Drones are paving the way for the energy industry’s technology revolution, according to the managing director of Altus Inspection & Access.
Drones are continuing to flex their tech muscles, shifting from imaging structures to integrating with non-destructive testing (NDT) sensors to provide a cost effective and safe method of inspection, said company boss Drue Bremner, pictured.
Mr Bremner said: “What we’ve done is take sensors out of the hands of techs that go offshore and hang off a rope to collect the data to do this inspection work, and put them on a drone to collect the same level off accuracy, the same level of intricacy which is then transmitted down to the deck.
“The technician is still onsite evaluating the data on site but he’s not exposed to the same high risk area presented by working at height.”
The ropes access technician has worked offshore for 17 years and began to investigate how drones could be used out of “necessity” three years ago when the oil price dropped.
Mr Bremner said: “I had to make a decision whether I completely came out of the oil industry altogether or try to redeploy a decade and a half of experience in inspection I had elsewhere inside the industry.”
He explained that drones were just becoming more common in the offshore industry when he began to investigate their suitability for NDT use.
The entrepreneur said: “We know it can make huge differences in terms of safety which is the overriding thing in the energy sector but the cost savings we can deliver right now would be second to none.
“Everyone has the same requirement in the oil and gas industry; excellence in work and high quality of data delivered with the safest possible method. Now we had to fit all that around with the cheapest possible price.
“So rather than corner cutting exercises we need to use new technology to ensure the best standards.”
“We have done a proof of concept but it’s never been done anywhere in the world other than our trial in July last year in Milton Keynes.
“It’s going to revolutionise how access is carried it in the future.”
He said that drones can be “slightly erratic and inherent” in their flight even with a good pilot at the helm which cause inaccurate sensor readings.
However, Mr Bremner explained that he can mitigate this using electromagnetics to form a more stable drone platform for the sensors which gives a more accurate reading.
This stability makes the drone suitable for various non-destructive techniques such as alternating current field measurements, ultrasonic testing and phase-array that were previously conducted by hand.
Mr Bremner acknowledged that some will criticise the use of drones over fears of replacing jobs. However, he insisted that man power will still be critical to the job.
He explained: “We can only go so far with a drone if you needed to remove insulation, paint work, rust or debris. That still needs to be done by a human.
“So we’d need to send out people who not only can fly drones but who know the inspection techniques that are required in the industry. We need skilled technicians to do this.
“If we put out a drone with a package that consists of multiple techniques it would be difficult to send one technician out to cover all those disciplines so we send out two guys who’d have a full spread of training.
“Furthermore, more experienced technicians need to get replaced as they get pulled up the ladder so it sucks new technicians in.”
The company has greatly benefitted from help from the Elevator Accelerator Project over the last 12 months.
Mr Bremner praised the help he’s received saying: “It’s been huge! Without the input of Elevator at the time I probably wouldn’t be here today. Just the level of support is second to none really, the insights they give you into running a business is key because essentially I’m just a guy who’s climbed on lots of oil rigs.
“I spent 15 years doing that and making sure I was the best at that particular facet of the industry and then you flip that on the head and you’re at the business part of it.”
Over the next six months Mr Bremner and his business partner will formally launch Altus Inspection Access and are looking to secure funding to build and develop their technology train as well as recruiting more drone technicians.