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Harnessing the power of data will realise true potential of inspection technologies

Author : Steve Pearson, Phusion IM

02 November 2021

The previous PPTex Supplement in Hazardex August contained very informative articles on Augmented Reality, wearables, robots and the growing adoption of mobile working for lone workers. These innovative technologies have a common thread in that they are all reliant upon data, documents and models which are complete, consistent and connected.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

(Click here to view article in digital edition)

The organisations that are proactively investing in the creation of a digital twin will be well placed to leverage these new technologies and are realising the power of the application of data.

Through a software-agnostic Master Data Model, companies can map and track the status of assets from anywhere in the world. This approach saves time, creates efficiencies and supports highly safe operations.

Autonomous vehicles both use and enrich the digital twin to significantly reduce or even eliminate the amount of time a human spends on site and thus reducing the time they are present in a hazardous environment. The introduction of machine learning and artificial intelligence is acting as a catalyst to increase the application of new ways of working.

The current COVID pandemic has forced many of us to work remotely and master technologies such as Teams to facilitate global communications. It has proven that more can be done virtually and online.

Reducing the movement of personnel reduces our carbon footprint and reduces travel and accommodation expenses, it also allows subject matter experts to bring their expertise to surveys, being carried out on a global basis, without them leaving their office.

We are already at the stage where hazardous area rated robots are programmatically roaming offshore platforms. They can also be guided and manipulated from any onshore location with an internet connection.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

So how can these trends influence the statutory requirement to inspect equipment rated for use in hazardous inspections in compliance with IEC 60079-17?

The digital twin facilitates remote planning of IEC surveys by providing information such as equipment location and images which can power machine learning and immersive reality. A 3D model is a powerful visualisation tool to support the creation of a digital twin. New facilities are not an exact replica of the 3D model due to site variations, also many aging assets do not have a 3D model. A laser scan survey is vast and cost effective. It can “as-build” a design 3D model and can also be used to autogenerate a 3D model for an existing facility.

From a laser scan survey, equipment location can be easily and accurately determined. With mobile devices additional GeoTag data can be determined to integrate with the 3D model generated from the laser scans.

The humble plot plan still has a role to play where the co-ordinate data can also be added to the digital twin so the plot plan forms an interactive element of an integrated solution.

The net result is a set of GeoTag data to easily and accurately guide an inspector or a robot to the location of any equipment being subject to survey. Location data can also be used to organise inspections into logical routes.

When a laser scan survey is carried out it is customary to undertake a synchronised 360 photogrammetry survey. This creates a ‘Google street view’ style result so surveyors can visualise equipment and equipment degradation. Survey photographs are also related so inspectors can view equipment in more detail and also view equipment nameplates.  This ability to tour a facility virtually via images allows for a detailed level of planning.

Inspectors are certified to carry out IEC checks and identify faults such as bolts missing, and earth straps corroded. Images can be taken of these typicals and meta-data created to train a machine learning algorithm.

Steve Pearson, Phusion IM
Steve Pearson, Phusion IM

Once a critical mass of typical faults is illustrated and described, machine learning can be used to compliment human observations and can also be used to perform robotic inspections. The machine learning can be utilised to isolate a fault and communicate to a remote inspector for confirmation.

Taking a fresh look at the questions defined on each IEC check sheet, there are items that can be answered by interrogating a well-managed digital twin. Managing change for example is essential for technical integrity and is not only relevant to certified equipment.

There are some questions which can only be answered by a visit or virtual visit. Again, these can be minimised or resolved in different ways. Where the objective is to minimise human exposure to hazardous environments then we are in a better place to re-engineer surveys without compromising safety.

Returning to the recent PPTex article on Augmented Reality where the digital world is superimposed on to the real world. With the ability to remotely control robots with low latency, high resolution cameras and other sensors we now have the ability to superimpose reality onto the digital world.

This means inspectors can apply their experience of in situ hazardous area equipment from any completely safe environment. All we need now is a catchy name for superimposed reality!

About the author:

Steve Pearson is Executive Chairman of Phusion IM and is a Chartered Engineer with practical engineering knowledge of all phases of major projects. Prior to forming Phusion, Steve worked for BP as a Senior Engineer, specialising in Instrumentation, Control and IT issues. Steve has helped many organisations to define their information needs and his practical and pragmatic approach to handling engineering content has enabled clients to save many millions of pounds.


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