Robotic inspection can provide significant advantages over current methods of inspection; this includes the ability to assist human inspectors 24/7, and have the ability to operate in hazardous, harsh and dirty environments. The petrochemical industry has begun to explore the potential of robotic devices for the inspection of assets within their business sectors. This has placed robotics in an ideal position to be an integral part of the inspection and maintenance strategies.
From the asset owner perspective, several drivers for the use of the technology are key for the uptake of robotics within the industry. The main drivers can be categorised under 3 topics:
Safety aspects can be classified into three groups:
- Personnel safety
- Asset safety
- Technology safety
The health and safety of all personnel is the primary driver for each of the asset owners. The removal of personnel from hazardous situations is the single most contributing consideration for the use of robotic solutions, in particular within confined spaces (for example entering a PV). By removing humans from these hazardous environments, dramatic improvements concerning the safety of workers can be achieved. It should be noted that this is not only limed to inspection and maintenance, but is valid for all aspects of petrochemical plant operations.
The second aspect is asset safety. This is the primary reason for intervention of the asset, i.e. shutting the asset down for inspection. The inspection tasks are designed to keep the asset in good and safe operating conditions whilst the asset is in operation. For example, if there is a loss of containment during operations, there could potentially be personnel and environmental hazards that can occur and consequently result in devastating outcomes. The asset must therefore be kept in a safe working order.
The third aspect is technology safety. The assets that are vital to the industry put strong demands on the robot technology regarding its design and requirements. Not only must the robotic solutions be safe to use within the environment, they must be robust enough to work in the environment, and must conform to the industry’s safety guidelines.
Increased safety is the major desired outcome of robotic inspection and the successful uptake of robotic solutions for asset inspection will be highly dependent thereon.
The processes concerning the inspection of an asset, such as cleaning and venting, have an impact on the environment. Often when an asset is opened, there is a possible release of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Robotic solutions will therefore be able to add value towards the reduction of the environmental impact by minimising the opening of assets due to procedures such as in-line inspection.
An expensive part of inspection is taking the asset off-line; the associated downtime and loss of production whilst the facilities are not operational have a financial impact. Robotic solutions could limit the need for taking assets off-line and thereby reducing the economic impact of inspections.