When will enclosed space inspection by drones become an accepted practice in maritime and offshore operations?
28 March 2019 - Published by Stig Marthinsen
Every year people die inspecting enclosed spaces. These spaces can contain depleted oxygen levels, toxic gases, and/or material otherwise unsafe for humans. Using drones for this work will enhance safety and reduce costs. Drone-based solutions for the inspection of enclosed spaces consist of sending drones into void spaces, duct keels, ballast and potable water tanks, or cargo and storage tanks, for mapping, surveying, sniffing, and measuring the thickness of paint.
Enclosed space inspections on ships alone are estimated to cost US$279mil globally/year. For land-based inspections, drones working a single day can do what three workers need three days to complete, without requiring any suspension of operations. Furthermore, drones can survey spaces that people can’t access, and drones are faster to acquire and transmit data.
As the use and application of drones spread, the manufacturing costs of high quality drones will decrease. The real value in the future will be generated by those offering drone-based services. Drone operators will undertake work for firms, and consultants will analyze the data flows coming from drones. Value will come from the software, advanced sensor technologies, and special applications, rather than from the drone itself. Programming, software, data, and flying operations, are expected to amount to 80% of the total economic impact from drones in 2035.
A real game changer may come when drones can perform tasks autonomously, where trained pilots are not needed. For maritime and offshore applications, drone developers are targeting oil and gas companies for infrastructure inspection and monitoring, while application for enclosed spaces is forthcoming. The implementation of drones for inspecting enclosed spaces is slow, potentially due to their design: battery-operated, multi-rotor units may cause explosions (but better a drone die than a human).