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UAV Technology Evolves To Meet Energy Sector Challenges

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nov dec 17 6UAV Technology Evolves To Meet Energy Sector Challenges

Over recent years, and on- and off-shore, UAV technology has transformed everything from surveying to maintenance regimes and decom work, adding greater commercial value and engineering accuracy.

The UAV inspection method avoids the need for rope-access and associated costly shutdowns, saving time and money as well as removing the risks of working at height. (Read More) 

 

The accessibility and capability of the mission-critical data gathered for asset integrity inspections has been a ‘game changer’ for the energy industry as a whole – from Oil & Gas to the electricity supply industry and renewables.  The vastly superior information gathered means that monitoring and planning can be based on the highest degree of engineering certainty and up-to-the minute findings.  

Workscopes for fabric maintenance can be quantified much more quickly and accurately through close visual inspection for example.  CVI inspections in Oil & Gas cover everything from the splash zone to underdeck, flare boom and platform flare, and generate thousands of images and high-definition video.  All of this provides data to inform engineering decisions in a fraction of the time (days rather than months) that it would take a large rope access team to cover an area such as a full underdeck.

Wider applications – improving efficiency and safety

The applications go way beyond CVI though and include thermal gas detection, optical gas imaging and hyperspectral. Thermographic survey applications provide benefits such as more accurate coupled structural thermal analysis, leak detection, water ingress detection and hot spot identification. Infrared cameras can track down gas leaks before a problem occurs and an asset needs to be shut down.

Optical Gas Imaging (OGI) comes into its own for regular inspections of connections – and there can be thousands of connections on a particular asset.  The trouble is that only a small percentage (probably around the 1 per cent mark) of these components will have a leak, OGI can quickly detect and locate leaks accurately and without the need for shutdowns and ‘sniffer’ testing.  OGI cameras are effective even at a distance of many metres and can scan a much wider area, as well as allowing operators to look into hard-to-access places.

Hyperspectral imaging (HSI), or imaging spectroscopy, is a technique that combines imaging and spectroscopy to survey a scene and extract detailed information. It is an intensive data-processing method that creates a ‘data cube’, which contains information about the properties of a target at hundreds to thousands of narrow wavelength bands. The obtained spectra are then contrasted with known, unique spectral fingerprints (e.g. for asbestos) to detect, characterise and identify chemical compositions, materials, liquids, or events.  The really big benefit here is that all of this can be referenced to a precise location in a scene – whether it is on a pipeline or a flare stack.

Investment to achieve ever greater accuracy

Texo Drone Survey and Inspection Ltd have been investing in technology that allows for heavier payloads and enabling its fleet of UAVs to operate under more onerous weather conditions.  The UAVs currently in operation can deal with wind speeds of up to 15 metres per second (33.5 mph), with the flexibility to carry a variety of custom payloads. Texo DSI Ltd has permits for operations up to 20 kilograms, which represents a ‘game changer’ for the sector.

Investment has transformed survey technology too. Traditional ground or boat-based surveys typically take ten times longer to carry out than a LiDAR survey – worse still, they come without the added benefit of high-definition images of the site or installation.  The principle of LiDAR is to measure distances via light in a pulsed laser form and record the time it takes from its generation and subsequent return to calculate distances. The images are then processed to provide highly detailed aerial mapping and topographic surveys. UAV surveys can cover hundreds of hectares in a single day and acquire thousands of high-definition geo-referenced aerial photographs.

In most UAV surveys, accuracy of data is generally to around 40 mm; investment and development of UAV vehicles and associated survey software has led to TEXO achieving accuracy of 1-3 mm in its survey grade LiDAR, which is delivered via its custom-built UAV platform that measures over 1,000,000 points per second.  This degree of precision means that surveys of assets can achieve pinpoint accuracy which can act as a highly reliable baseline for future surveys.

Development to drive the future

UAV technology has revolutionised survey and inspection work across the energy sector. The operational, safety and commercial benefits of the technology are now widely recognised. Technological development is at the heart of delivering even more benefits – and at the heart of improving safety and profitability across the energy industry now and for the future.

For more information about Texo Drone Survey and Inspection Ltd please visit www.texodroneservices.co.uk