Three Ways Robotic Inspections Improve Safety

Faster Inspections. Smaller Human Footprint. More Actionable Data on Asset Integrity.

You’ve seen the signs on the gates of refineries and other process industry facilities: “This plant has had 147 days without a safety incident.”

For some plant managers, this sign is validation that good processes are in place. For others, especially plant safety engineers and managers (EHS), it’s a kind of reverse countdown because, despite hoping, they know eventually something bad will happen.

While necessary for long-term reliability, planned outages and turnarounds put inspectors and contractors in close contact with high-risk assets and each other. With all the juggling of people and schedules, that safety streak meets headwinds.

Sure, using methods like Risk-Based Inspection (RBI) and Fitness for Service (FFS) can give mechanical engineers a degree of confidence that their vessels and piping and other fixed equipment will continue to function for a calculated period of time. But there are no such mathematical models that project the probability or timing of an accident happening as a result of inspection activities for Safety Managers.

Simply put, accidents are most often the result of human error. The inspection process brings more humans into the equation.

However, if you can reduce the number of humans involved by adding robots, your chances for an accident-free turnaround are greatly increased.

Robots Provide A Lot More Inspection Data With A Lot Less Risk.

Gecko Robotics' TOKA3 robot performs a boiler inspection

The countdown begins the moment the inspector enters the plant. One of the biggest impacts on improving safety is the ability to keep inspectors out of dangerous environments or situations.

In a manual inspection, the inspector spends a significant amount of time collecting a small amount of inspection data using a single transducer. The introduction of Rapid Ultrasonic Gridding (RUG) allows inspection robots with anywhere from 4 to 100+ transducers, to collect millions of A-scan data points at speeds up to 60 feet per minute. Massive amounts of data are captured and stored for easy, and intuitive, analysis. While it can take weeks to gather data by manual inspection, RUG delivers 1000X more data in just a fraction of time in comparison. Reducing the time required for inspectors to gather data reduces the risk of an accident.

Preventing Injuries and Fatalities.

Gecko Robotics Inspection Team performs rapid ultrasonic gridding (RUG)

Inspections are further complicated by raised elevations. RUG systems require significantly less time spent working at heights and much less movement when elevated access is required. Minimizing movement at elevated heights is one way to greatly improve safety, as each movement carries a risk of mechanical failure for scaffolding, rope access, or boom lift machinery. It’s a sobering fact that falls account for more than a third of all deaths in the industry.

And then, there’s the issue of confined spaces, which also pose potentially hazardous conditions for inspectors. Robots are capable of entering confined spaces that have not been cleared for human entry. And even when an inspector can safely get to equipment in confined spaces, the physical contortions required to get into position to take a proper measurement can also result in injury.

For certain assets, a robotic inspection provides the option of performing an external, in-service inspection, instead of emptying a vessel of its material and conducting an internal inspection.  This mitigates the need for hazardous material handling and confined space entry.

Hot Enough For You?

Gecko Robotics TOKA3 Hot Bot inspects fractionator piping

Exposing inspection personnel to surfaces with dangerous temperatures adds excessive risk. To counter that, Gecko created the TOKATM 3 HotBot, featured in this case study. This version of the TOKA bot is specifically designed for inspections of assets with surface temperatures up to 250º F. This technological advancement allows the NDT Inspector to capture inspection data while maintaining a safe distance from the online pipe until the inspection is completed and the robot is ready to be removed.

When Less is More.

Gecko Robotics Inspection Team inspects a pipeline with the TOKA 3 robot

Add together the manual inspection teams, the scaffolding or rope access crews, and supervisors, and you have a lot of boots on the ground in a relatively small section of your plant. As an example, Gecko deploys teams that are safety trained and approved, and are, on average, 75% smaller in number than the typical manual inspection team. Gecko Robotics deploys two Level II NDT inspectors and 1 robot, compared to the 10-12 people needed for manual inspections. A significantly smaller footprint reduces the number of people exposed to situations that can cause accidents and injury.

Inspections In The Time Of Covid.

Despite the new challenges that COVID-19 has brought to the workplace, inspections and the safety, reliability, and productivity they ensure are as important as ever.

But the sheer number of onsite personnel required for either manual, RUG, or even AUT inspection, presents new safety and health challenges, in today’s pandemic environment. Maintaining safe distance and proper usage of PPE while scaffolding and roping brings added time and complexity to job completion. Robots eliminate the need for most of these risks.

Robots are emerging as go-to technologies to meet your mechanical integrity goals while adhering to guidelines for safety posed by the pandemic.

The Bigger Picture.

The chief consideration for any plant operation is the safety of plant personnel, the surrounding population, and the environment.

The importance of identifying pre-symptomatic damage issues cannot be downplayed, considering the consequence of equipment failure.

Inspection data captured by Gecko’s robots enables plant management to more accurately detect unexpected damage mechanisms such as corrosion, fatigue, creep, crack-like fractures, or HTHA. These conditions can and do lead to chemical releases, human exposure, fires, explosions, and environmental hazards.

Not only does the Gecko data give a comprehensive picture of the current state of equipment integrity, but it can also be accessed at any time to compare against future inspections for the calculation of damage trends and rates. You can see where you are now. You can better predict and plan actions that will mitigate your risk for future failure.

Safety is everybody’s business. Gecko Robotics delivers advanced inspection technology that keeps everybody safe.

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