Inside Story: Better Than Humans

Inside Story: Better Than Humans

Using Drones to Inspect Equipment

Refineries are made up of pipes and stacks and towers—and not all are easy to access. That can pose a risk for an employee who needs to inspect a piece of equipment. Enter the drone!

Drones are being used for many purposes like cool photography and search and rescue. And Amazon is evaluating package delivery by drones. Today, they are already serving a real safety purpose. In fact, use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can save time, improve safety and reduce costs in the petrochemical industry.

Scott Chestnut, Tesoro’s Inspection Manager, brought in Aetos, a member of the Mistras Group, to provide the drone services. “There is not a day, a shift or an hour that goes by when our employees aren’t inspecting equipment to make sure everything is in working order,” Chestnut explains. “When high-tech solutions become available — and they help protect our employees while getting the job done quickly and less expensively — it’s a no-brainer.”

In January, UAVs were used to inspect 26 assets consisting primarily of steel and concrete furnace and flare stacks at Tesoro’s Martinez Refinery. Aerial visual inspection using high-resolution, high-zoom cameras is currently the number one application for drones in the oil and gas and petrochemical industries. UAVs can be equipped with a variety of sensors for specific inspection applications. Examples include infrared cameras, gas detection sensors and hyperspectral cameras.

Use of these cameras and sensors can minimize or even eliminate elevated work. UAVs integrated with advanced technologies can also help narrow the focus to specific areas so maintenance crews know exactly what they’re dealing with before they leave the ground, allowing them to concentrate on target areas. This is especially useful for turnaround planning.

Areas once accessible only with scaffolding or rope can now be accessed using drones at a fraction of the time and cost. Moreover, equipment such as furnace and flare stacks can remain in service during drone operations. Other applications include inspecting insulation for damage on operating columns, reactors and elevated piping; open, closed or floating roof tanks; and cooling towers and facility roofs.

Brian Cox, Business Development Manager for Aetos, was involved in bringing the drones to Martinez. “Tesoro and Aetos are aligned in one thing: We believe all safety incidents are preventable and our goal is zero,” he says. “Bringing this high-tech, cost-effective solution to inspect equipment safely in hard-to-reach areas just makes sense.”

Read more articles: Tesoro Martinez Refinery Community Newsletter – Summer 2016