Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) case studies

Lloyd’s Register commonly deploys UAS for inspection. Read more about our experience and case studies.

Flare tip inspection, resulting in speedy delivery of high quality data and specialist analysis. Inspection completed for lower total cost than traditional manual inspection, despite a greater upfront investment.

Client: ENI

UAS operator: Sky-Futures

Operation: Offshore installation, Liverpool Bay

Purpose: To set up a monitoring regime for the fixed structure asset flare tip and boom inspection.

Outcomes:

LR Project Manager Helen West said, "The UAS inspection delivered some key benefits to the client that a traditional inspection would not have done. A particular benefit being to minimise and even avoid the need for a shutdown - planned or unplanned. With the application of UAS inspection, the technical inspection data received is reviewed and reported by competent personnel and an integrity assessment outlines areas of concern. So the UAS inspection included the specialist data interpretation as well as the data collection. This specialist data interpretation has been added to the service as the use of drones has evolved."

Helen identified a number of additional benefits to the client. She said, "Although the correct paperwork needs to be used (e.g. ISSOW, method statements and Risk Assessment Safety Procedures) the process was quick and easy to set up. This negated the need of putting men at risk to scale the flare tip to confirm the condition of the flare tip and boom chords. The end product delivered were clear imagery - both video and stills - and a permanent record. The UAS was able to cover large areas and as well as the inspection of the flare tip provided other benefits such as identifying potential dropped objects (PDO) which may have been difficult to spot. Crucially, the UAS facilitates the application of a screening tool that allows closer inspection of suspect areas and ongoing monitoring over a period of time to evaluate the rate of degradation. This enables operators to plan maintenance and repair in a structured and budgeted way."

In general, whilst there is a significant upside to UAS inspections, there are also challenges to overcome. As Helen explained, "The UAS can capture very detailed data but it can’t carry out repairs which a team could. Similarly, it relies on experts to operate the kit, guide it to the right locations, including suspect areas, and identify further inspection requirements."

Furthermore, whilst UAS inspection provides opportunities for economies when viewed as an end-to-end process, the upfront investment can be greater than with a traditional inspection. Helen said, "Operators are sometimes daunted by the initial layout but this needs to be carefully evaluated against the costs of a traditional inspection, as well as the safety of personnel. Whilst this is likely to vary between applications, it has been our experience that most operators continue to opt for UAS inspection. However, in the current climate it can come under scrutiny and be viewed as non-essential for some tasks, so we have seen a decline in usage over the last 10 months."

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Flare stack inspection for a Dutch oil and gas operator. UAS agility enabled the collection of high quality data and holistic inspection – but requires a longer post-inspection analysis phase to maximise the output.

Client: Dutch oil and gas exploration and production company

UAS operator: Skeye

Date: February 2015

Purpose: Flare stack inspection (coating, safety chains, walkways, piping and installation safety)

Outcomes:

The operation followed all the critical considerations outlined in the guidelines. A pre-deployment flight plan was developed and a risk assessment carried out to identify dangerous areas. The first scheduled inspection was aborted in accordance with safety procedures because of adverse wind conditions. Once the inspection was resumed, the inspector sat with the pilot to review the feed in real time. Both were located within the line of sight of the UAV. The live feed gave the inspector the opportunity to ensure data are collected at the right areas and to spot anything that looked out of the ordinary, in which case the camera could zoom in for a closer look. The video feed was then saved for later examination and interpretation. The carefully planned inspection was completed within 15 minutes of airtime.

Project Manager Oscar Bos observed a number of benefits to the client. He said, "The quality of the images far exceeded the team's expectations – for example, the level of detail shown on pre-drilled holes in a steam nozzle made it possible to find a crack or erosion damage caused by steam. Furthermore, the UAV inspection enabled the specialists to view angles that "a guy in the crane" may have missed unless he had been specifically asked to look at them. The in situ inspector tends to focus on the most important things, whereas the agility of UAV allowed for a more holistic inspection – through which valuable information was found (e.g. missing bolts). In this instance, this was achieved at a significantly lower cost than that of a traditional visual inspection."

Oscar made some additional observations about the application of UAS for inspections. He said, "The flight plan needs to be carefully mapped to ensure it covers everything it needs to within the short time, and it needs to be used consistently, in order to ensure repeatability. Also, it's important to build in sufficient time for the post-inspection analysis phase, as the time taken to review and interpret the images was far greater than estimated, due to the depth of the data collected."

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'Test and learn' by Lloyd's Register with Maersk Drilling, Keppel and Sky-Futures to investigate the safe and effective application of UAS inspection in offshore rig inspection. Learnings supported the development of Lloyd's Register Guidance Notes on UAS for inspection.

Purpose:

  • Evaluate the UAS capabilities, safety and effectiveness in offshore rig inspection
  • Investigate and improve inspections and reduce inspection costs
  • Recommend areas and inform technology development roadmap

Scope:

The scope was to assess the capabilities of UAS by conducting a series of test cases using an industry standard UAS service provider on a Jack-Up drilling rig owned by Maersk Drilling.

Test cases were devised based on Lloyd's Register DROPS check lists and other cases created from typical Jack-Up inspection scenarios from Lloyd's Register knowledge base.

LR Senior Specialist Andy Frankland said: "The Jack-Up Rig had recently arrived in the shipyard for some upgrade work and was in the process of pre-loading dockside when the UAS project started. For this reason, it was decided to start the UAS test & learn by conducting an 'inspection' of the exterior of the hull, before continuing under the helideck. Once the pre-load operation was completed, the jacking leg and derrick inspection would take place."

Energy - Technology and Innovation - UAS - Camera close up (credit: Sky-Futures) - 634x356
credit: Sky-Futures

Typical process

  1. Risk assessment, flight & work permit
  2. Multi-party coordination
  3. Toolbox talk and clarification of objectives
  4. Equipment setup
  5. Pre-flight checklist
  6. FPV visuals and secondary views
  7. Clear area for ground take off or hand launch; set emergency landing
  8. On the spot, realtime general visual inspection
  9. Battery endurance approximately 15 minutes per data collection flight
  10. Off-site post-processing, hardware/software image enhancements

Learnings and outcomes

A range of learnings were captured, covering safety, regulatory, technical, data and operational issues, which input into the development of the Lloyd's Register Guidance Notes on UAS for inspection.

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