Mistras Group/Aetos Onshore and Offshore Flare Stack Inspection

MISTRAS Group (NYSE:MG) is a leading “one source” global provider of technology enabled asset protection solutions used to evaluate the structural integrity of critical energy, industrial and public infrastructure. Mission critical services and solutions are delivered globally and provide customers with asset life extension, improved productivity and profitability, compliance with government safety and environmental regulations, and enhanced risk management operational decisions.

Aetos, a member of Mistras is an industrial solution provider specializing in UAS inspection to extend the barrier between personnel and hazardous areas. With SME’s in petrochemical, power generation, civil infrastructure, and more; Aetos provides an end-to-end UAS and robotic inspection services nationwide.

INDUSTRY: Commercial Inspection | REGION: USA

APPLICATION

Aetos decided to use UAS in the petrochemical industry when the company realized that the technology could help solve the most critical issues endemic with traditional inspection methods for that industry.

Safety: The first such issue is the safety of personnel in and around production and distribution infrastructure. Much of the infrastructure that requires inspection, for example flare stacks, is significantly elevated: a typical on-shore flare can be as tall as 550 ft (168 m). Legacy methods necessitate that personnel need to be in close proximity of the flare tip, by means of an elevated platform (such as a crane or lift) or personnel climbing – introducing significant safety risk to those personnel, undertaking tasks that have a long history of accidents.

Decreasing Direct Costs: Inspecting on/offshore structures is expensive, for example, the typical operating costs of a helicopter (and crew) can be as much as $2500/hour. Costs for a crane service can run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per day. These inspection methods can also introduce expensive operational risk mitigations, for example the typical “direct” inspection of a flare requires a team of 6+ people.

Recovery of Lost Profits: Most significantly, both forms of inspection (manned helicopters or direct inspection, etc.) require that a flare stack be shut down for the duration of the inspection. Even for manned helicopters, the area of exposure to extreme heat from the flare tip is large enough to necessitate shut down as a means to minimize risk to the aircraft and/or pilots.

Flare stacks are exhaust mechanisms for chemical processes. When a flare is taken offline, generally the manufacturing production lines that use the flare stack are also shut down. Unless the facility has a backup flare or builds a temporary flare, the losses caused by the shutdown of the production lines, increase every day the flare stack isn’t operational.

Better Data: UAS can provide “eyes” on elevated structures, and areas which are otherwise impossible to access, unless cranes, lifts, personnel climbing are used – all can be very expensive methods, with a history of accidents. UAS can also provide perspective (above, below and at oblique angles) that is otherwise unobtainable. When capturing thermal imagery, the angle of approach to the target is important, as thermal images captured at an oblique angle may provide less accurate temperature readings than thermal images obtained at nadir or lateral to the target.

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“Productivity and safety are always top of mind for our customers”, commented Nick Harwood, VP Operations, Aetos. “To be able to offer them an inspection solution that fulfills both of these requirements, it just makes sense to use Aeryon sUAS.”

KEY BENEFITS

  • Safety of personnel – direct inspection and manned aircraft not required
  • No disruption to production; flare stack can remain operational
  • Data could be collected in high winds and extreme weather conditions
  • Better data capture of overall structure
  • Thermal imagery provides temperature and other details not visible otherwise
  • Increased ROI for customers

SOLUTION

Aetos has been an Aeryon customer since 2011. They first operated the Aeryon Scout and added the Aeryon SkyRanger to their fleet in 2014. For close inspection tasks, the Aeryon HDZoom30 imaging payload provides the capability to stand-off from the target at a safe distance, while still capturing detailed high-resolution imagery. Coupled with the extended flight time capabilities of the SkyRanger, Aetos is able to deliver a reliable and high-value service to its customers in the petrochemical industry.

RESULTS

In the 5 years of UAS operations in the petrochemical industry, Aetos has realized savings potential for their customers between 50-90%, as compared to traditional methods of inspection. The higher end of that calculation is derived from “on-line” inspections, which that take place while the equipment is operating, generating revenue when the alternative method would require shutdown. As a representative example, a hydrocarbons process in a major petrochemical facility could generate conservatively $1 million in profit per day during the time it would otherwise be shut down for historical modes of inspection.