Oil & Gas

Four Challenges to Onboarding a Reality Capture Program in Oil and Gas — and How to Overcome Them

February 3, 2023

Innovation is hard, but sometimes, influencing teams and stakeholders to buy-in to new processes and systems is harder. Oftentimes, the perceived hurdle is the cost to implement a new system, when in reality, keeping up the status quo is more expensive in the long term. That said, operational costs in the oil and gas industry are rising, putting added pressure on companies and stakeholders to find new and innovative ways to reduce expenses and improve efficiency.

More and more companies in the oil and gas industry are turning towards unified reality capture as a powerful solution to rising expenses. Oil and gas reality capture programs enable companies to create accurate high-resolution maps, 3D models, panoramas and digital twins using a combination of automated tools such as drones, robots, and intelligent mapping software.

While a reality capture program can help companies automate asset inspections, improve worker safety, and reduce operating costs, getting stakeholders on board can be a challenge no matter how many benefits the team can expect to realize. In this blog, we’ll share four of the major hurdles in onboarding a reality capture program, and what you can do to overcome them.

Drone view of a oil and gas refinery

The Cost of Starting a Reality Capture Program

The first thought any stakeholder will have with onboarding a reality capture program is, ‘how much will it cost?’ And it’s a reasonable question to consider. Acquiring tools like drones, robots, sensors, and cameras all come at an added cost, as can getting your team adequately trained in how to operate these new tools. That said, the long-term savings of onboarding these tools can vastly outweigh the initial short-term costs.

With a reality capture program, tasks that would’ve normally required significant time and labor can be drastically expedited—particularly when performing asset inspections. Typically, inspections will involve a lot of time, effort, and more importantly, cost. For large facilities, inspections can even require that teams erect scaffolding to capture hard to reach areas. Reality capture solves this challenge by automating parts of the process.

Instead of having your teams cover the site with cameras and measuring equipment, you can save on both time and money by flying a drone or having a robot capture the site. The data from these captures can then be used to create highly-accurate maps. These maps can also be uploaded to the cloud and accessed remotely from teams from across the globe. By developing a reality capture program you can not only remove a large portion of the cost of inspections, but you can save your teams valuable time and energy as well.

For example, when the California Resources Corporation (CRC) was looking to improve efficiency they turned to aerial imagery and mapping from DroneDeploy to make it happen. After implementing DroneDeploy’s reality capture solution they were able to significantly reduce costs. CRC’s Process Excellence Lead, Maurillo Espinoza describes the financial benefits best, stating, “Drones and DroneDeploy have saved CRC over $205,000 in the first half of the year with an expected realized saving to be around $500,000 by the end of 2019. All attributed to inspections, surveillance, mapping, and reliability.”

When advocating for buy-in of a reality capture program, you can challenge the cost counterpoint by endorsing the long-term savings. Instead of relying on a team of people to capture a single asset, you can tool an individual with drones or a ground robot to capture multiple assets in a shorter span of time.

Mavic drone flying in blue skies

Remaining Compliant with Government Regulations on Technology

You’re probably already aware, but for your stakeholders, government regulations are key considerations in adopting new tools and technology. However, as automation technology advances, so do regulations on these technologies. For instance, 2022 saw a major change to how the government looks at drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The regulation change came from the Beyond Visual Line of Sight Aviation Rulemaking Committee (BVLOS ARC) in the FAA, delivered new recommendations that are expected to reduce the time it takes to receive waiver approvals and may lead to more expansive changes to UAV regulations. Before this regulation change, receiving flight approval waivers from the FAA was time-consuming and kept many oil and gas companies from fully embracing a drone-led reality capture program.

With this change, the door is open for companies to scale up the aerial side of their reality capture programs—it also gives companies who have yet to adopt reality capture more incentive to jump in. Companies that already have an aerial reality capture program in place can now more effectively use drones for long, straight missions to monitor their assets or right-of-ways, better tracking things like vegetation growth and maintenance issues. The BVLOS ruling also paves the way for companies to begin fully automating flight missions using drone in a box technology and leveraging scheduled drone flights without on-site personnel present. In getting stakeholders on board, point to this new regulation, and what it may mean for the future of drones, robotics, and reality capture in general.

Setting Realistic Expectations

A reality capture program using drones and robots can bring a lot of benefits, but the last thing you want to do is set unrealistic expectations for yourself, or for stakeholders in your company. There is a lot of excitement surrounding automated technology and what it can accomplish. Yes, some of that excitement is warranted, but it is important to be mindful that these solutions won’t solve every logistical or operational problem overnight.

Part of setting realistic expectations means understanding the technology and your own teams and processes. In the Commercial UAV News Podcast, Chevron’s Larry Barnard delivers advice on the topic stating:

“If you’re the person who has brought this technology in and you’re confident in the value it will provide the company, you need to be willing to do the long hours. Have discussions, inject yourself into team meetings, including teams that you don't belong to, and do a presentation to help them understand the capabilities you're trying to bring in,” he said. “Aside from having a sponsor on a leadership team, or other decision-making body, that's always a good idea to have somebody who has your back when you're not around by the water cooler. Somebody that could push you into a direction and share with you what your leadership team might be looking for or what might be the concerns moving forward so you can either address them or otherwise mitigate them.”

oil and gas worker on top of oil tank

Understanding Reality Capture Tech

Reality capture technology has come leaps and bounds from where it was even 10 years ago, however, it still has some limitations. Understanding these limitations and developing a workflow plan around them can go a long way in generating enthusiastic buy-in from your company stakeholders.

Robots, for example, can prove to be an incredible boon to oil and gas inspections. Robots, like Boston Dynamics’ Spot, can perform automated inspections of a site and perform tasks with the same repeatable accuracy. Additionally, these automated tools can be equipped with a variety of sensors and intelligent software to enable them to do things like read gauges and detect methane leaks. That said, robots can only remain in operation for so long before needing to recharge onboard batteries. There are also some limitations in terms of areas the robot can reach.

Similarly, drone flights are limited to certain locations, as FAA regulations require waivers or sometimes completely forbid pilots from flying in certain areas. Weather conditions can also affect whether or not you can perform a drone flight. When there are high winds or is poor visibility, you’ll have to wait until conditions change to fly, potentially adding extra time to the process. Like all electronics, drones have a limited battery life and can only stay in the air for so long. When developing a workflow involving drones, it is crucial that you consider flight time limits.

Understanding the benefits and drawbacks of a ground robot or drone, can help you not just better ensure stakeholder buy-in, but can also help you get the most out of your reality capture program. For instance, if you know that you need to inspect assets over a large area, it might be more worthwhile if you instead invest in a reality capture which uses drones to inspect the desired area from the air. And likewise, if you want to perform gauge readings of your facility, a ground robot might be the better solution.

By knowing what reality capture technology to advocate for and developing a workflow plan around the positives and drawbacks of that tech, you can improve your argument for full-fledged adoption at your company.

Curious about how DroneDeploy can help automate your workflow in oil and gas? Read our full page on the subject here.

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