There have been many changes in technology over the years when it comes to increasing safety and productivity in the workplace. However, few technologies that have emerged in the past few years have as much potential as drones. Drones are now being used for visual inspection in the chemical, petrochemical, oil & gas, pipeline, and construction industries. Modern inspection drones can be outfitted with a variety of camera and lens types; including infrared, which allows them to be used for volatile organic compound emission surveys.
Imagine the productivity savings of using a drone to inspect a flare tower versus performing a conventional inspection. Cost savings would be achieved through the following:
- No waiting hours for the flare tower to cool after shutdown so a person could safely climb the tower. This could quickly add up to thousands of dollars in production time savings.
- Inspecting the flare could be done in as little as an hour with a drone, whereas a human would take several hours to climb up and down the tower.
The technology has progressed to allow drones to be pre-programmed on a flight path allowing for pre-programmed inspection routes that can be flown on regular intervals improving inspection repeat-ability and productivity. This is especially useful when executing pipeline inspections or performing a volatile organic compound emission surveys over a large area. The ability to safely operate drones in a facility has dramatically increased in the last few years with the introduction of advanced collision avoidance systems and more reliable battery and motor technology. Many drones also have geofencing capabilities built in which means they can be programmed not to fly through specific high hazard areas in a facility. These technologies are available in several drones available off the shelf, lowering the cost of entry.
Another major safety benefit of drones is the ability to take people out of harm’s way. This is especially true when using drones to do inspections in high risk locations. These locations could include any of the following:
- Flare towers
- Exhaust stacks/chimneys
- Distillation columns
- Tank roofs
While the potential of drones has not yet been fully realized, the technology has come a long way over the last couple of years. The benefits of trying drone technology far outweigh the risks, and with ever increasing pressure on cutting costs, drones provide a unique opportunity to improve productivity and deliver cost savings.