How drones are transforming the oil and gas industry

To keep oil and gas equipment operating at optimum levels is a challenging and costly task that includes continual monitoring of equipment, the completion of regular preventative maintenance, and the planning of down time for repairs. Keeping up with this essential monitoring and maintenance is expensive, both in terms of manpower and in terms of maintenance costs and ongoing capital expenditure.

Using drones for preventive maintenance
Preventative maintenance is essential in the oil and gas industries, because it reduces the risk of catastrophic equipment failure and, to be able to carry out effective preventative maintenance, and regular inspections of equipment are needed to detect potential issues caused by things such as corrosion, manufacturing defects and simple wear and tear.

Just as with all industrial equipment, oil and gas industry equipment is reliant on numerous individual parts working together in harmony. For example, a gas pipeline might consist of thousands of different components, and, if just one of these parts fails, the whole systems could fail, so the pipeline is only as reliable as its weakest component.

The scale of industrial plants in the oil and gas industry makes preventative maintenance very time consuming and extremely expensive. Especially as oil and gas installations are often located in remote areas.

The efficiency and cost effectiveness of preventative maintenance in the oil and gas industries has improved significantly in recent years, thanks, in part, to the introduction of drone technology. By making use of drones, it has become easier, cheaper and safer to detect equipment failures remotely. Drones have also made it possible to respond more quickly to accidents and disasters.

Can the remaining useful life of equipment be predicted?
As well as increasing equipment reliability through preventative maintenance, engineers try to predict the useful, reliable life of equipment. To do that, they need to be able to quantify the following:

Firstly, the mean time between failures (MTBF) and the mean time to repair (MTTR) need to be calculated so that equipment can be repaired or replaced, before it actually fails.

Secondly, in order to make a decision regarding the replacement of equipment, the engineers need to know the cost of replacing equipment before it fails.

Once they have made those calculations for all the components in a system, the engineers can design a reliability prediction and improvement program, which is a complex task that includes many other considerations as well.

The root cause of failure of all components in a system will need to be ascertained in order to calculate a reliable MTBF. For example, pipelines that are situated in a non-corrosive environment will have a very different MTBF than pipelines that are situated in a corrosive environment.

To fully understand the interrelationship between failures in different components in a system, a fault tree analysis (FTA) will have to be completed. This will make it possible to define system backups and redundancies and help with the replacement of the relevant defective parts quickly.

Some of the other failure analysis tools that will be use include root cause analysis (RCA) and failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA), which provide further data that help with the understanding of component failures and with the planning of how to prevent failures.

Analytical techniques can also be used to calculate the performance and loading characteristics of equipment, such as the stresses that an offshore drilling riser will need to bear.

How drones can help
The use of drones in compiling the data needed for failure reporting, analysis, and corrective action systems (FRACAS) can greatly reduce the timescale and the cost of the process. Drones reduce manpower costs, they can be deployed rapidly, and they can carry out inspections more efficiently. Drones also have the advantage of being able to be deployed more easily in difficult to reach and remote areas.

How drones are transforming the oil and gas industries
The emerging technologies of drones, automation, and robotics are likely to bring cost reductions, safety benefits, and efficiency gains in the oil and gas industry. Technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics are already having an impact.

These new advanced technologies are providing the industry with the opportunity of obtaining oil and gas from more challenging sources. The extraction of oil and gas from difficult to reach, hostile environments is expensive and it requires a complex combination of structures, equipment and manpower, but new technology is simplifying the process.

The safety and cost impact on oil prices
The oil and gas industry is both a dangerous and often controversial industry. The infrastructure that is required to extract oil and gas requires constant and careful monitoring to avoid accidents and environmental damage. In addition to those important requirements, the costs must also be kept down so that oil and gas prices can be maintained at acceptable levels.

Many other industries rely on the oil and gas industry for power and for raw materials as well. Because of this, reductions oil and gas costs benefit many different industrial sectors, but cost reduction has always been challenging with the old technologies that have been used in the past.

The extraction, refining and distribution of oil and gas take a lot of work and many of these activities have, in the past, relied on expensive, labor intensive methods that have also carried safety risks. Most operations require large-scale and very expensive equipment as well as specialized skills. Workers are also often exposed to many different types of hazards.

Specialist workers need to be trained, insured and accommodated when they are working in the field, and this can be very expensive to do. Because of this and other factors, the conventional methods are costly. To remain competitive, oil and gas companies need to find ways to reduce their costs and it is by embracing the new technologies and many companies are seeking to do this through new technology. These new technologies include the use of drones, robotics, analytical software, remote data collection and cloud based computer systems.

Autonomous vehicles and robotics
Emerging technologies such as drones and robotics are filtering their way into the oil and gas industry where they have a large number of potential benefits. Airborne and ground based unmanned vehicles, for example, can achieve what humans could not, or complete tasks faster and cheaper than humans could. Using such equipment can therefore greatly reduce costs and it can improve safety.

These new technologies are increasingly being used in areas such as exploration, transportation, inspections and many other activities. Technologies such as remote access, automated sampling and autonomous drilling are also being used to drive down costs and reduce the safety risks.

The new equipment being brought into use includes aerial drones, unmanned ground vehicles, robotic drilling equipment and autonomous underwater vehicles. These types of vehicles are ideal for use in the types of terrains and the remote locations that gas and oil companies often have to operate in.

Tools that are intelligent and flexible, such as drones and robotic devices can reduce the need for human intervention and so improve safety and operational efficiency.  Remotely operated vehicles allow engineers to work from a central location, away from the actual work area, and therefore give advice to the workers on the ground at multiple sites without the need for the to travel to those sites in person. This is far more efficient as it reduces the non-productive travelling time of expensive engineers.

Drones and autonomous vehicles can use a variety of instruments to collect data from oil and gas installations and pipelines. Once that data has been collected, analytical software and artificial intelligence solutions, which can make decisions faster than humans, can be used to analyze the data.

Many of the robots that have been designed for use in the oil and gas industry have been designed to withstand extreme conditions. This means that they can carry out inspections of equipment where it would be impossible for humans to do so.

Robots can also speed up tough processes like the lifting of oil rigs, while drones are able to inspect pipelines and transmit real-time images to engineers, both of which can cut dramatically cut downtime of equipment.

Remotely operated vehicles are used for a range of different tasks in the oil and gas industry, including inspection and for the monitoring of pollution, but some types of ROVs are hampered by the limited depth at which they can be operated in offshore installations.

The future of Drones in the oil and gas industry
Drones are becoming more common in a wide variety of different industries. The ease of use and the ability to mount sensors and cameras on them is making then them an essential tool in the oil and gas industry and, as the technology develops, so the use of drones will continue to increase.

The services that drones provide now include the monitoring, surveillance and inspection of a wide range of oil and gas installations, both onshore and off. Drones can quickly and efficiently detect problems that could lead to disasters, for example, in storage tank facilities and flare stacks.

In addition to this, drones can be connected to the internet via Wi-Fi, allowing them to be connected to the cloud so that they share the information they are collecting, in real time, to the engineers on the ground.

The use of big data and AI in the oil and gas industry
Oil and gas companies collect huge amounts of data through sensors such as imaging equipment, drones and offshore buoys as well as sensors embedded in pipelines, rock formations and oil and gas installations and equipment. These sensors can detect a vast array of different types of data, including vibration, corrosion, leakages and other vital data.

Pulling all this data together and analyzing it, along with industry data, can help a company plan activities more efficiently, but only if they have the right tools that are capable of analyzing such vast volumes of data.

Using special data analytics tools and AI, companies can now discover trends and gain valuable insights that will help them take more effective decisions and react quicker to developing circumstances and to potential equipment defects.

Analytics software and AI are giving the oil and gas industry the tools it needs to maximize their potential by creating actionable data from the mass of field data that it collects using drones and other monitoring equipment. Oil and gas companies now have the ability to apply their own in house expertise and the expertise of external specialists to analysis all the data they have at their disposal.

The need exists for oil and gas companies to make investments in the new technology that is starting to appear. If they do invest in the emerging technologies, they can reduce costs, increase productivity and improve safety. The new technology that needs to be embraced includes AI, data analytics, drones and other emerging hardware and software tools. It’s the emerging technologies like these that will enable gas and oil companies to improve decision making, control costs and increase productivity.