Ultra-Wideband (UWB) or Wi-Fi based active Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), despite its high CAPEX and OPEX.
During the pandemic, countries adopted new contact tracing methodologies using digital Apps and technologies like NFC, GPS, Bluetooth, QR codes, CCTV, mobile-data, and credit cards. Oil, gas, and mining companies can learn from these practices and apply some of these technologies to their operations.
Personnel tracking fulfils multiple objectives, including:
- Real-time personnel tracking in hazardous areas
- eMustering and evacuation of people
- Tracking offshore infield movements
- Employee productivity monitoring
My team and I often get asked by customers which personnel tracking technologies are the best option, the answer is that it depends on many variables. Let´s have a look at the available hardware options in more detail and their applicability to the oil and gas industry taking into consideration cost and accuracy.
|Hardware requirements||Tag, reader, antenna, and exciters / beacons||Bluetooth tags, reader, and beacons||QR code generator, smartphones / tablets||CCTV / cameras|
|Methodology||RFID readers emit electromagnetic energy inducing tags to transmit data to readers||Similar to RFID, BLE reader also receives data from BLE tags or beacons to locate personnel||Matric barcode which encodes data as blocks||Facial recognition API|
|Certifications||ATEX / IECEx required for protection against explosion. Zones 0, 1, 2 or 20, 21, 22 certified readers available||ATEX / IECEx required for protection against explosion. Zones 1 or 21 certified readers available||Required for gadgets that read the QR code in hazardous areas||Not required|
RFID readers can cost between $1000 - $5000 Active tags between 50$ - 1000$ Passive tags between $5 - $20
BLE Beacons can cost $100-$500 Any smart phone can be a BLE tag. External tag can be $10 - $50
Negligible cost to issue QR code stickers – 0.01$c. Any smart device can be used for reading
$25-$100 for camera
|Range||50 cms (LF) to 200 meters (UWB)||Up to 50 meters using beacons||25 cm minimum. Depends on the size of QR code||Up to 10 meters|
|Accuracy||100% accurate. |
High frequency tags/readers for increased accuracy
|95% Accurate. |
For increased accuracy more BLE beacons / readers to be installed at multiple entry/exit points.
|75% accuracy. |
Advances in machine learning and camera quality will continue to increase accuracy
|Frequency||125 KHz (9LF) to 10.6 GHz (UWB)||2.45GHz||NA||NA|
The hardware lowdown
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
A proven personnel tracking technology to operate in hazardous environments and harsh weather.
- Active RFID are best for real-time tracking of personnel movement in hazardous areas
- Passive RFID tags are a good fit for contact tracing or zone tracking (entry/exit points) but more cost-effective alternatives like BLE, QR, and biometric options are available.
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE
BLE energy readers and beacons are cheaper alternatives to RFID. Though Ex-certified BLE readers for all zones are limited, the cost of the technology and its ability to communicate with smartphones makes it a strong candidate for personnel tracking.
- BLE tags are a good and cost-effective option for contact tracing or zone tracking (entry/exit points) compared to RFID, especially for onshore assets where smartphones are allowed.
Quick Response (QR) Code
Many countries use QR codes for contact tracing. Simple to use and cheap to deploy, QR codes are readable by all handheld devices.
- QR technology is a solid option for accounting onshore and offshore Personnel on Board (POB) and tracking infield movements within offshore assets.
Biometric (facial recognition)
While facial recognition is an emerging technology, cloud-based video analysis tools like Amazon Rekognition, Google Vision API, and Microsoft Azure's Face API are accelerating its development and applications.
- This technology is a must-watch for all personnel tracking objectives and certainly a best fit for accounting for POB and tracking infield movements within offshore assets.
A platform for integration
Two aspects comprise personnel tracking: a hardware infrastructure and a software platform. Once a combination of hardware and technology has been selected, the system needs to relay data to a central platform for real-time monitoring and reporting. The role of the software platform is to collate the metadata from deployed hardware or related technology and process it, so that POB can be visualized through a dynamic dashboard.
iLogistics is an integrated multi-modal logistics and accommodation management platform designed exclusively for the upstream value chain. The platform's POB management modules provide personnel tracking dashboards, contact tracing reports, KPIs, and eMustering solutions.
Available for both iOS and Android, iLogistics' Check-in App enables smart check-in options for broad use cases and has in-built open APIs that intuitively connect to all personnel tracking and contact tracing hardware and technology. iLogistics' Check-in App works in offline mode with ability to sync whenever the device is connected to the internet.
Sathish Somasundaram is a Product Owner & Senior Business Consultant with Energy and Resources Logistics line of business at IBS Software, and is based in Bangalore, India. He plays advisory & consulting role to energy and resource logistics companies and helps them in adoption of emerging trends, standardization of upstream logistics process with focus on increased safety compliance and reduced operational cost. Sathish brings more than 12 years of experience working with major oil & gas corporations & service providers, including Shell, Suncor, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and ESS. He regularly writes about emerging trends in logistics, cost savings opportunities and sustainable logistics business transformation for E&P companies through cutting edge technologies & new business models. Sathish can be contacted at