Inspectioneering
Inspectioneering Journal

Development of a Wall Sticking Drone for Non-Destructive Ultrasonic and Corrosion Testing

By Rami Mattar at Amerapex Corporation. This article appears in the March/April 2018 issue of Inspectioneering Journal

Abstract

Refinery structures require frequent inspection, maintenance to maintain structural health, and safe work practices; however, accessing structures is getting harder and harder due to their enormous height and size. In order to deal with this problem, many researchers have developed several robots for wall crawling, yet there is much progress beyond this that is needed. One of the primary reasons that existing wall crawling robots haven’t been used more widely in the field are risks associated with accidental fall of the equipment due to operational failure from the harsh environment like strong winds and the unpredictability of rough surface conditions. Therefore, we tried to develop a wall-sticking aerial robot platform that can approach any area on the structure by flying to and sticking on the target. The robot is equipped with electro-magnetic hold/mount elements to “stick” the sensor probe on the ferro-magnetic surface of the structure. This paper covers installing the wall-sticking mechanism on the aerial robot.

Introduction

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) commonly referred to as drones, have become increasingly autonomous with their flexibility and utility. UAVs started as a consumer and hobbyist phenomenon, but more recently they have grown into useful tools for remote visual inspection of industrial assets and an array of other enterprise uses. Last year alone, UAV startups saw more than $450 million in investments.[1] UAVs are a great compliment to technologies already utilized in the inspection industry today. Commercial demand for UAV inspections is growing rapidly and new applications are explored daily.

While non-contact based UAV inspection, such as visual, optical, IR, LIDAR, and Gas detectors etc., is moving quickly to a commodity business, significant efforts must still be made in aerial robotics and nondestructive testing (NDT) measurement technology to enable conventional contact NDT, such as Ultrasound testing (UT) and Eddy-Current testing (ECT).

The objective of the project discussed herein was to develop UAV inspection solutions integrating the most recent robotics technologies. More specifically, to deliver industrial aerial robots capable of performing contact NDT, such as UT and ECT, leveraging compact, wireless inspection technologies.

Throughout their life, aboveground storage tanks are exposed to considerable operational and environmental forces, and subject to corrosion and cracks at the surface and subsurface levels. Usually cranes, scaffolding, rope-access and numerous personnel are used to inspect both the storage tanks and the overall structure. Executing maintenance and inspections can be costly, time consuming, and risky for those who carry out the work. One potential solution to this could be autonomous UAVs.

Inspection robots already play an important part in the Oil & Gas industry by helping with inspection, monitoring, and surveillance of complex structures. The use of robots can help reduce human involvement (physical), increase operational efficiency, reduce cost and improve safety.

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