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Editorial comment

I recall having a conversation with a colleague a few years ago about the total failure of quick response (QR) codes to catch on in the public imagination. We placed a QR code in World Pipelines for a while, on an advertisement for our magazine app, but it seemed people weren’t keen on using them. We stopped printing the codes and nobody seemed to blink an eye. My colleague and I agreed that we’d rather type something into a search engine than open the code reader app, position the screen correctly, scan a code and navigate from there.

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Oh how things have changed, and it only took a global pandemic. Have you, like me, been using QR codes more regularly? Suddenly they seem to make sense and have a purpose. It helps that QR codes tend to be readable by a phone’s camera now, instead of a dedicated code-reading app, and we all seem to have more data at our fingertips too.

A recent article in The Times outlined how QR codes have found their niche in an age of ‘checking in’ to venues and logging your location and proximity to others in order to aid track and tracing (both practices are now commonplace in the UK to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus).1 What once seemed so clunky and frankly, square, is now actually very useful! Every time I come to the office I use my phone to scan a National Health Service-generated QR code: a bigger than normal code, signed with an elaborate digital signature that is unique to a particular venue. This check-in process is quick and easy and all visitors follow the same steps. It’s a similar procedure for trips to the coffee shop, where I check in if I’m going to sit at a table to enjoy my soy cappuccino.

QR codes were invented in 1994 by the Japanese entrepreneur Masahiro Hara to track car parts in car assembly. More data can be stored in a QR code than a bar code, because it can be stored in 2D: horizontally and vertically. A QR code can store more than 4000 characters of information.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and codes are another type of scanning technology and they have been used in the pipeline industry for quite a while now (since WWII). RFID tagging technology goes beyond QR code technology: it can have read/write capabilities, it doesn’t need line of sight for scanning, and multiple assets can be scanned at once. Read range is longer and RFID technology can facilitate asset registry tasks with ease; as one RFID provider puts it: “First of all, being able to walk into a room and press a button and all of the assets in that room appearing on your scanner is futuristic and feels amazing”.2

RFID technology provides many solutions for various parts of the pipeline industry, such as asset management, administration, operations, and production and distribution. Tags can be used on physical assets such as pipes and valves, can be used for assemblage and maintenance, and in remote vehicles or for assets in isolated areas.

This month’s issue of World Pipelines features articles on: mitigating and managing potential disease outbreaks in pipeline control rooms (p.18); practical guidance for the mitigation of infectious disease outbreak risks offshore (p.24); automating time and materials billing (p.59); and how applying data science can help optimise pipeline integrity management (p.41). Read on to see how technology is keeping the pipeline industry efficient and safe.

  1. ‘Scan you believe it? QR has made comeback’, The Sunday Times, 11 October 2020.

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