Flare Stack Inspection at 50-90% Lower Cost with Aeryon sUAS Solutions

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This Aeryon sUAS solution, comprised of the Aeryon SkyRanger™ and AeryonLive Video & Telemetry, enabled flare stacks to be inspected without the need to shut down the refinery or expose people to the health and safety risks of a manual inspection. Through AeryonLive, remote viewers (halfway around the world) watched the live video stream of the inspection and collaborated with the onsite inspection team – in realtime – to make the necessary decisions about repairs and other maintenance priorities.

The flights were conducted over a day and a half with a mix of sun and cloud, temperatures 50º to 77º F (10º to 25º C), and winds between 9 – 15 mph (15 – 25 kph).

INDUSTRY: Industrial Inspection | REGION: Trinidad and Tobago

APPLICATION

One of Industrial SkyWorks (ISW) most recent flare stack inspection projects was conducted at an on-shore oil refinery in the Caribbean.

Flare stacks are an important component in the oil refinery process for breaking down gases into more benign forms and relieving pressure of gas build-up. Inspecting a flare stack requires shutting down the refinery for a day or more, and could cost a company up to $1 Million each day. Keeping a refinery running during a typical inspection isn’t possible when you consider the safety risk to humans:

  • High, difficult-to-reach or inaccessible locations of flare stacks and other structures,
  • Open flames at the top of the flare stacks, and the
  • Higher concentrations of dangerous compounds at the mouth of the stack.

Even when a refinery is shut down for an inspection, there are still safety concerns for human inspectors. The elevation of the flare stacks and the tight, hard-to-access spaces pose fall and injury risks. In addition, the pilot flame of the stack must remain lit, increasing the risk of burns or other injuries should gases escape.

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“It was extremely efficient for the remote viewers to watch the inspection”, commented Graydon Shevchenko, UAV Pilot, Industrial SkyWorks. “Time and resources were reduced by not traveling to the site, and the necessary decisions about repairs could be made ‘real-time’ instead of waiting until a later date.”

KEY BENEFITS

  • Potential cost savings of 50-90% since the refinery was not shut down for several days
  • Teams are able to inspect internal and external structures using HD video, without climbing up or inside the flare stacks
  • Real-time video streamed to engineers or other experts offsite enabled timely collaboration and decision making, rather than hours/days through manual inspection methods
  • Zoom capabilities of the HDZoom30 payload collected images of otherwise inaccessible areas of the flare stack

SOLUTION

A two-person team from ISW established most of their flight plan for the inspection before arriving at the site. Being able to prepare in advance meant that the team had access to the best online resources for the pre-flight setup, which might not be available upon arrival on-site. By having the majority of the planning complete ahead of time, the team was able to make the best use of everyone’s time on the day of the flight. Once on-site, the team completed pre-flight checks and setup, checked for interference due to cell towers, and established a minimum safe altitude due to tall buildings in the area.

Then, with approval from the local aviation authority, the team flew the SkyRanger to collect the required high-resolution images from a distance using the Aeryon HDZoom30 camera payload.

The AeryonLive Video & Telemetry platform was used to broadcast low-latency video and crisp, detailed images securely to viewers around the world. Two-way communication gave remote viewers the opportunity to request specific images, and based on those images, provide direction on other areas to inspect. The AeyronLive interface also provided a map view that showed where the SkyRanger was over the refinery, providing additional insight into the flight progress.

RESULTS

Busy senior engineers and members of the oil companies’ management teams, who have a vested interest in the inspections, were able to participate without affecting other priorities and time commitments.

The flight also proved that the SkyRanger and AeryonLive solution offers a safer and more cost-effective method of inspecting flare stacks. Because of the thorough planning and successful co-operation between the oil and gas companies and Industrial Skyworks, ISW is the first, and currently only, commercial drone company registered with the Trinidad and Tobago Civil Aviation Authority to perform infrastructure inspections using UAS technology.