How to Use Robots for On-Demand Inspections in Oil & Gas

Unlocking the Possibility of Automated, Remote Surveying

Mar 09, 2022

How to Use Robots for On-Demand Inspections in Oil & Gas

Monitoring is critical in the oil & gas industry, but it’s difficult to keep eyes on key sites 24/7. Engineers are specialized, expensive, and hard to recruit. They’re also faced with the challenge of monitoring multiple locations spread across different geographic regions.

The issue of worker safety compounds this challenge. The chemicals and heavy machinery used in the oil & gas production process can pose dangers to employees. Because of these risks, keeping some sites largely unmanned is preferable.

But what happens when something goes wrong, like a pressure warning triggered by IoT or SCADA sensors, must be investigated? You need to determine whether it’s a false positive as soon as possible before sending a team in. The speed of issue resolution is critical in an industry where even a few minutes of downtime can cost millions of dollars.

Preventing significant downtime is even more problematic when maintenance issues occur on remote sites. It can take hours or even days for employees to travel to remote facilities and then extra time to locate the problem manually. Once the issue is detected, they may not have the skills, correct components, or equipment on-hand to address the problem.

Fortunately, ground robots provide an innovative solution to this problem – giving oil & gas operators “eyes and ears” on the ground before sending in maintenance. Robots can investigate maintenance issues safely and effectively, documenting conditions and equipping employees with the information they need. They can even be left on sites and activated remotely so that specialized engineers can monitor multiple sites at once.

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The Benefits of On-Demand Inspections

Operators can gather critical information and determine if maintenance needs to visit the site without unnecessarily sending employees into dangerous areas. If maintenance is required, employees receive the detailed information they need to address the problem quickly and efficiently – potentially reducing operational downtime and associated costs.

Finally, because data is monitored through a single centralized platform, one engineer can monitor multiple sites simultaneously, saving costs and improving efficiency. This is particularly valuable for operations with multiple sites spread across different geographic regions.

How Robots Provide “Eyes and Ears” on the Ground

Many of today’s rovers and quadrupeds are strong enough to carry a wide range of sensors or payloads, depending on the operator’s needs and the type of issues they want to investigate. For example, robots can be equipped with Pan Tilt Zoom (PTZ) cameras that capture high-definition visuals and zoom in on issues, thermal cameras that detect overheating equipment, or gas sensors that catch small leaks or fugitive gasses.

Through a platform like DroneDeploy, ground robots like rovers or quadrupeds can then be left on sites and monitored through a central dashboard. The robot’s movements and actions can be smoothly controlled from anywhere – even the other side of the world. When maintenance issues arise, or a safety alert is triggered, the operator activates the robot through the DroneDeploy software and sends it to investigate.

Let’s explore an example of this in practice:

1. Alert received. An engineer or operator receives an alert about an abnormal fixed sensor reading at a remote facility.

2. Point & click navigation. The operator opens the 3D operations view in DroneDeploy and clicks to send the robot to the area of interest

3. Live video inspection. When the robot arrives at the point of interest, the operator can see a live video stream and zoom in for a closer look.

4. Asset management. The operator can take images of any issues with the asset and send this to their asset management system to take action.

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To learn more about ground robots for the oil & gas industry, watch our webinar, "Leveraging Drone Data for Utilities," or get in touch with our ground robotics specialists.