Published on 03-Feb-2024

Embracing Aerial Robotics in the Oil and Gas Sector

Embracing Aerial Robotics in the Oil and Gas Sector

Table of Content


Introduction

A day at work for a male and female engineers working in a metal manufacturing industry.

The oil and gas industry finds itself on the cusp of a transformative technological revolution, transcending conventional boundaries with the integration of robotics.

Amidst high-risk environments and intricate operational demands, robotics emerge as a beacon of opportunity, reshaping entrenched practices and fortifying efficiency and safety.

This seismic paradigm shift unveils a future where aerial robotics spearhead innovation, revolutionizing the inspection, maintenance, and operation of above-ground assets within this sector.

The role of robotics, including robotic inspection systems and robotic crawlers, ushers in a new era, intersecting with crucial elements like Non-destructive Evaluation (NDE), NDT techniques in the oil and gas industry, and the evolution of robotics academies dedicated to advancing this transformative technology within the sector.

Unleashing Robotics: Revolutionizing Oil and Gas Practices

The integration of robotics within the oil and gas sector heralds a new era, merging cutting-edge technology with operational excellence.

Robotics in this domain entails the application of remotely operated systems, primarily aerial drones, equipped with advanced sensing capabilities and precise maneuverability.

These systems transcend the limitations of human intervention, venturing into hazardous or challenging terrains to execute tasks efficiently and with heightened precision.

Robotics systems significantly enhance safety and efficiency by employing automated solutions for inspection purposes.

Within this industry, robotic inspection systems are instrumental in assessing critical infrastructure, Pipelines, rigs, and underwater equipment.

The crucial applications of robotics, especially in performing Non-destructive Evaluations, include:

Dangerous Tasks

Robots are utilized in hazardous environments such as confined spaces, high-pressure areas, or locations with toxic substances.

Examples include the use of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) equipped with cameras and sensors, manufactured by companies like Saab Seaeye or Oceaneering, for inspecting underwater pipelines, rigs, and platforms without risking human life.

Mundane Tasks

Robotic systems assist in routine inspections of equipment, ensuring consistent and accurate data collection.

AUVs (Autonomous Underwater Vehicles) like those by Bluefin Robotics (now owned by General Dynamics Mission Systems) are employed for surveying large underwater areas and pipelines, reducing human intervention while capturing detailed data.

Repetitive Tasks

Robotics automate repetitive inspection tasks, improving efficiency and reducing human error.

For instance, crawling robots like the Inuktun Versatrax, designed for Pipeline Inspection, navigate through pipes, capturing images and measurements, thereby streamlining the inspection process.

The possibilities of methods of deployment of robotics within the Oil and Gas Sector are vast and may include the following:

Robotic Inspection Systems

Robotic inspection systems, designed for the oil and gas environment, incorporate advanced sensors and analysis capabilities, integrating various NDT techniques like ultrasonic, magnetic flux, and Electromagnetic Testing.

These systems are adept at conducting thorough inspections, ensuring the integrity and safety of oil and gas infrastructure.

Remote Operation and Data Analysis

Many robotic inspection systems enable remote operation, facilitating real-time monitoring and control from a safe distance.

This minimises human exposure to hazardous conditions while maintaining efficient inspections.

Advanced software integrated into these systems facilitates in-depth data analysis, enabling the identification of defects, anomalies, and predictive maintenance.

Robotic Crawlers

Robotic crawlers are specialized in navigating pipelines and confined spaces. They capture detailed images and perform NDT Inspections, streamlining the process within tight and complex environments.

Their design optimizes inspection efficiency by automating movement through pipes and gathering precise inspection data.

Robot technology deployed in NDE/NDT undergoes specific adaptations to withstand the extreme conditions prevalent in the Oil and Gas Industry. This ensures reliability and resilience in challenging environments.

Companies like Saab Seaeye, Oceaneering, and Synthotech specialize in providing robotic inspection solutions tailored to the unique demands of oil and gas facilities.

About Apellix

Remotely operated robots are moving into new territory in oil and gas with aerial robotics, which offers some unique potential for companies operating in dangerous conditions. Aerial robotics company Apellix makes drones for inspecting, cleaning, painting, and coating the oil and gas industry’s above-ground assets. Storage tanks for crude oil, for example, can be up to 150 feet in diameter and 48 feet tall and hold over 6 million gallons of petroleum.

American Petroleum Institute (API) regulations require that above-ground storage tanks’ wall thickness and protective coatings thickness be tested regularly. At high elevations, this is a dangerous job for humans. But not for flying robots.

“API 653 inspection of an above-ground storage tank typically takes 2 people about 2 days and requires a lift or cherry picker to go around and take about 60 measurements,” said Apellix CEO Bob Dahlstrom. “With our system, depending on weather, the condition of the tank and different environmental variables, we can easily get 200 measurements an hour.” We can then provide that information to the asset owner. Their engineers will have a much better idea of the representation of the asset than if they took just 60 measurements. And we can do it in a day versus 2 days.”

Established in 2014, Jacksonville, Fla.,-based Apellix currently offers aerial robotic systems for NDT in the oil and gas, renewable energy, and maritime industries. Testing includes ultrasonic testing (UT) and dry film thickness (DFT) measurements.

In UT, the drone uses a probe to send an ultrasonic pulse through the wall of a steel structure to measure its thickness. These readings gauge corrosive wear and the remaining service life of the asset. DFT testing measures the thickness of coatings on ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

Keep operators safe, refineries online

Keeping workers safe on the ground while increasing productivity are the primary advantage, but cost savings play a big role when robotic aerial UT keeps oil refineries online.

“Where we really save companies a ton of money, and we’re talking millions of dollars a day, is when we’re able to do a job without taking an asset out of service,” Dahlstrom said. “We’re testing the thickness of the steel on flare stacks, the big chimney you see on refineries that vent and burn off excess gas. You have to take periodic thickness measurements on those stacks because they are corroding from the inside at variable rates depending on what type of gases are being vented and burned off.

“But to shut that system down, let the stack cool and bring in a cherry picker or lift, or a crane, or put somebody up there to rappel down and take those measurements manually, they could be losing millions of dollars a day in lost revenue. We’re doing it hot.”

The robot doesn’t care if it’s 50 feet or 150 feet in the air and the surface it’s contacting with the probe is 200 °F. The robot is safely doing something a person couldn’t. That’s when the savings start accruing.

Apellix already has drones in the field performing UT and DFT measurements for oil and gas assets. Their next foray is spray painting. Apellix won an international competition sponsored by Dutch multinational paint and coatings company AkzoNobel. That led to a joint development agreement to bring a spray-painting drone to market. Along the way, Dahlstrom learned painting industrial assets is less about aesthetics and speed and more about the science.

“You’re protecting millions or billions of dollars in assets. They measure the thickness in millimeters, like the thickness of a human hair and thinner, so it has to be applied properly to be warranted by the paint company and also to protect the underlying asset.

“A robot is so much better at this because it has all the data to calculate barometric pressure, relative humidity, ambient temperature and the temperature of the surface being coated, the characteristics of the coating, and the speed,” Dahlstrom said. “That tells us the distance the drone needs to be from the surface, the speed it needs to be moving and the size of the spray tip. It’s very science-driven. For these industrial applications, that’s critical.”

Depending on the job, the drone can be tethered to shore power (a ground-based power station) for all-day power, or for short-duration work, they can swap out the battery every 15 to 20 minutes.

Flying computers

The Apellix system uses a custom drone with an array of sensor systems, full onboard computer, proprietary software and an end effector with custom 3D printed components.

Custom fabrication was the only option because typical sensing systems like GPS, a compass and barometer used by off-the-shelf drones and even standard aircraft are all adversely affected when in close proximity to large steel structures.

“That’s why we had to load ours up with so much onboard computing power and so many sensors,” Dahlstrom said. “Because we’re in essence flying by our sensors, rather than flying by things a drone would normally use for its operations.”

In essence, Apellix drones are flying computers. It’s the software flying the ship, which brings up some challenges relating to autonomy. U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations require the presence of a manned pilot.

So even if the drone is flying autonomously, you still have to have someone there monitoring it. Apellix drones are manual and autonomous.

“There are certain autonomous features, like takeoff, where it takes off, hovers, calibrates and then the pilot manually flies it to the location where it will start its work.

The drone is using the input from the onboard sensors to fly. We’re making 50 micro-adjustments to the flight per second. A human just can’t do that. So having the software and the onboard sensors do the flight is key to our success.”

Then there’s the data. Dahlstrom said the data this robotic aerial system collects is more important than the individual job it’s doing.


“Right now, we give that data to the job owner,” Dahlstrom said. “That’s creating a lot of value. It gives them an understanding of their particular asset at that particular point in time.

But once you start aggregating that data and uploading it to the cloud, now you have the ability to do machine learning and Artificial Intelligence.

Couple that with all the flight data and high-resolution video capture, then when you start adding things like multispectral cameras that can see things humans can’t, you’re able to collect a rich dataset that has never been gathered before.

Having this information can lead to actionable insight that increases the service life of the asset and keeps it running safely.”

Tanya M. Anandan is a contributing editor for the Robotic Industries Association (RIA) and Robotics Online.

RIA is a not-for-profit trade association dedicated to improving the regional, national, and global competitiveness of the North American manufacturing and service sectors through robotics and related automation.

This article originally appeared on the RIA website. The RIA is a part of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), a CFE Media content partner.

How Robotics is Applied in the Oil and Gas Industry?

The integration of robotics within the oil and gas sector heralds a new era, merging cutting-edge technology with operational excellence.

Robotics in this domain entails the application of remotely operated systems, primarily aerial drones, equipped with advanced sensing capabilities and precise manoeuvrability.

These systems transcend the limitations of human intervention, venturing into hazardous or challenging terrains to execute tasks efficiently and with heightened precision.

Within the oil and gas sector, robotics primarily addresses tasks fraught with danger or monotony. Aerial robotics, pioneered by companies such as Apellix, elevate inspection, cleaning, painting, and coating of above-ground assets.

These assets, notably the towering storage tanks housing millions of gallons of petroleum, demand regular inspections for wall thickness and protective coating, tasks that pose considerable risks to human operators due to their elevation and environmental conditions.

Robotics systems significantly enhance safety and efficiency by employing automated solutions for inspection purposes.

Within this industry, robotic inspection systems are instrumental in assessing critical infrastructure, pipelines, rigs, and underwater equipment.

The crucial applications of robotics, especially in performing Non-destructive Evaluations, include:

Dangerous Tasks

Robots are utilized in hazardous environments such as confined spaces, high-pressure areas, or locations with toxic substances.

Examples include the use of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) equipped with cameras and sensors, manufactured by companies like Saab Seaeye or Oceaneering, for inspecting underwater pipelines, rigs, and platforms without risking human life.

Mundane Tasks

Robotic systems assist in routine inspections of equipment, ensuring consistent and accurate data collection.

AUVs (Autonomous Underwater Vehicles) like those by Bluefin Robotics (now owned by General Dynamics Mission Systems) are employed for surveying large underwater areas and pipelines, reducing human intervention while capturing detailed data.

Repetitive Tasks

Robotics automate repetitive inspection tasks, improving efficiency and reducing human error.

For instance, crawling robots like the Inuktun Versatrax, designed for pipeline inspection, navigate through pipes, capturing images and measurements, thereby streamlining the inspection process.

Deployment Methods

Apellix, established in 2014, leads the charge in aerial robotics, employing drones for Non-destructive Testing (NDT) across oil and gas, renewable energy, and maritime industries.

These drones incorporate Ultrasonic Testing (UT) and dry film thickness (DFT) measurements, revolutionizing the assessment of asset integrity, all conducted without risking human safety at elevated or hazardous locations.

The possibilities of methods of deployment of robotics within the oil and gas sector are vast and may also include the following:

Robotic Inspection Systems

Robotic inspection systems, designed for the oil and gas environment, incorporate advanced sensors and analysis capabilities, integrating various NDT Techniques like ultrasonic, magnetic flux, and electromagnetic testing.

These systems are adept at conducting thorough inspections, ensuring the integrity and safety of oil and gas infrastructure.

Remote Operation and Data Analysis

Many robotic inspection systems enable remote operation, facilitating real-time monitoring and control from a safe distance.

This minimises human exposure to hazardous conditions while maintaining efficient inspections.

Advanced software integrated into these systems facilitates in-depth data analysis, enabling the identification of defects, anomalies, and predictive maintenance.

Robotic Crawlers

Robotic crawlers are specialised in navigating pipelines and confined spaces. They capture detailed images and perform NDT Inspections, streamlining the process within tight and complex environments.

Their design optimizes inspection efficiency by automating movement through pipes and gathering precise inspection data.

Robot technology deployed in NDE/NDT undergoes specific adaptations to withstand the extreme conditions prevalent in the oil and gas industry. This ensures reliability and resilience in challenging environments.

Companies like Saab Seaeye, Oceaneering, and Synthotech specialize in providing robotic inspection solutions tailored to the unique demands of oil and gas facilities.

Exploring the Future of Robotics in Oil and Gas

The trajectory of robotics within the oil and gas industry is poised for expansive growth.

Beyond their current applications in inspection and maintenance, robotics promise advancements in operational areas previously inaccessible or challenging for human intervention.

Future avenues include enhanced deployment methods, expanded sensor capabilities, and greater autonomy in decision-making, positioning robotics as pivotal players in operational strategies and asset management.

Conclusion

The fusion of robotics with the oil and gas industry marks an evolutionary leap, augmenting safety, precision, and efficiency in a sector entrenched in complexity and risk.

Aerial robotics, spearheaded by pioneers like Apellix, redefine conventional practices, heralding a future where human intervention coalesces harmoniously with technological innovation for optimal operational performance.

Key Takeaways

  • Robotics revolutionize oil and gas operations, particularly in hazardous or mundane tasks.
  • Aerial drones redefine asset inspection, maintenance, and coatings, enhancing safety and precision.
  • Prospects for robotics entail expanded capabilities and increased autonomy in operations within the oil and gas sector.

FAQs

1. What are the applications of robotics in the onshore oil and gas industry? 

A: Robotics in the onshore oil and gas industry involve deploying AI-driven systems for visual inspection solutions using NDT methods.

These applications monitor pipelines, NDT Equipment, and installations, ensuring oil and gas inspection safety while enhancing efficiency.


2. How do AI robots help oil companies? 

A: AI robots assist oil companies by conducting visual inspections using NDT Methods, ensuring oil and gas inspection safety while minimizing human risk in high-risk environments.


3. What is underwater robotics for the oil and gas industry? 

A: Underwater robotics in the oil and gas industry utilizes specialized robots equipped with Visual Inspection solutions to inspect subsea pipelines, structures, and installations.

These inspections are crucial for maintenance and safety checks, employing NDT Techniques.


4. What is the oil used in robots?

A: The oil utilized in robots often serves as lubricants or hydraulic fluids, ensuring the smooth operation of various mechanical components in robotic systems deployed for oil and gas inspections.



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