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Live streaming a drone tank inspection

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Picture of Meenal Datar

Meenal Datar

Membership specialist

ScoutDI carried out a live drone inspection of a large bulk liquid storage tank in front of an on-site audience at Equinor’s facilities in Mongstad, Norway. The inspection was live-streamed to remote stakeholders who watched the inspection in the Scout Portal and guided the on-site inspection crew. Concluding the project, a Scout137 Drone System was delivered to Equinor.

Scout137 drone inspections offer:

  • Safety: Improved safety by reducing need to enter hazardous areas
  • Cost savings: Reduced cost by avoiding scaffolding, climbers and rescue teams
  • Time savings: Reduced asset down-time through flexible inspection regimes
  • Quality: Improved data quality and situational awareness in data capture

 

INTRODUCTION

Equinor ASA is a Norwegian state-owned multinational energy company headquartered in Stavanger, Norway. It is primarily a petroleum company, operating in 36 countries
with additional investments in
renewable energy.

Mongstad is an industrial site in Vestland county, Norway. Equinor’s involvement in Mongstad includes an oil refinery, a natural gas liquids (NGL) processing plant, a crude oil terminal, a cogeneration plant and the world’s largest technology centre for carbon capture and storage (CCS).

 

ON-SITE AT MONGSTAD

The scope of the Mongstad mission was to deploy the Scout137 drone system and perform an inspection inside a cylindrical tank. Further, an inspection would be performed to demonstrate the current capabilities of the drone system itself, as well as the remote inspection capabilities enabled via the Scout Portal.

Three flights were conducted with full line-of-sight, i.e. the drone operator and other bystanders were present inside the tank. This was a newly built tank and equipment was present that is not expected during a typical inspection: Scaffolding, ropes hanging across the open area, and a painting robot set up for testing. There was also a temporary, raised platform of scaffolding in the middle, where the drone started and ended each flight.

Drone inspection in a new structure before it is put to real use can be very useful to check beams, bolting and other things. The Scout137 Drone also performed a quick inspection of the paint quality from the installed paint robot.

Figure 2: Scout 137 inspecting paint quality, picture from Equinor

While the drone was flown manually in this case, it has slide-along-wall functionality that keeps a fixed distance to the wall. This is very useful when inspecting large surfaces that have a slight curvature; without this wall-following function the operator would have to perform a slight rotation continually while also sliding sideways. A difficult task, which would also produce much more uneven and variable video data than what is the case now.

When operating from inside the tank, the metal structure can disrupt wireless radio signals. Therefore, an Ethernet cable was plugged in to connect the drone controller to the ground station, which in turn connected to the Scout137 Drone via the tether. This eliminated the risk of control signal loss during the inspection flights. In addition, having the ground station outside the tank allowed it to maintain an internet connection for live streaming the inspection to the Scout Portal.

For the inspection, the ground station was connected to the internet via the built-in 4G modem. Alternatively, an Ethernet connection can be used for connection to the Scout Portal through local internet ports or a Wi-Fi router.

Overall, the Mongstad missions were a success. The on-site Equinor team supported the operation and all local requirements were taken care of. The drone was easily deployed to perform the flights necessary to gather data with a minimum of on-site preparation.

 

LOCATION-TAGGED INSPECTION DATA AND SITUATIONAL AWARENESS

A key advantage of the Scout137 Drone System is that the inspection data is location-tagged. Algorithms for simultaneous localisation and mapping based on data from the onboard 3D Lidar is used to create a 3D map in the form of a point cloud of the asset. In addition, the position and attitude of the drone is estimated at every point in time. This means that, at any time, you are able to see where the drone is and where it’s headed; live while flying or in post while reviewing the inspection data.

Figure 3: Photo of the Scout Tablet taken before take-off at Mongstad. The 3D Lidar scan clearly shows the tank circumference as a point cloud on the screen. Minimised video feed is seen in the bottom left corner. Picture from Equinor

The Lidar-based 3D map is displayed on the drone operator’s information tablet. Using this, they can see the camera feed as well as the 3D map to understand where the drone is located and headed inside the inspection target. The map can be zoomed, panned, and rotated freely.

This is of tremendous help, especially in a non-entry situation where the operator has no line-of-sight to the drone from where they are standing.

 

THE SCOUT PORTAL

Figure 4 shows what the inspection data looks like when it is uploaded to the Scout Portal and opened in the session view. It displays a split screen view, where the video is shown along with a 3D point cloud of the asset and a 3D model of the drone (below the yellow arrow) that indicates where the drone was located at that specific point of time.

The 3D map can be panned, zoomed, and rotated to get an overview of the asset interior and see the drone’s position and orientation inside, just like on the drone operator’s tablet screen.

Key advantages of the Scout Portal’s session view:

  • To allow remote participation via live streaming of inspection data from the site;
  • To allow immediate replays for further scrutiny of the inspection data and add more information to the findings; and
  • To enable Scout Portal users to make better decisions, sooner.

 

LIVE FROM MONGSTAD

As mentioned, ScoutDI placed the ground station outside the tank in order to establish an internet connection for the live streaming of the entire inspection flight to the Scout Portal.

In addition to the crew and audience on-site in the tank at Mongstad, more than 60 people attended a Microsoft Teams meeting where the inspection was streamed live via the Scout Portal. In fact, the drone operator was flying live at Mongstad under remote instructions from the Equinor sites at Kårstø and Trondheim, which are 218 km and 649 km away from Mongstad, respectively.

Watching the inspection feed on the Scout Portal, the entire remote audience could see, with less than 1 second delay, what was happening at Mongstad, hundreds of kilometers away. This was a truly powerful demonstration of how an entire cross-functional team of stakeholders and experts in various domains can collaborate on the same inspection live. Construction engineers, corrosion scientists, coating specialists and others can join forces to make sure they get what they need from the time on-site. The drone operator and the inspection crew are allowed more focus on their own safety and the integrity of their equipment.

Figure 4: Screenshot from Scout Portal: Session view of Mongstad flight. Drone model marked with yellow arrow

END-TO-END DATA CHAIN FROM ACQUISITION TO INTEGRATION

The live data can be used to support integrated operations where remote experts can contribute to an inspection activity, ensuring that a sufficient data set is collected. The Scout Portal is also designed with an API to allow integration with other IT systems e.g. digital twins or other asset management systems. Or as in this case, Equinor’s Omnia system.

The user can access data through the Scout Portal front-end or pull data from the API and use it their own IT systems. This way, the Scout137 Drone System becomes an end-to-end data solution that integrates well with the customer’s current ecosystem or third-party certification systems like VERACITY, DNV’s platform to facilitate promotion of data processing, control and analysis services in a trusted network. This allows smoother adoption of drone inspections than what is the current norm. It will be key to the digitalisation of industrial inspections and predictive maintenance.

 

CONCLUSION

Live streaming the inspection to the Scout Portal and 60 remote participants was a powerful conclusion to this mission before handing over the Scout137 Drone System to its new owner.

 

For more information:

www.scoutdi.com

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