Drones for Remote Inspection

Seeing the recent article in ‘The Engineer’ about drones for remote inspection, I thought the attached article written for my column in the the South African journal ‘SA Instrumentation and Control’, published by TechnNews (http://www.technews.co.za) in their August issue, might be of interest.

The capability for the use of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones) for remote inspection has grown at a rapid pace over the last five years, because of the boom in wireless data communications, lighter batteries, but above all presumably because of the effort devoted to the technology from the military use of UAVs. The style that has aroused most attention in the commercial and public arena is the helicopter drone, using multi-rotor devices as platforms for cameras. So fast did this ‘take-off’, that the authorities in several countries took time to catch-up, which led to various banning orders, and then proposals for regulations and licensing of drones, and their pilots. In the UK, at least, this did not seem to stop the appearance of low cost hobby type drones for amateur use, in growing numbers in high street camera shops and gadget supplier outlets.

Cyberhawk from the UK

The first serious use of a helicopter drone for inspection duties on a petrochemical plant in the UK was reported around five years ago, from Cyberhawk, based in Edinburgh, and initially focused on the petrochemical and oil industry in Scotland and the Northern UK, plus offshore in the North Sea. Cyberhawk undertook the world’s first live gas flare inspection, using a Remotely Operated Aerial Vehicle (ROAV), flying at a height of 100m: this work was for a major Scottish gas refinery. The ROAV was flown within a few meters of the live flare: this provided highly detailed images of the condition of the flare tip and associated structure using HD video, plus still imagery and thermal imaging equipment. More important was that the work on site was carried out by Cyberhawk Inspection Engineers – all CSWIP (Certification Scheme for Welding and Inspection Personnel) qualified, who knew what they were looking for, and what was important.

Cyberhawk has expanded, and established operating bases in Norway, Malaysia and Abu Dhabi: they recently carried out their 10,000th commercial ROAV flight, which was a survey of a new power station site. The helicopter drone used was an 8 rotor type incorporating the latest triple redundant autopilot, a significantly more expensive unit than a gadget shop drone! In the USA, Aetos, a Michigan based company, has been granted a special exemption by the FAA to operate drones commercially for inspections of petrochemical plants and facilities. The Aetos CEO, Bill Donberg, had done 30 years working at Dow Chemical, and their first clients included the likes of Dow Chemical, Eastman Chemical, Exxon Mobil and Phillips 66. Their drones are built by Aeryon, and cost around US$75,000 each. The final FAA regulations covering commercial drone flights and their pilots are expected to be issued in late 2016 or 2017, but already their other “special exemptions” allow specific drone use in the movie and video industry; for real estate adverts; for agricultural monitoring and aerial surveying.

Drone flying regulation

Regulations generally accept that a landowner owns his own airspace, up to say 300 feet upwards at least, so that makes flying a drone over your property, for example to look in your windows, not permissible. The push by paparazzi photographers using drones to get ‘at home’ celebrity photos needs to be quashed. So regulations require that drones cannot fly over anywhere without the landowner’s permission. Incidentally, this brings the FAA in the USA up against Amazon, who want to trial delivery systems using drones: Amazon have threatened to move their R&D on this topic out of the USA, unless there is some progress to gaining FAA agreement. Google are doing their drone delivery system research project in Australia.

In the UK, if you intend to fly a camera equipped drone for commercial uses you will need a PfAW (Permission for Aerial Work) from the CAA.  This is issued after the requisite training of the pilot has been completed, and it is renewable annually, for a fee: several providers of approved training courses are operating. The website www.droneuav.co.uk gives useful data and links: there Ben Lovegrove of www.WessexAerialPhotography.com describes from his own experience that the training took six months and the total cost to gain the UK PfAW including accessories and insurance was around GBP3000. Ben often uses a drone made by a South African company, SteadiDrone, which is based in Knysna.

In South Africa, new regulations for operating drones were announced in May by the CAA. These regulations took effect from 1 July 2015. They follow the same patterns as being imposed in the USA and UK, and will require an operator to have a Remote Pilots License (RPL). A lot of useful information can be found on www.safedrone.co.za.

Recent applications

Many recent industrial applications use and show the capabilities of the camera equipped drone: from the beginnings of inspecting flare stacks, many more inspections have been made of offshore structures, for example oil platform legs – anywhere where putting a man up alongside the area to be inspected is difficult and hazardous.  The Royal Navy has used them to inspect the external hull areas of warships. In the UK there are many old buildings, and regrettably many of these are damaged by fire. Long after the event, structural engineers can do a detailed survey of the damage to the internal walls by flying a drone inside the building, to assess whether it is safe for engineers to enter the shell of the building at all.

The technologies now added to the drone include infra-red thermal cameras, and GPS positioning linked into the drone flying controls, to accurately position the drone, know where it is, and keep it there. These aspects can help searches for hot spots (ie electrical faults) on solar power farms, or electricity distribution networks, and for locating steam or gas leaks – or insulation failures – on petrochemical plant pipework.

French Railways

Some of the start-up companies providing drone inspection services seem to emerge from research projects based in University Departments. A typical surprising application was described at InnoRobo, the robot technology exhibition in Lyon in March 2014 – see the reports in the INSIDER and elsewhere in this blog. Philippe Bidaud of GdR-Robotique, the French co-ordinating body for robotics research in Government institutions, reported on the use by CNRS, the French Railways, of drones on civil engineering survey work: monitoring railway lines across bridges and other structures from the air. Flying at 150m, these drones can monitor rail line positioning to within 2mm. In The Netherlands a company spun out of the Aerospace Engineering Department from the Delft University of Technology has specialized in building robot helicopters: their latest multi-copter will automatically take-off and land from a transport box, so reducing the workload for the operator.  The University has also pioneered various research projects to improve the situational awareness of the operators of these drones to other air traffic, so that they can be used more effectively for Police and Military operations in urban areas. Further partners are being sought for this work, as well as other industrial inspection and maintenance tasks.

The Future

As ever, once the technology and operational rules have been established, the potential for many new drone applications will arise. New markets for drone services are going to open up for service providers, and these will be pioneered by the specialists who have a problem or a project, and can make the link with friends or service providers: it’s the combination of the drone pilot and the corrosion engineer, structural engineer, or another inspection or measurement technologist who needs to get his eyes up close or into a difficult environment that will make the break-throughs.

Published by kind permission of SA Instrumentation & Control, http://www.instrumentation.co.za/default.aspx?pklissueid=1091

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ICT acquires Raster in Holland

In The Netherlands, ICT Automatisering is an independent provider of industrial automation services employing over 700 automation professionals. Established 37 years ago, they were known as Humiq BV until 2012. Sales in 2014 were Euro 63m, with profits around Euro5m. ICT has now acquired Raster IA BV, a major Dutch systems integrator in the field of industrial process automation.

Raster describe their activities as production automation, software development and consultancy, delivering these services to multinationals and Dutch companies in the offshore oil and gas, heavy lifting, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and defence sectors. They are accustomed to working with ISA-88, ISA-95, Safety, Gamp, SIL, OEE / SPC and tracking and tracing, and staff are experienced in the safety issues needed by various industries, including TÜV Functional Safety, VCA, NEN 3140, Basic Offshore Safety and Emergency Response Training. Raster also act as an importer and distributor in Holland for products from suppliers such as eWon, Softing, Prosoft Technology, Zigbee (4-noks) and Korenix.

This acquisition marks a significant step forward in the growth strategy of ICT, expanding the ICT Industrial Automation activities, and making a strong platform for continued partnerships with their existing software vendors such as Schneider Electric, Siemens and Rockwell Automation.

ABB $90m order for 100MW ‘power from shore’ cable

A new 200-kilometer cable system to be supplied by ABB will deliver 100 MW of electricity from the Norwegian grid to the Johan Sverdrup offshore facility on the Norwegian Continental Shelf.

ABB won this order, worth around $90 million, from leading international energy company Statoil, for a high-voltage cable system to supply power from shore to the Johan Sverdrup offshore oil field. Located 155 kilometres (km) west of Stavanger in the North Sea, Johan Sverdrup is considered one of the largest offshore oil fields on the Norwegian Continental Shelf (NCS). Once fully operational, production is estimated at 550,000 – 650,000 barrels of oil per day, accounting for nearly 40 percent of total oil production from the NCS.

ABB will design, manufacture and install an 80-kilovolt (kV) extruded direct current (DC) cable system with a capacity of 100 megawatts to transmit power from the Norwegian power grid to the Johan Sverdrup offshore production facility. At around 200 km in length, it will be the longest extruded submarine cable system to an offshore oil and gas platform facility in the world. Supplying electric power from shore for offshore oil and gas production avoids the need to burn diesel or gas out at sea to power the equipment and machinery on the platforms, resulting in substantial reductions in CO2 and nitrogen oxide emissions. In addition to the environmental benefits of powering the cluster of platforms from shore, the cable solution is safer and more energy-efficient than generating the power offshore using fossil fuels.

“Delivering enhanced customer value through close customer collaboration is an important element of ABB’s Next Level strategy and we are delighted to be supporting Statoil with this cable system as well as the HVDC converter stations,” said Claudio Facchin, president of ABB’s Power Systems division. ”With this ‘power from shore’ cable solution, ABB will once again be pushing the boundaries of technology and lowering environmental impact, in line with our vision of power and productivity for a better world.”

In March, ABB was awarded an order to supply the two high voltage direct current (HVDC) converter stations for the same project. One will be located onshore at Haugsneset, where it will turn alternating current (AC) from the grid into DC, which can be transmitted efficiently over 200 km to the second station which is on one of the oil platforms. There, the DC current will be converted back into AC and distributed to the rest of the field.

ABB leads the way when it comes to cable systems delivering power-from-shore to both fixed as well as floating platforms. The company’s track record includes Statoil´s Troll A 1&2 with 3&4 currently under commissioning. Other major references include the Gjøa platform which was commissioned in 2010, the Martin Linge platform which will be the world’s longest alternating current (AC) cable from land to an offshore installation and the link to the Goliat power from shore installation in the Norwegian sector of the Barents Sea. ABB also performed the front-end engineering and design for the entire Johan Sverdrup HVDC power-from-shore system.

ABB is a global leader in high-voltage cable systems across applications such as integration of renewables, city centre infeeds, oil and gas platform power supplies and subsea interconnections. ABB has commissioned more than 25 DC and hundreds of AC cable links around the world.

Emerson helps Qatargas LNG recover jetty boil-off gas

Emerson Process Management has provided automation and engineering services for a Qatargas project that will hopefully reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.6 million tonnes annually. Now fully operational, the Jetty Boil-Off Gas (JBOG) Recovery facility is the biggest of its kind and one of the largest environmental investments in the world. It is expected to recover more than 600,000 tonnes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) per year – equivalent to the energy supply for more than 300,000 homes.

The facility is designed to recover the gas flared during LNG loading at the six LNG berths in Ras Laffan Port. The gas is compressed and sent to the Qatargas and RasGas LNG production facilities for use as fuel, or to be re-converted to LNG.

Emerson won this contract based on its leadership in oil and gas automation technologies, services, and expertise. Emerson specialists managed key elements of the project including automation engineering, configuration, startup, training, commissioning support and other services.

“Without Emerson’s highly skilled team, completing the project would have been vastly harder,” said Michael Koo, the Qatargas Project Manager.

The Emerson automation solution for the project used their DeltaV distributed control system to control and monitor operations, as well as Fisher control valves and Rosemount measurement instruments.

“The Emerson team welcomed this opportunity to help Qatargas execute the project safely, reliably and efficiently,” said Alvinne Rex Abaricia, Emerson’s senior programme manager for Qatargas. “We were able to apply flexible approaches to increase efficiency, such as testing hardware and software in parallel, and brought in dozens of experts from our own organisation as well as other suppliers to manage interfaces between existing and new systems.”

The $1 billion JBOG project is a landmark for the State of Qatar, demonstrating its commitment to balance industrial expansion with care for the environment.

Bürkert offer free steam training course

The next session of steam training for 2015 is being held on Wednesday 11th & Thursday 12th November 2015.

In addition to an outstanding, proven technical seminar, enjoy Bürkert hospitality with delicious lunches and a Bürkert goodie bag. This is a great networking event which attracts consultants and end users associated with steam applications.

The two-day course provides theory based learning, backed up with practical applications, for a hands-on approach. Bürkert uses examples and case study materials throughout the courses to highlight typical applications.

The course will cover the following topics amongst many other subjects:

  • Steam fundamentals
  • Steam as a heat transfer media
  • Heat exchange applications
  • Steam piping and condensate loop design
  • Best practices for new and legacy systems 
  • Saving steam and green initiatives
  • Communications protocols
  • Control valve selection and comparison
  • Steam control loops
  • Steam solutions & safety considerations
  • Steam FAQ & troubleshooting
  • Steam sampling systems; pure or culinary steam

One of the reasons we decided not to charge for training is that it removes a barrier to people attending. Delegates’ expectations are more than surpassed after each course.

Schlumberger buys Cameron

A Schlumberger announcement at the end of August advised:

Schlumberger and Cameron have jointly announced a definitive merger agreement in which the companies will combine in a stock and cash transaction, unanimously approved by the boards of directors of both companies.

Cameron shareholders will receive 0.716 shares of Schlumberger common stock and a cash payment of $14.44 in exchange for each Cameron share: based on the closing stock prices of both companies on August 25, 2015, the agreement places a value of $66.36 on each Cameron share, representing a 37% premium to Cameron’s 20-day volume weighted average price of $48.45 per share, and a 56.3% premium to Cameron’s most recent closing stock price of $42.47 per share. On closing, Cameron shareholders will own approximately 10% of Schlumberger’s outstanding shares of common stock.

Schlumberger expects to realize pretax synergies of approximately $300m and $600m in the first and second year, respectively. Initially, the synergies are primarily related to reducing operating costs, streamlining supply chains, and improving manufacturing processes, with a growing component of revenue synergies in the second year and beyond. Schlumberger also expects the combination to be accretive to earnings per share by the end of the first year after closing.

The transaction combines two complementary technology portfolios into a “pore-to-pipeline” products and services offering to the global oil and gas industry. On a pro forma basis, the combined company had 2014 revenues of $59Bn.

Paal Kibsgaard, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Schlumberger remarked, “This agreement with Cameron opens new and broader opportunities for Schlumberger. At our investor conference in June 2014, we highlighted how the E&P industry must transform to deliver increased performance at a time of range-bound commodity prices. With oil prices now at lower levels, oilfield services companies that deliver innovative technology and greater integration while improving efficiency, which our customers increasingly demand, will outperform the market.

“We believe that the next industry technical breakthrough will be achieved through integration of Schlumberger’s reservoir and well technologies with Cameron’s leadership in surface, drilling, processing and flow control technologies. Deep reservoir knowledge further enabled by instrumentation, software and automation, will launch a new era of complete drilling and production system performance.

“In addition, we will achieve significant efficiency gains through lowering operating costs, streamlining supply chains, and improving manufacturing processes while leveraging the Schlumberger transformation platform. We look forward to welcoming the talented employees of Cameron and are pleased that they will be joining the Schlumberger team as our fourth product group.”

Jack Moore, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Cameron, added, “This exciting transaction builds on our successful partnership with Schlumberger on OneSubsea and will position Cameron for its next phase of growth. For our shareholders, this combination provides significant value, while also enabling them to own a meaningful share of Schlumberger. Together, we will create a premier oilfield equipment and service company with an integrated and expanded platform to drive accelerated growth.

“By bringing together Cameron and Schlumberger, we will be uniting two great companies with successful track records, performance and value creation.  We look forward to working closely with Schlumberger to achieve a seamless post-closing integration and long term value for all of our stakeholders.”

The transaction is subject to Cameron shareholders’ approval, regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions. It is anticipated that the closing of the transaction will occur in the first quarter of 2016.

Schlumberger, Cameron and OneSubsea, their joint venture company, all attended OE2015 in Aberdeen this week, independently.

Emerson acquires Spectrex

Emerson Process Management has announced the acquisition of Spectrex Inc, a leading US-based manufacturer of flame and open path gas detectors. With this addition, Emerson will have the most comprehensive line of flame, gas and ultrasonic leak detector solutions used for safety monitoring in the industry.

Spectrex will join the Rosemount portfolio of measurement and analytical technologies, joining the capabilities already available with the gas leak detection systems acquired in Groveley Detection (nickdenbow.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/1345/) in June 2013.

For nearly 34 years, Spectrex has been the leader in flame and open path gas detection. It developed the world’s first ultraviolet-infrared (UV/IR) and triple infrared (IR3) flame detectors and was first to introduce xenon flash lamps in open path detector design, increasing detectors’ resilience to atmospheric conditions while reducing power consumption. These innovative advancements in safety monitoring provide a powerful solution for customers in the oil and gas, petrochemical, chemical and power industries.

“We are very excited about adding the Spectrex product line to our flame and gas detection portfolio,” said Tom Moser, group vice president of Emerson Process Management’s measurement and analytical technologies. “Emerson is committed to helping our customers protect their employees, facilities, and the environment, and we are now better positioned to serve that need.”

Spectrex and its staff are located in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, with sales and technical support offices in Houston, the United Kingdom and Taiwan.

Editor’s note: I tried to launch the UK sales of the first UV/IR detection system ever developed (so I was told at the time) which was made by Armtec in New Hampshire. That was in about 1983. Maybe Spectrex bought up Armtec? All inputs will be welcomed!