Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Airscope deploys Intel drone to map oil and gas facilities

Steve Rogerson
March 14, 2018

Intel drone mapping technology is helping manage oil and gas facilities more efficiently.
Aerial modelling and inspections using commercial-grade drones offer compelling advantages for the resource sector by increasing safety, saving time and reducing survey costs. Airscope, a Perth, Australia-based inspections and asset visualisation company, has used the Intel Falcon 8+ drone to extend these benefits further by developing computer-generated 3D models of entire hydrocarbon processing facilities off the north-west shelf of Australia and in the Cooper Basin, effectively bringing the field into the boardroom for more effective asset management.
Industrial digitisation or Industry 4.0 is predicted to generate US$421bn in cost reductions and additional revenue each year for the next five years worldwide, according to a report by PwC. The 3D modelling of resource assets by companies such as Airscope is one way of contributing to and driving this digital revolution that is transforming industry.
Airscope’s director Chris Leslie and chief controller Francois Alberts – both trained commercial airline pilots – saw the potential opportunities drone technology could offer to the resource sector. They reshaped their careers to work with software, survey and geospatial specialists to develop new ways for large resources companies to manage their physical assets.
“When people think of drones operating in industrial applications, they think of inspections collecting data from hard-to-reach places,” Leslie said. “Our business has evolved beyond this where the real efficiencies and return on investment for the client come from providing a digital 3D representation of their physical assets.
“We made the transition to asset visualisation because UAV inspection only gave clients a fraction of the story; without context, the full potential of images captured cannot be realised. So now we create a virtual canvas of the entire site using airborne photogrammetry, ground photogrammetry and laser scanning. Once the virtual canvas is created, you can paint any operational or planning data on it, to serve as a human medium to access and interact with big data.
“You could compare this technology to how our lives have changed with innovations such as the smartphone – the time savings and benefits are hard to quantify. The benefits are multiplied when looking at clients managing large-scale resource sites due to the number of employees and the potential cost to the business if decisions are made based on inaccurate or incomplete information. Early indications by clients currently implementing asset digitisation into their operations suggest day-to-day cost reductions of between 3.6 and 10 per cent dependent on industry, and capital works projects being reduced by more than 20 per cent. We are entering a period where decisions are being determined by the data at hand and companies that haven’t started their transformation towards digitisation will be left behind.”
Recently, Airscope worked alongside drone manufacturer Intel and local Australian distributor Position Partners to deliver 3D models of Santos-operated facilities in Australia’s Cooper Basin. Santos enlisted Airscope to provide not only large-scale virtual models, but also inspection services of critical assets, which are challenging to monitor using traditional methods.
“When looking for the best drone for modelling these challenging landscapes, we compared 37 different aircraft that all claimed to be up to the specifications we needed,” Alberts said. “When Intel’s distributor, Position Partners, showed us the Intel Falcon 8+ drone, we found it to be the only aircraft which met our expectations, for its reliability, stability and true 3D modelling capabilities.”
The Falcon 8+ is a multirotor-style drone that, through pre-programmed flight plans, is able to capture hundreds of aerial images per flight. These images are then collated and stitched together to form a holistic 3D model through the photogrammetry process. Due to the accuracy of images capture by the Falcon 8+, Airscope can incorporate laser scanning data into photogrammetry to make the model accurate enough for use in detailed engineering design of major infrastructure projects.
“Intel is committed to producing high-quality, commercial-grade drones that will excel in challenging environments such as the Moomba Gas Plant,” said Anil Nanduri, vice president and general manager of the drone group at Intel. “Looking ahead, we will see a greater focus on automation of both the data capture and more importantly data analysis. This will unlock the ability for greater analyses and inference of large data sets that will be captured entirely by drones, allowing businesses to reduce operational expenses by assessing and predicting maintenance needs.”
The quality and rate of data captured from systems such as the Falcon 8+ drone increase efficiencies and lower operating costs, while around-the-clock access to a full model of the plant on the Airscope Visualize platform reduces preparation work and disruption to the operation. It also eliminates risks for activities such as working at height or exposure to hazardous working environments.
“The quality and quantity of data we’re able to access from the Intel Falcon 8+ drone just wouldn’t be possible with any other method or technology,” Leslie said. “Moreover, our clients can see every asset from every angle and perspective, providing better situational awareness, insight and increased accuracy for making big decisions.”