EDRS 2023 Takeaways

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Posted on June 21

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EDRS 2023 Takeaways

Chris Haines, VP of Strategy, HUVRdata

If you are looking to spend time with a community focused on applying drones and robots to solve real energy inspection challenges, Energy Drone and Robotics Summit (EDRS) is my first recommendation. Big shoutout and thank you to Sean Guerre and the team for putting on another great show last week. On the short drive back to Austin, I took some time to capture a few of the key takeaways from the show.

For many years, drones and other robotic hardware have been the shiny objects that have attracted all the attention. Inspection data management was an afterthought and the result of a robotic inspection has often been a static PDF report stored on a LAN drive. The single biggest takeaway from the show is: Data management is now THE priority and getting that data into a workflow that drives action in the business is critical.

EDRS offered me the opportunity to catch up with many of the most innovative energy operators, and there is a tangible and consistent progression in their respective strategic focuses. They’re all thinking beyond simply “how to augment traditional inspections with new hardware” and are committing to new technologies that will enable global, cross-enterprise scale as well as more visual ways of working. Case in point, I have seen the following technologies mature significantly over the last year and all three represent key initiatives for the industry.

  1. Autonomous Robotics: Unlocking the true potential of robots, removing humans from hazardous environments, and reducing data acquisition costs.
  2. Auto Finding Identification (AI/ML): Critical to augment human inspectors by sifting through and categorizing the vast amounts of data collected by autonomous robotics
  3. 3D Contextualization (Digital Twin): Allowing operators to move to a more visual way of working which will save time while enabling quality engineering assessments and planning from afar.

Each of these technologies offers a new way of working that is safer, faster, more accurate, and considerably less expensive than current methods. The customers that we work with are looking to apply each to a variety of inspection use cases, including visual, non-destructive testing (NDT), and fugitive gas emissions (FGE). However, the successful adoption of these technologies still presents challenges we must overcome.

One of the best discussions highlighting these challenges was the Operator Roundtable with Shankar Nadadaraja (ExxonMobil), Marty Robinson (Dow Chemical), Katherine Papageorge (Chevron), and Josh Buchanan (Chevron). These are hands down some of the most preeminent thought leaders in energy and if you get the opportunity to ask them about their implementation of autonomous robotics, AI/ML, or digital twins, they will tell you that the non-negotiable requirement for achieving any of these deployments successfully is effective data management. (I haven’t reviewed the transcript, but I’d estimate the over-under on the number of times “data management” was mentioned during the 1-hour panel is close to 30 times.)

Autonomy will generate orders of magnitude more inspection data than traditional methods and exacerbate already failing systems/workflows. The promise of AI/ML stops cold if you do not have data for training and the ability to apply niche-focused models to specific use cases, e.g. drone inspections on flare stacks. Visualizing inspection data in the context of a 3D digital environment is only possible if the data is structured in a way that allows for a granular connection to equipment at the component level. 

Other noteworthy takeaways:

  • Turnarounds (TAR) continue to be a compelling event for the adoption of new technologies and a great place to enjoy the value that robotics offers. This came up again and again in conversations with operators, and I smiled thinking about how one client just told us that HUVR saves them ~$2.5M per TAR. 
  • DJI is still the drone hardware king, but every single operator I spoke with is planning–or currently running–a pilot with Skydio. Based on the feedback, Skydio is just a new sensor away from seeing significant adoption as operators embrace autonomy and want American-made drones.
  • Net zero goals are still front and center. Opportunities to track and quantify FGE are tremendous and Operators are looking for autonomous, drone-in-a-box solutions to meet the challenging distributed-equipment footprints in the Permian. There is the added benefit of reducing traffic on the most deadly roads in the US–and saving countless lives each year.
  • Robotics is on a path to eliminate the need for humans to enter confined spaces; several operators have stated goals to eliminate confined space entry this decade. While we may be waiting a while for robots that can perform repairs, tools like Flyability’s Helios 3 have matured enough to remove the need for putting humans into tanks, vessels, boilers, etc., and there isn’t a good excuse for delaying the use of these tools in your facilities.
  • We have finally seen the adoption of ultrasonic thickness (UT) testing with Drones. Voliro has deployed a solution that can take readings in just about any orientation (including hitting a target the size of a quarter when performing LPS testing on wind turbines). Thickness data drives a high volume of the asset integrity calculations used in HUVR. Collecting that data safely and efficiently–at height–will be a game changer.

Thanks again to the great team at EDRS and the many folks who openly shared their journey, both successes and challenges, in an effort to collaborate, learn, and ultimately drive innovation forward in the Energy industry

–we’ll be back in 2024!

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