Robotics development surged during the pandemic. These robots are becoming a popular choice in various industries to use to inspect critical and high-value infrastructure.
A report from McKinsey & Company shows that up to 88% of businesses worldwide plan to adopt robotic automation into their infrastructure (Using Robots, 2020).
Organizations worldwide are also developing robots for inspection, maintenance, and repairs. Will the use of robots become mainstream in infrastructure inspection and equipment maintenance?
Maintenance activities like regular inspection of assets, facilities, and infrastructure can be a costly and risky endeavor. Industrial inspection in critical industries like oil and gas, power, and defense robotics can offer more data and ten times the speed of traditional or human assessment and presents a safer method.
For example, oil and gas facilities inspections have flare stacks heated up to hundreds of degrees that need to cool down before a human can climb to check the facilities for any damages or wear and tear.
Robotics and Infrastructure
Aging and crumbling infrastructure are significant and ongoing problems not only in the United States but in countries with infrastructure that is nearing its end of life.
With today’s increased investment in infrastructure can only go so far with the rising inflation, energy crisis, and soaring prices of fuel and supplies, it is logical to maximize the capacity and extend the life of assets. Doing this will require accurate, rich, and representative data that robots can provide.
Greg Nichols, author of the article, “Can wall-crawling robots help solve our infrastructure problems?”, interviews Jake Loosararian CEO and co-founder of Gecko Robotics, to describe these crawling robots and how they perform industrial inspections in critical industries and hard-to-reach places. Below are excerpts from the interview.
These wall-crawling robots “scale along industrial assets inspecting for damage while collecting 1000x more data points than traditional inspection methods at 10x the speed. They are furnished with cameras and sensors to detect corrosion, pitting, cracking, blistering, or laminations, and they encompass an impressive intersection of technologies, including robotics, AI, and machine vision.”
When paired with the right software, robotic data capture and processing provides analysis needed to perform infrastructure management, repairs, replacements, preventative maintenance, and guide investment in new infrastructure when appropriate.
Robots vs. Drones
What are the advantages of crawling robots over drones? Loosarian notes that it is not an apples-to-apples comparison as each has its specialty. Crawling robots have more data acquisition capabilities than drones, whereas the latter is generally used for visual representations. Crawling robots have over 100 transducers, making them ideal for capturing metallurgical data around thickness, corrosion, and cracking. They collect massive amounts of ground truth data. At the same time, drones are best at image capture.
Applications of crawling robots in the industry today.
Loosarian gave some examples of where they use the crawling robots. First is for Shell’s inspection of their tank roof in one of its refineries, where the robot could collect a thousand times the number of measurements and tens times faster than a human inspector would.
The second application is with Siemens Energy, where aside from capturing significantly more data at many times the speed, robots eliminated the need for scaffolding and confiding space entry. The cost of the inspection was also 75% less.
And lastly, in Oklahoma’s above-ground diesel refinery, a crawling robot proved to be a much safer inspection alternative as people walking on the tank roof could damage the roof and get into an accident.
Evolving technology like crawling robots that provides industrial inspection services are solutions that can meet today’s challenges and even into the future.
- First, it offers a safer alternative to dangerous inspection activities.
- Second, it provides more data and several times the speed of human inspections.
- Third, it is cost-effective and does away with bulky equipment to perform an inspection.
With today’s increasing costs due to inflation and the looming economic uncertainty, extending the useful life of an asset can be economically advantageous to any government.
However, infrastructure will not stay efficient, reliable, and safe without regular and ongoing attention, and this is where robotics can help simplify the job.
Using Robots for Inspection, Maintenance, And Repairs. (2020, December 11). Robotics Tomorrow. Retrieved from https://www.roboticstomorrow.com/story/2020/12/using-robots-for-inspection-maintenance-and-repairs/16008/
Nichols, G. (2022, November 23). Can wall-crawling robots help solve our infrastructure problems? ZDNet. Retrieved from https://www.zdnet.com/article/can-wall-crawling-robots-solve-infrastructure-problems/
Inspection Robots. (2022). A3 Robotics. Retrieved from https://www.automate.org/a3-content/service-robots-inspection