Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Drones Find Their Proper Place in Shipping and Supply Chain Operations

AI Equipped Technology Saves Time, Money and Risks to Health
Shipping News Feature

NORWAY – WORLDWIDE – Over the past few years we have revised our initially somewhat cynical view of the place of drones within the shipping sector. After originally feted by many as possible universal delivery systems, an ill-conceived concept at least, the remotely controlled technology has effectively been deployed in niche areas on land and water and in the air, to prove a useful tool in a variety of supply chain sectors.

In its latest iteration an aerial drone, outfitted with LiDAR to navigate inside the hulls or tanks of ships, and with video coupled to AI technology, has successfully inspected a 19.4 metre high oil tank on board a Floating Production, Storage and Offloading vessel. The video shot by the drone was interpreted in real-time by an algorithm to detect cracks in the structure. It is the latest step in a technology qualification process that could lead to tank inspections becoming safer and more efficient.

The inspection saw Scout Drone Inspection and DNV GL, the quality assurance and risk management company, working in harness to modernise the very real, and sometimes dangerous, investigation of the tanks, which in this case were aboard the specialist vessel Petrojarl Varg which is normally moored above the oilfield, processing the well stream into oil and gas, and which was requiring its mandatory five year inspection as per IMO guidelines.

Owner Altera Infrastructure hosted the test on Petrojarl Varg as part of its drive to improve safety and efficiency through innovative technology. The video was live streamed via Scout Drone Inspection’s cloud-system back to Altera Infrastructure’s headquarters in Trondheim, where the footage was monitored by engineers. DNV GL can also simultaneously watch the footage, opening up the possibility for stakeholders to work together from different locations. Astrid Jørgenvåg, Senior Vice President Technical & Projects Department at Altera said:

”At Altera Infrastructure we are committed to using technology to raise efficiency and safety and we want to be at the forefront. We see great potential for drone inspection technology to meet the challenges of the inspection process going forward.”

Use of such equipment negates surveyors having to undertake the risky task of having to climb or raft into hard to reach corners of the tanks, whilst for the customer the expense of taking the vessel out of service for days to ventilate and construct scaffolding, which can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, is avoided. Nicolai Husteli, CEO of Scout Drone Inspection commented:

“This is another important step towards autonomous drone inspections. Up until now the process has been completely analogue but technology can address the urgent need to make the process more efficient and safer.”

The drone itself is controlled by a pilot operating the machine remotely as it flies throughout the tanks, using LiDAR to create a 3-D map of the interior, and all images and video is accurately geo-tagged with position data. Long term the intent is to make the devices programmable to enable them to undertake the surveys autonomously. Geir Fuglerud, Director of Offshore Classification at DNV GL Maritime, concluded:

“We’ve been working with drone surveys since 2015, this latest test showcases the next step in automation, using AI to analyse live video. As class we are always working to take advantage of advances in technology to make our surveys more efficient and safer for surveyors, delivering the same quality while minimising our operational downtime for our customers.”

You can see the survey of the Petrojarl Varg on video HERE.

Photo: Resembling something from the Alien film series the drone scans a tank interior.