COVID-19 and the Industrial Asset Inspection Landscape

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Posted on April 21

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For the last few weeks, people the world-over are adjusting to new norms of social distancing and working from home. Even more unfortunate, many are also adjusting to unemployment. It is human nature to look forward to a time when we can all go back to what we expect as normal. The environment we go back to, however, is not going to be the same as what we left a few weeks ago. In the absence of an approved vaccine for COVID-19, we are stuck with social distancing and all that it implies.

Unless you are in the business of making PPE or ventilators (or toilet paper), You are likely undergoing a historic downturn in your industry. Air travel in the US is down an incredible 94%. The challenges faced by the energy industry are equally unprecedented. Demand for fuel is the lowest its been for over 30 years. A recent estimate by IHS Markit suggests that petroleum refiners are in for a bigger shock. They predict that gasoline consumption in the US will drop by 55% for March and April due to COVID-19. Jet fuel demand would be halved over the same period. Diesel demand is down by 20%. Oil Companies have already implemented significant reductions in CAPEX and OPEX spending. Projects are being delayed, inspections and maintenance work is being deferred.

COVID-19 is affecting renewable energy companies as well as owners and operators of maritime assets. Plant-wide inspection and repair work is on hold in favor of high priority production-related assets only. One thing that is clear is that the forces of entropy are still at work. Wind turbines are still subject to blade erosion and lightning damage. Gearboxes are still experiencing wear. Corrosion is still at work in our refineries, our maritime assets, and on our pipelines.

The current COVID-19 strategy of mitigation through social distancing and working at home is resulting in a growing backlog of inspection and maintenance work, as well as forcing asset owners to perform critical asset inspections with fewer personnel. We may not return to a pre-COVID work environment until a vaccine is developed and widely deployed. This may be 12 months away. There is a good chance that there will also be fewer resources available to do this work, when that time comes. It will be crucial to properly allocate our limited inspection and maintenance resources. Three key technologies enable organizations to leverage their existing workforce, maximizing their value. Embracing three key digital strategies will enable organizations to maintain safe and productive assets, while reducing the need for field interactions by up to 40%.

1) Remote Inspection

Drones and other remote inspection technologies offer a number of advantages. Typically, a drone inspection crew consists of only two specialists; a pilot, and an observer. These specialists don’t have to be in close physical contact with each other or client representatives. They can perform their job a safe distance from the industrial asset as well as other personnel. The data obtained from drone inspections can be labeled and housed in a central database, accessible remotely to all appropriate parties. This data solves inspection challenges for several groups. For example, a drone inspection of a refinery storage tank can provide data to API Tank inspectors, paint & coating, firefighting, and air quality specialists. The key to making this possible is to get the inspection data labeled properly and into a system that provides consistency, enforces the client’s data standards, is secure, and is easy to use. Furthermore, once your inspection data is stored in a consistent format, the power of analytics can be unleashed on the data set.

2) Remote Collaboration

Zoom/Skype/Webex meetings are replacing the traditional conference rooms. To make effective decisions, all remote team members will need access to the best information possible. The file cabinets with past inspection records need to be virtual file cabinets. They need to be online and available to everyone on the team. Data access levels and permissions need to be set appropriately, as they would in an office environment.  Additionally, industry needs more technologies that enable experts to “look over the shoulder” of field technicians as they work. These technologies reduce the need for lots of technicians in confined spaces. For example, having a gearbox expert remotely assist a technician during an inspection provides a number of advantages; it lowers the risks of close contact, and reduces the expense of travel for the expert.

3) Data Consolidation and Data Analytics

As mentioned earlier, data consolidation enables analytics to access the entire data set. This is a tremendous force multiplier. Simply putting your inspection data into a common database is not enough, the data needs to be structured in a logical manner.  Analytics can provide insight on where the worst problems are, how bad they are, and how long you have to act. In an environment where budgets are constrained and social distancing is the norm, having good asset analytics is critical.

Over the last few years industry has launched many pilot projects to evaluate remote inspection and remote collaboration technologies. The COVID-19 business environment makes these technologies mission-critical. They are necessary for safety as well as for efficiency. The time to implement these ideas is now.

HUVRdata has been developing and implementing asset inspection software for years. Our solutions are even more relevant today. We consolidate disparate inspection data from multiple data sources, multiple vendors, and house it in a consistent data portal. This enables powerful analytics on your data to drive to actionable repair data, maintenance schedules and production optimization. HUVR is here to help you as your inspection challenges become more acute and more critical to your profitability.

If you would like to learn more about modernizing your asset inspection workflows, and to see how HUVRdata is saving our clients perform asset inspections 40% faster send an email to [email protected].

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