In September 2014, Cyberhawk was tasked by the operator of a major onshore refinery in Singapore with the safe inspection of multiple chimney stacks and flares, without the need to shut down operations.
The rationale behind the operator’s use of UAVs was to reduce human exposure to hazardous environments, including working at height and in gas-rich environments, as well as remaining a safe distance from the operational assets. The operator also wanted to achieve cost reductions, through removing the high cost of scaffolding, maximising uptime and periodic condition monitoring to keep declining assets running. Further to this, high quality data was sought to improve maintenance and turnaround planning, in turn supporting management decisions.
Inspection of stacks and flares is known to be challenging for a number of reasons:
Exposure to high temperatures
Exposure to SOx/ H2S
Difficulty in inspecting the top section of a chimney stack given the height
Using UAVs for inspection was investigated and deemed to be by far the preferred method for addressing these issues.
To undertake its first piece of work in Singapore, Cyberhawk secured the necessary flight permissions from the aviation authority as well as additional approvals from the local airforce.
Given the complications of working in Singapore airspace, Cyberhawk mobilised two teams of ROAV pilots and inspection engineers on-site, so that work could be completed even more quickly. The entire project took only three weeks to complete.
The alternative inspection methods would usually be using scaffolding for chimney stack inspection, which takes significantly longer, presents high risks to personnel and can incur huge costs. For flares, this would usually involve the flare being shut down, meaning a loss of production time, and thereafter personnel climbing to inspect.
The operator reported that the all of the work was completed safely and successfully, and resulted in a 14x OPEX reduction and savings of $3.5m by avoiding the requirement for scaffolding to inspect the chimney stacks.