Where to begin in the Digital Business Transformation journey can be overwhelming and, sometimes paralyzing. Fortunately, the cost, capability, and performance of several technologies have evolved such that the process of “inspections” now represents a very accessible on-ramp and accelerator of that journey.
The key to a successful transformation is to focus your strategy on digitizing functions and processes that drive outcomes important to the business. Re-thinking inspections and leveraging a digital inspection model can now offer significant benefit to any business looking to increase revenue, minimize risk, and reduce costs.
It has always been true that inspections are critical across industries to ensure optimal production, quality outcomes, safety, environmental protection, and compliance with regulations. While traditional inspections have been highly manual, technology innovations such as cloud computing, installed sensors, and new data collection methods are enabling a transformation in the inspection community and across industries. Digital Inspections have gone from simply monitoring asset conditions to prevent losses and manage operations to driving new and better outcomes by increasing organizational productivity and asset life.
Changing Digital Inspection
The world of inspections has changed and continues to change greatly to the benefit of those organizations that embrace what the new technology can offer and adapt their operations with the implementation of these new technologies. Inspections have been paper-based and viewed as costly to minimize. Adding to this, many types of inspections are fraught with human safety risks, such as those associated with descending into vessels and other hazardous confined spaces. The complications continue in the capture of the data. Today, results are captured in the field, manually transferred, and stored locally. The time to access the captured data is often delayed by days to months for use and cannot be leveraged efficiently for organizational learning and operational improvement.
With the acceptance of change come significant improvements to the world of inspection: centralized, cloud-based technology, sensor optimization, and proliferation of new data collection methods and vehicles.
Cloud: Cloud technology has enabled data availability, integration, storage without limits, and computation capacity. Inspection data is no longer a representation of a single point in time, but rather becomes an informative and transformational business tool. Cloud technologies enable easier access, real-time updates, and more effective data storing, integrating and sharing across the business network. Today, less than 10% of the data in oil and gas companies is effectively used (IDC). The cloud unlocks data so that more informed decisions can be made across the enterprise.
Installed sensors: Over the past several years, sensors have become notably more powerful and cost effective, enabling a broader scale and depth of information to be continuously available. Sitting on-premise and connecting directly to the cloud, installed sensors can provide real-time visibility across your assets through a simplified, central view of inspection data including thermal and thickness data. Instead of periodic, time-based inspections that leave windows in which a failure can occur, organizations can continuously “inspect” and detect actual problems and predict potential areas of concern. This enables more proactive asset management that can keep operations both productive and safe.
New data collection methods, such as crawlers and aerial drones, enable inspections of assets that were previously hard to reach, a safety risk, or very expensive to monitor. These tools allow for assets to be inspected and analyzed at a lower cost, more frequently, and more safely with better quality inspection modalities than previously used.
The combination of the above three trends also has the potential to generate new inspection methods and outcomes that were previously impossible. When a robot carries sensors or cameras to conduct inspection of a vessel from the inside, the inspection results, such as images or videos, can be mapped onto a cloud-based 3D digital model with precise coordinates of flaw location. The monitoring techniques can then be applied from outside of the vessel and consistently provide data to the same 3D model on the exact spot where flaws occur.
The combination of cloud, sensors, and new forms of robotic data collection creates the foundation for brand new ways to conduct inspections and asset management. Paired with advanced analytics and learning systems, a “Digital Twin” — or digital representation of a physical asset — can then be used to trend actual versus optimal performance. This enables production and maintenance staff to identify potential operational deviations, expedite root cause analysis, and drive predictive maintenance.
By embracing change and enabling technology, you can take a simple task such as the inspecting of a storage tank and quickly derive financial, health, safety, and environmental benefits:
- Minimize risk: Using a drone, instead of a human, reduces risk to the health and safety of your workforce or service crew, decreases the time to access and utilize data, and lowers overall costs of the inspection.
- Enhance quality: Utilizing digital technology to ensure the quality and consistency of the collection and analysis of inspection readings, for corrosion as an example, drives more consistent, precise, and usable data than those collected by a human, who would typically perform the work with a flashlight, pencil, and paper.
- Improved uptime: Reducing the non-productive time associated with an inspection shutdown by nearly 70% enables higher productivity of a tank (techna.no). Furthermore, technologies are rapidly evolving that will enable vessels to be inspected with zero downtime and to enable machine learning algorithms to detect previously unidentified anomalies in the data and avert costly disasters.