The Shell refinery is testing the potential of drone inspection

17. December 2020

There can be great potential in using drones for inspection of pipes and tanks, e.g., at the Shell refinery in Fredericia. Energy Cluster Denmark gathered drone experts in innovation project to test flying inspection.

What can we see? When can this be applied? How fast can we get the data?

There are many questions when it comes to using drones at a large facility such as the Shell refinery in Fredericia. And the answers can be extremely exciting. Thus, Energy Cluster Denmark, Wind Power LAB, Upteko and the Danish National Metrology Institute (DFM) in the innovation project Offshore Operating Drones, collaborated with the refinery to uncover the potential in using drones for inspection – without compromising on safety.

“We have a lot of pipes and a lot of tanks, which we constantly inspect. It is certainly possible that drones can help us in that work and perhaps even give us even better opportunities,” says press manager Torben Øllegaard Sørensen from A/S Dansk Shell.

Better prioritisation

In addition to conducting inspections, equipment too must be inspected, and here drones may also be of help. According to Torben Sørensen, drones can be an alternative where, for example, a lift or scaffolding is required today, which is resource intensive.

Anders Røpke, CEO & Founder of Wind power LAB sees this potential:

“It’s about checking the facility where it makes sense. The data we collect during the inspection is converted into specific check and focus points on the facility. Thus, Shell can use the concept to get an overview and thus to prioritise where on the plant further inspection is needed,” he says.

Thereby, the drone can be used to optimise the procedure with regard to maintenance, safety, and efficiency, and for the drone company UPTEKO, that value is absolutely key.

“With the test flights at the refinery, we show how drones can be used to make the inspection of the large Shell plant easier, smarter and faster without compromising on safety,” says Benjamin Mejnertz, partner in UPTEKO:

“We provide customised, automated solutions for inspection, security monitoring and data collection. It saves companies time and money so they can focus on their core business instead,” he says.

Creates concrete value

This value creation is important. The potential of drones must be able to withstand the bright light of a sustainable business model. And it can, assesses Erik Nicolai Christensen from the technological measurement specialists in DFM:

“It is every researcher’s dream to see the technologies and measurement techniques that are developed and tested in the laboratory, to fly and create concrete value for companies and contribute to creating value in society,” he says, while colleague Lars Johann Wacker stresses on the value of collaborating on a new and good solution:

“It is fantastic that so many companies with such different backgrounds have worked together to solve this challenge. It shows the strength of interdisciplinary collaboration and the great potential in connecting drones with advanced measurement technology,” he says.

Flying surveillance

In the long run, drones may be fully automated and, in principle, carry out the work of inspection and monitoring similar to robotic lawnmowers; thus, automatically flying around and sending data for monitoring use.

The possibilities are many, points out Glenda Napier, CEO of Energy Cluster Denmark:

“When innovative companies come together to solve a concrete challenge through new technological solutions or new ways of applying innovation, it brings value. In the specific case, one can both reduce costs, avoid a risk element, and upgrade the quality and frequency of the inspections. Many in the energy sector will be able to see a value in this,” she says.