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Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: the future of offshore asset inspection

Project Summary

The use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for inspection ultimately reduces the number of inspection personnel required offshore by optimising the inspection scope without compromising on integrity. There is high demand for a UAV that is capable of operating in an offshore environment with reliability and repeatability.

The development of UAV technology to include enhanced capabilities such as Ultrasonic Inspection and RFID scanning is classed as a step change and further strengthens the major benefits to be gained from this emerging technology and the need for greater remote inspection capability.

Air Control Entech Limited has further developed the capability of UAV technology with improved flight and safety performance and, new functionality including radio frequency identification (RFID) tag scanning, confined space entry, ultrasonic inspection and the development of a robust data management system enabling live video feed.

Industry value:
UAVs developed as part of this project display greater remote inspection capability compared to other UAVs currently available.

The technology developed produced new capabilities and improved existing UAV capabilities in the following areas:

• Proprietary flight control system (FCS)
• Data management system
• Livestream visual inspection system

The operational time of UAV system was extended to 6h.

Key results:
Four proprietary UAV designs were created, built and flight tested to deliver manless tank entry, ultrasonic testing (UT), 3D laser scanning and RFID. These are novel technologies, not currently seen in industry. A livestream visual inspection system was also developed, flight tested, and is ready for commercialisation.

  • First electromagnetic-equipped UAV capable of turning off rotors to increase operation time to 6 hours
  • This design has been nominated for 3 awards: SPE Offshore Achievement Award (Innovation), Elevator Awards (Innovation) and P&J Gold Award (HSE)
  • First UAV models built with a dual axis manipulator arm for instrumentation (UT and RFID)
  • First task-specific UAV designed for UT, RFID and 3D laser scanning payloads
  • Development of live stream visual inspection system. The technology achieved an industry first – real-time communication to an onshore base station by a pilot offshore
  • First company to achieve sub 3mm 3D laser scanning from a UAV mounted inspection instrument

Lessons learned:
The most significant learning moments occurred in the development of the UT UAV. Too strong a focus on safety and reading repeatability, resulted in a UAV that carried too much weight. The dual axis robotic arm had never been put on a UAV – significant time and research went into this feature. A full magnetisation system had also never been developed and the innovation took a significant time investment. Magnet degradation was discovered, causing issues after initial trials. Further developments involve reducing weight and changing the design and structure of the craft.

Lean, agile development has been a learning over the course of this project. Using 3D printing/carbon lamination saves weight and allows for faster prototyping.

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